Sunday, August 14, 2011

Highlights of the Camondo Collection

This is a follow-up to The Devoted Classicist post of August 11, 2011, that profiled a brief history of the Nissim de Camondo Museum in Paris and presented an architectural survey of its principal rooms.  Here we have some highlights of the collection, all previously comprising the furnishings in the home of the Count de Camondo that is now a museum.
Although most of the furnishings belong to either the final phase of the Louis XV period, the transitional style, or to the Louis XVI period, a pair of encoignures (corner cabinets) on the landings of the grand staircase is a notable exception.  They are attributed to Bernard Van Risen, a Parisian master of Dutch extraction.  The door panels of Japanese black and gold lacquer were probably part of a folding screen and the rest of it of vernis Martin lacquer to match, highlighted with mounts of chased and gilt bronze.
A much-admired circa 1760 table en cabaret (drinks table) is topped with a Sevres soft-paste porcelain top, the table is finished with vernis Martin lacquer decoration that originally matched the porcelain but has now yellowed with time.  It is attributed to a collaboration between marchand mercier Poirier and Roger Vandercruse, who stamped his work RVLC.   The marchand mercier, the merchant of merchandise, played a very important role in 18th century decoration.  Working outside the control of the powerful guild system that restricted craftsmen to working only with the one material with which they had apprenticed, these shopkeepers acted as general contractors, able to have Chinese porcelains mounted with gilt bronze handles and stands, and to have Japanese lacquer panels or Sevres plaques incorporated into furniture.  Simon-Phillipe Poirier is credited with introducing furniture such as this with mounted Sevres elements. Purchased in 1934 from the rue Royale dealer Bensimon, it was one of the count's last acquisitions.
The circa 1780 bureau a cylindre (roll-top desk) by Claude-Charles Saunier in the Grand Bureau is typical of the Louis XVI style.  It is made of oak with veneer panels of flame grain mahogany and ornamented with chased and gilt bronze mounts.

After the 1765 discovery of limousin kaolin at Saint-Yrieix, France was able to produce hard-paste porcelain, such as this garniture by Niderviller consisting of a clock and a pair of vases, circa 1785

This very unusual table en chiffoniere was made by Jean-Henri Riesener and delivered in 1788 for the cabinet interieur of Queen Marie-Antoinette at Saint-Cloud.  Although a trough-shaped top with a high edge indicates its use as a sewing table, the drawer with a leather lid and a silver-plated pen holder also makes it a writing table.
The ebeniste Adam Weisweiler became a master in 1778 and was a favored supplier of the French and English aristocracy.  Rather than using marquetry for decoration, gilt bronze was usually enmployed, as seen in this dessert console.  The marble shelves are backed by mirror and the piece is set against a shallow mirrored niche in the Dining Room.
The leather desk armchair by Jean-Rene Nadal l'Aine was delivered in 1775 for the cabinet interieur of Count d'Artois at Versailles.  (Louis XVI's younger brother, born 1757, survived the Revolution to become Charles X in 1824).
The pair of voyeuses (conversation chairs) in the Grand Bureau were part of a set of four that were commissioned from Jean-Baptiste Claude Sene for the Salon Turc, the game room of the king's sister Madame Elisabeth, in her small Chateau de Montreuil in Versailles.  The grey and white rechampi finish has survived, but the original fabric, with a design of flowers and palm trees on a white ground, has not.
Although the maker of the clock in the count's room is not known, it is a famous model with both Marie-Antoinette and Count d'Artois owning copies.  Known as a clock a l'oiseau (with a dead bird), circa 1780, of chased and gilt bronze, white and blue marble, it is notable for the hands coverd in diamonds.
The exception gilt bronze chandelier in the Grand Salon is attributed to Francois Remond, a favorite supplier of both Marie-Antoinette and the Count d'Artois.  Believed to have originated from the Royal Household, Napolean presented it to the Arch-Chancellor of the Empire for his Parisian residence in 1808.
Little is known of the three-legged center table in the Grand Salon bought from Seligmann in 1900.  Made of chased and gilt bronze with Sarancolin marble, it dates from the end of the 18th century.  A detail of one of the three griffins on the base is shown in the first image.
A pair of circa 1780 vases carved from petrified wood and entwined with chased gilt bronze serpents decorated the cabinet interieurs (most private rooms) of Marie-Antoinette.  In 1789, at the beginning of the Revolution, the queen entrusted her collections of precious objects to Dominique Daguerre, the marchand mercier who had been in partnership with Simon-Phillipe Poirer before assuming the business.  (In 1778, Daguerre had moved to London where he was responsible for Carlton House and Brighton Pavilion decoration).  In 1793, shortly after the execution of Marie-Antoinette, the whole lot was returned to the Nation.  The Directoire put these vases up for sale, with some other objects, in 1798.  And they were known to be sold again in 1841 before joining Count de Camondo's collection.
The silver tureen and try commissioned by Catherine II for Gregory Orloff, 1770/71, was made by Jacques-Nicolas Roettiers de La Tour.  The Soviet government dispersed the magnificent vestiges of the Russian court in the late 1920s and the Count de Camondo was able to acquire several pieces from the same French-made service.
A two-handled milk goblet and its saucer, dating from 1753, are a remarkable example of Manufacture de Vincennes, founded in 1738 to compete with Meissen.  In 1756, the manufacture moved to Sevres, where it remains today. 
This detail shows the Manufacture de la Savonnerie carpet, circa 1740, in the Grand Salon.  Part of the set of ninety three commissioned by Louis XIV for the Grande Galerie of the Louvre, this one, the fiftieth of the series, represents the "Allegory of Air" with four heads representing the winds blowing into trumpets.
The folding screen was an important element in 18th century interior decoration, deflecting drafts and making large rooms more cozy.  This Manufacture de la Savonnerie folding screen of six panels, circa 1735-1740, was made in the older style with tapestry on both faces.  Later screens had crimson cloth on the obverse.
The "Bust of a Black Woman" presented in the Dining Room was acquired in 1932.  About 1781, Houdon was commissioned to create a fountain for Folie Monceau representing a black woman, executed in lead, pouring water on the shoulders of a bather of white marble.  During the revolution, the figures were lost, with the bather eventually being acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  Houdon had kept a plaster bust of the black woman, however, and later used it in an allegory celebrating the emancipation of the black slaves.  This patinated bronze bust bears the inscription that it was cast by Thomire after Houdon.
"The Shepardess in Love" is one in a series of seven oil on canvas panels and two overdoor panels by Jean-Baptist Huet purchased by Count de Camondo in 1900.  Painted in the second half of the 18th century, the lot came from the Chateau of Benguet, near Mont-de-Marsan. A third overdoor panel, dated 1776, was acquired in 1927, but nothing is known of its provenance.
Bronze played an increasingly important role in furniture in the last third of the 18th century as evidenced by this silver-plated and gilt bronze console with green Egyptian marble.  Designed by Victor-Louis, it was delivered to the royal palace of Warsaw in 1766.
The footstool, circa 1780, was made by Georges Jacob.
The small genre oil painting "Bad Tidings", 1740, by Jean-Baptist-Marie Pierre reflects the love that the Count de Camondo had for the 185h century decorative arts and the representation of the touching reality of everyday life. 
Most of the factual information and all the photos presented in this essay come from the 1991 book The Nissim De Camondo Museum available through The Devoted Classicist Library here.


  1. Fascinating! I enjoy reading about the how and why behind design, so I really appreciate the explanations given by your blog and the incentive to go further! Inspired by this post, I have just been reading about the decorative and architectural competitiveness between Marie Antoinette and her brother-in-law. I am adopting your "The more you know, the more you appreciate" motto, too!

  2. How absolutely beautiful. I am always so impressed when I see objects such as these in museums etc, as to the quality of the workmanship and design. everything is in perfect proportion.

  3. Eric and David, thanks for your comments.

  4. When I saw that voyeuse with the sabre legs in the previous post, I had a feeling I would be seeing it again! Just like your mentor Albert Hadley, I know you like "personality" chairs.

  5. You are right about my fondness for chairs, C.A.W. In addition to the saber legs on this one, I like the hoofed feet. The carved shells and pearls are particularly well done. I wonder if there is a view of the room this set of chairs came from?

  6. What beautiful pieces! Thank you for showing them.

  7. Thank you for your comment, M.L.H.B.

  8. Great post! Although I have been to the Nissim de Camondo Museum in Paris I don't remember seeing some of the superb items you have presented here. I will have to revisit the museum the next time I'm in Paris.

  9. The three-legged center table in the Grand Salon appears to be the work of Pierre-Philippe Thomire.


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