Collection Online

Writing cabinet
(Secrétaire à abattant)
(c. 1780)

Medium
Kingwood, Tulipwood, Satinwood, wood, gilt-bronze (ormolu), marble, leather, steel, brass
Measurements
(a-i) 138.4 × 84.2 × 37.5 cm (overall) (closed)
Place/s of Execution
France
Accession Number
705.a-i-D4
Department
International Decorative Arts
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1948
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
Gallery location
17th to 18th Century European Paintings Gallery
Level 2, NGV International
About

A secretaire like this, from one of the greatest periods of European furniture history, is the eighteenth-century equivalent of the laptop. A secretaire was a very personal piece of furniture. Unlike a desk of the period, where the writing surface was open and visible to all, the secretaire was locked up when not in use, the writing surface folded away. One kept personal correspondence, important documents and other valuables like jewellery and money hidden away in the cabinet under lock and key (this example has a strong box built into the lower part of the cabinet). The secretaire thus, like a modern laptop, kept in one secure spot (lock and key are the password) personal communications and private information, but in a form that everyone recognised: you know the information is there, but you can only access it if you have the key/password. These pieces of furniture mark an important moment in the history of privacy and the development in the eighteenth century of the distinction between private and public life.