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.


  1. It's a pity that pieces that belonged to Versailles cannot be returned to it, to refurnish it as it was meant to be.

    1. The chairs were sold by the French Government, so there is no issue of rightful ownership. And I would love to see the Belvedere furnished, but problems with climate control, etc., would not make it feasible to exhibit the original furniture. But perhaps some charitable group would take it on to provide an interpretation with replicas. Thanks for commenting, C.L.

  2. I agree that the Versailles connection was broken by the government of the time. In fact, the Getty has a broadside announcing the impending sale of Royal Inventory and a complete bound catalog of the sale. Perhaps France should employ a new generation of gilders, carvers and upholsterers to recreate what they once had and lost by design...could be fantastic. Years ago, in conjunction with Versailles and only in San Francisco, were original Petit Trianon furnishing shown at the Legion of Honor including loans from private individuals such as the Gettys. I will see Bernd and Andrew on Monday so will tell them of your excellent post...too sit in that chair - sigh

    1. T.S., I am a huge fan of the Architectural Watercolors team's books and stationary products; please do pass on my regards. I would like to see at least one chair restored to the original finish scheme with a recreation of the original fabric. It was interesting for me to see the high price paid for Fine French Furniture despite all the pundits' predictions that taste has passed; the M.A. connection was a major factor, I am certain, and that fascination continues. Thank you for commenting.

  3. You are the BEST and most delicious! That is the only word to describe those chairs! And The Swan is a wonderful addition to your posts!!

    Bravo to you both! what gifts you are to me! And I (suspect many!!)

    1. Thank you, P.B. I so appreciate comments from "regulars" such as you and The Swan, just two of many Devoted Readers I have never met. Or I should say have not yet met.

  4. Yes John,I do agree completely with both Penny and The Swan; your post is excellent. I cannot get over the exquisite detail and gilding if these historically important chairs!

    The Arts by Karena

    1. K.A., I try to present a post that includes the additional factors that I would like to see myself. While I cannot add to the facts of the Christie's catalog listing, I thought it was important to remind readers about the related features such as the Belvedere Pavilion. When one knows the context of the original setting, it is always more interesting, is it not? And isn't that little model interesting, showing alternates for the arms and that exotic classical swagging of the fabric? Thank you for commenting.

  5. I have seen a few pieces with the swags still underneath. It seems to be gilding the lily to me, but it apparently wasn't that unusual at the time. I agree that reproductions would be wonderful at Versailles, since the likelihood of getting all that FFF back is nearly nonexistent. And many of the pieces are now part of other museum collections. Jackie Kennedy deserves kudos for wresting the former contents of the White House from the hands of collectors and museums. She got people to donate or place on long term loan many important pieces. Something similar should be attempted at Versailles.

  6. John,
    Love your detailed chair posts!
    I thought of Basia Johnson as a possible buyer-


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