What Is a Bonheur Du Jour?

A bonheur du jour (in French, bonheur-du-jour, meaning “daytime delight”) is a type of lady’s writing desk. It was introduced in Paris by one of the interior decorators and purveyors of fashionable novelties called marchands-merciers about 1760, and speedily became intensely fashionable. The bonheur du jour is always very light and graceful, with a decorated back, since it often did not stand against the wall (meuble meublant) but was moved about the room (meuble volant); its special characteristic is a raised back, which may form a little cabinet or a nest of drawers, or open shelves. The top, often surrounded with a gallery, serves for placing small ornaments. Beneath the writing surface there is usually a single drawer, often neatly fitted for toiletries or writing supplies. Early examples were raised on slender cabriole legs; under the influence of neoclassicism, examples made after about 1775 had straight, tapering legs.

The French had the idea of mounting bonheurs du jour with specially-made plaques of Sèvres porcelain; the earliest Sèvres-mounted pieces are datable from the marks under their plaques. Other choice examples of the time are inlaid with marquetry or panels of Oriental lacquer, banded with exotic woods, with gilt-bronze mounts.

By the mid-1770s the bonheur du jour was being made in England, where it was often simply called a “lady’s writing-desk”. This particularly fine Scottish example is in finely figured rosewood, with decorative boxwood stringing. The folding writing surface opens to reveal the original tooled leather and inset pen and inkwell trays. The scrolling shelf supports contribute to the overall elegance of the piece, which dates from about 1810.

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