Sunday, 21 July 2013

Important chairs 1 - the chair in which Voltaire died




Voltaire probably did not actually expire in this chair, now on display in the Musée Carnavalet,  but he certainly owned it in his final years. It is listed by the museum as dating from about 1775 and having the mark of a Parisian carpenter Charles-Francois Normand.  It still has the original brown wool cover (though I suspect it has recently acquired new stuffing).  The unusual - and clearly customised - features are the pivoting book desk and writing table attached to the arms, the latter with a handy drawer divided into four compartments.  The provenance is given as "unknown".

It is not really clear whether the chair made the journey to Paris with Voltaire or after his death, but he must have had it originally at Ferney. Thus S.G. T
allentyre describing the furniture in Voltaire's bedroom: "Later on, Voltaire had a second writing-chair made, which he used much in the last few years of his life : one of its arms formed a desk, and the other a little table with drawers; and both were revolving". (Life of Voltaire (1909) ii p.83)


Lady Morgan recalls the chair 

The Irish writer Lady Morgan recounted seeing the chair by the fireside of her friend the Marquise de Villette (Voltaire's "Belle et bonne") at the Hôtel Villette as late as 1820.  This was not the apartment where Voltaire had died, which had been sold by this time, but a second Villette property in the rue Vaugirard.  Once the setting for brilliant society gatherings, in the Marquise's declining years it had become a shrine to the great philosophe:

           "The apartment habitually occupied by Madame de Villette, is a sort of reliquary, dedicated to the remains of Voltaire:  Her book-cases are filled with his works ; her secretaire with his MS. letters. The arm chair, which he always occupied, stands by her hearth. On the reading and writing desk, ingeniously fastened to one of its arms, he wrote for the last twenty years of his life."



References

Notice from the Musée Carnavalet
(http://www.carnavalet.paris.fr/en/collections/fauteuil-mortuaire-de-voltaire)

Lady Morgan, The Book of the boudoir, vol. 1 (1829),p.264 and France in 1829-30, p.142.  Free e-book versions of these books are readily accessible.

1 comment:

  1. Notice of the Villette Sale of 1865:
    http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cac1865/0321?sid=11f4c90b2f1d8a6424d55578f8f2a72f
    Mentions among the objects sold belonging to Voltaire, "Son Fauteuil" which made 2,000 francs.


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