Friday, July 17, 2015

Marie-Antoinette: Chic Chaises

A fauteuil en bergere made for
Marie-Antoinette's Salon du Rocher
in the garden of the Petit Trianon, Versailles.
Image: Christie's.
A single armchair sold last week for $2,714,250.  Yes, it was a very special chair, made especially for Marie-Antoinette as part of a suite to furnish the Belvedere Pavilion, her Salon du Rocher or teahouse, in the garden of the Petit Trianon.

The Belvedere Pavilion (and Grotto)
in the garden of the Petit Trianon.
Image:  World Monuments Fund.
The interior of the Belvedere Pavilion.
Image: World Monuments Fund.
The Belvedere Pavilion was built between 1778 and 1781 under the supervision of the queen's architect Richard Mique with interior decoration by Le Riche.  (A conservation effort was completed in 2012 supported by the World Monuments Fund).
The Belvedere Pavilion
in a modern watercolor by Andrew Zega from
The floor plan of the Belvedere Pavilion
showing the design of the marble floor
and the surrounding terrace as drawn by
Claude-Louis Châtelet in 1786.
Image: Bibliothèque de Modène.

The July 9, 2015 auction at Christie's, London, Sale 10670, was titled "Taste of the Royal Court: Important French Furniture and Works of Art from a Private Collection."  Far exceeding the estimate of $463,200 to $772,000, Lot 18 was described as a royal Louis XVI giltwood fauteuil en bergere

Side view of the fauteuil en bergere
from the suite made for the Belvedere Pavilion.
Image: Christie's.
A detail of the chair sold at auction last week
that had been made for Marie-Antioinette's
Belvedere Pavilion, Versailles.
Image: Christie's.
Another detail of the chair made for
Marie-Antoinette's Belvedere Pavilion.
Image: Christie's.
The auction notes listed Francois (II) Foliot as the maker, 1780-81, and attributed the design to Jacques Gondoin with the carving by either Mme. Pierre-Edme Babel or Toussaint Foliot.  A wax model by Gondoin showed an additional two legs at the front rail, suggesting that the existing rail might be a replacement from the end of the 18th or early 19th century.

The wax study model of the chair
attributed to Gille-François Martin, to the design
of Jacques Gondoin.  Paris, 1780. 1:7 scale.
Image: Musèe National des Châteaux des Versailles et de Trianon.
Originally, the suite was comprised of eight fauteuils en bergere (closed-arm chairs) and eight chaises (side chairs).  The carved beech was painted white, originally, with parcel-gilt detailing.  The major expense of the original suite, however, was the fabric, threads of gold and silver embroidered on silk.  Bills for payment for the chairs costing 20,000 livres, now in the Archives Nationale, were presented during the Revolution trial as evidence of Marie-Antoinette's lavish spending. (A gallon of wine at the time cost about one livre, a cow, 100 livres, and a horse, 250 livres).

A chaise from the suite, in the collection at Versailles.
The modern fabric is interpreted to be in keeping
with the original design concept.
Image: Syndicat National des Antiquaires.
The Getty Museum has four side chairs from this suite in their collection.  They were bought from the estate of Anna Thomson Dodge from Christie's in 1971.  The four chairs were one of the highlights of her impressive collection that furnished her Trumbauer-designed mansion, "Rose Terrace," in Grosse Point Farms, Michigan.

One of the four chaises in the Getty collection
now covered in modern fabric.
Who was the buyer?  That has not been revealed, but the price would indicate that there were at least two very interested parties.  There was a special European Union document that allowed its shipment to the auction in London; apparently it was not from a private collection in France or there would have been issues on exporting such a historically important antique.  My guess is that the Getty Museum was the high bidder, but hopefully we shall see this chic chaise on public exhibition in the future.

Claude-Louis Châtelet's 1781 painting
"Illumination du Pavillon du Belvédère, Petit Trianon."
Image: Collection of the Palace of Versailles.
Read more in this series "Chic Chaises" here, here, and here.  Visit the regular on-line version of The Devoted Classicist to leave a comment or search the archives of past posts.