Chairs at the Palace of Versailles:
Didier Rykner in La Tribune de l'Art quotes a "former conservator" to the effect that a traffic in fake "royal chairs" had been known for more than ten years but had been tolerated because state museums were not involved. It would seem he was wrong. Versailles has, after all, been targeted. According to an official statement by the Ministry of Culture on 11th June, the chairs at issue, purchased by Versailles between 2008 and 2012, represent a total expenditure of 2.7 million euros!
The art press identifies the suspect furniture as follows:
- Two ployants or folding stools from a set made for the duchess of Parma by François Ier Foliot, currently on show in the Salle du Conseil. The dealer Charles Hooreman, a former pupil of Pallot's at the Sorbonne, claims to have examined the stools at the Galerie Aaron in May 2012 and judged them to be fakes. He was later stunned to learn that they had been bought for Versailles at a cost of several thousand euros. It is now thought that the two stools may be adaptations of known copies dating from the 1960s. The pieces were withdrawn from public view over the summer but recently returned to the Salle, on the grounds that they were not directly involved in current investigations.
- A fauteuil en bergère by Jean-Baptiste-Claude Séné originally commissioned by Madame Élisabeth for the château de Montreuil. The piece was preempted at public auction in 2011 for 240 000 euros
- A chair made by the cabinet maker Georges Jacob, recently on display in the cabinet de la Méridienne, acquired in 2011 from Sotheby's for 400,000 euros. According to Didier Rykner the workmanship is demonstrably inferior to that of a genuine Jacob chair.
- Two medallion-back chairs made by Louis Delanois for Mme du Barry in 1769. In 2009 four chairs were sold by Kraemer and Pallot to Versailles for the sum of 1.7 million euros. They were officially classed as "national treasures". It is now suspected at least two are fakes. Perhaps with deliberate irony, Bill Pallot posted a Youtube video (now removed).explaining how to distinguish a genuine Delanois chair from a modern reproduction. Charles Hooreman's doubts, however, were based on simple arithmetic. The original set comprised twelve chairs (plus a slightly larger thirteenth chair for Louis XV, now lost). Over the past twenty years Versailles has acquired no less than ten originals, plus an acknowledged 19th-century copy. Hooreman is quoted in Le Monde: "I have seen them all, handled them, examined them. Versailles has ten, a Swiss collector two, and I know another one, which is impeccable, belonging to a Parisian collector. That's a lot.”
In addition to those owned by Versailles, two chairs from the Belvédère suite are also under suspicion. The two chairs mysteriously resurfaced in 2012 and found their way to into the possession of the Galerie Kraemer. One was supplied by Guillaume Dillée. The Commission consultative des Trésors nationaux refused an export licence and declared both to be “national treasures” due to their “extremely high quality” and “original gilding”. In this case Versailles declined the right of preemption. The chairs were subsequently resold (for 3.5 million euros) to a well-known London collector for his hôtel in Paris. At the end of 2015, when doubts were raised, the Galerie Kraemer immediately took back the chairs and reimbursed him. According to recent reports Bill Pallot has now admitted responsibility for faking both chairs.
When questioned in June 2016 Pallot admitted ordering five false lots, but denied organised fraud; his lawyer claimed that he saw his action as an "intellectual game". He now awaits trial. Pallot has had recourse to some of the finest craftsmen in Paris. Bruno Desnoues, widely considered to be the best cabinetmaker and gilder of his generation, was detained for four months.. (He is now apparently rehabilitated; Versailles has entrusted him with the highly prestigious commission of reconstructing Louis XVI's bed.) Louis Kraemer does not face prosecution: On 22nd July the Kraemer Gallery was placed under a legal safeguarding procedure, aiming at limiting financial liability. Kraemer insists that the firm is not in financial difficulties and will "fulfill all of its responsibilities". The case against Guillaume Dillée, if any, has not yet been made public; however, he is widely suspected of marketing the fake furniture.
We await next year's exciting instalment!
Although the individuals concerned have been widely condemned, the affair is also considered symptomatic of the difficult position of Paris's dealers, who increasingly suffer as a result of competition from London and New York. There has also been much criticism of the Versailles administration. Charles Hooreman found it obstructive: he signalled his findings in 2012 and obtained an interview with the Palace;s director Beatrix Saule, but no action was taken; it was claimed that Palace experts were "satisfied" with the authenticity of the chairs.
Since a law of 2003 which provided for a 90% reduction in sums invested in "national treasures", Versailles has had vast funds of public money at its disposal; it is the biggest buyer of 18th-century furniture on the planet. Commissioners are accused of being more interested in opportunities for new purchases than in the authenticity of the pieces concerned. An investigation of the Palace's acquisition policy was promised by the Ministry of Culture in June but is yet to materialise.
Personally I do not think Versailles was justified in spending 2.7 euros on antique chairs in the first place, especially ones which did not even come from the Château . The whole interior of the modern palace is a reconstruction, so why not just have replica chairs?
Didier Rykner "Des faux à Versailles ? La Tribune de l'Art 8/6/2016 http://www.latribunedelart.com/des-faux-a-versailles
Various articles by Guy Boyer in Connaissances des Arts:
"L’affaire du faux mobilier XVIIIe de Versailles" 06/05/2016
"Les détails de l’affaire des faux sièges du Belvédère de Versailles" 13/06/2016
Emmanuel Fansten "Trafic d'art : les fausses chaises qui valaient 3 millions", La Libération 02/09/2016