Vernis Martin Case. Charming mid nineteenth century lacquered French case which fits together in two parts. Lovely painted decoration overall although the purpose of this lovely antique case is unclear.
The name Vernis Martin is a generic name, derived from a distinguished family of French artist-artificers of the 18th century, given to a brilliant translucent lacquer extensively used in the decoration of furniture, carriages, sedan chairs and a multitude of small articles such as snuff-boxes and fans. There were four brothers of the Martin family: Guillaume (d. 1749), Simon Etienne, Julien and Robert (1706-1765), the two first-named being the elder. They were the children of Etienne Martin, a tailor, and began life as coach-painters. They neither invented, nor claimed to have invented, the varnish which bears their name, but they enormously improved, and eventually brought to perfection, compositions and methods of applying them which were already more or less familiar. Oriental lacquer speedily acquired high favour in France, and many attempts were made to imitate it. Some of these attempts were pass ably successful, and we can hardly doubt that many of the examples in the possession of Louis XIV. at his death were of European manufacture. Chinese lacquer was, however, imported in large quantities, and sometimes panels were made in China from designs prepared in Paris, just as English coats of arms were placed upon Chinese porcelain in its place of origin. Biographical details of the career of the brothers Martin are scanty, but we know that the eldest was already in business in 1724. Their method and work must have come rapidly into vogue, for in 1730 Guillaume and Simon Etienne Martin were granted by letters patent a twenty years’ monopoly, subsequently renewed, of making “toutes sortes d’ouvrages en relief de la Chine et du Japon.” At the height of their fame the brothers directed at least three factories in Paris, and in 1748 they were all classed together as a “Manufacture nationale.” One of them was still in existence in 1785.