Monday 26 December 2016

Let them eat cake! A marketer's dream

Let them eat cake!

 In fact that lethal phrase had been known for at least a century previously, when it was ascribed to the Spanish princess Marie-Thérèse, bride of Louis XIV, in a slightly different form: if there was no bread, let the people eat the crust (croûte) of the pâté.  It was known to Rousseau in 1737.  It was credited to one of the royal aunts, Madame Sophie, in 1751, when reacting to the news that her brother the Dauphin Louis Ferdinand had been pestered with cries of 'Bread, bread' on a visit to Paris. The Comtesse de Boigne, who as a child played at the Versailles of Marie Antoinette, attributed the saying to another aunt, Madame Victoire.  But the most convincing proof of Marie Antoinette's innocence came from the memoirs of the Comte de Provence, published in 1825. No gallant guardian of his sister-in-law's reputation, he remarked that eating pâté en croûte always reminded him of the saying of his own ancestress, Queen Marie-Thérèse.  It was, in short, a royal chestnut.
Antonia Fraser, Marie Antoinette: the journey (pbk, 2002), p.160-1.

Marie-Antoinette may never have uttered the notorious words, but oh what a delicious marketing concept!  

 In 2006 Ladurée, the French luxury pâtissier, scored a major coup by negotiated with Sofia Coppola to fill the visually sumptuous set of the film Marie-Antoinette with gloriously presented and suitably decadent gateaux and pastries.  Cakes became chic, youthful, bright and faintly irresponsible.  Marie-Antoinette, notes one marketing website, is "worth watching for the food styling alone".  Quite true - though the costumes are marvellous as well!

Saturday 24 December 2016

Christmas 1792

Jean-François Garneray, Louis XVI à la Tour
 du Temple
 (1792) Musée Carnavalet

Tuesday 25th December 1792 was the first Christmas of the new French Republic.  At the Temple prison, Louis XVI spent the day writing his will, prior to his appearance at the bar of the Convention on the 26th.  Paris was in a state of security crisis and simmering uprest.  The religious policies of the Convention were wracked by indecision, with rationalists like  Pierre-Louis Manuel moving towards policies hostile to Christianity without declaring them openly.  In the Paris Commune, the ascendancy of would-be dechristianisers was assured by the election  on 12th December of  Pierre Chaumette as  procurateur with Hébert as his substitute.

Thursday 22 December 2016

The triumph of the guillotine in Hell

[A quick break from festive cheer!]

The collective memory of the Terror was described by Michelet as "a huge Dantesque poem, which circle by circle, caused the descent of France into Hell".   This extraordinary painting entitled The Triumph of the Guillotine captures the vision perfectly:  Revolutionary iconography meets Hieronymus Bosch in an apocalyptic landscape of all-enveloping red. The picture, which is now in the Hermitage, is usually attributed to the landscape painter Nicolas-Antoine Taunay (1755-1830).  

In the painting's imagery, the real personages, institutions and policies of the Terror are transferred with effect to the infernal regions.  A mountain surmounted by a guillotine provides the central focal point like some infernal Calvary.   At the top of the canvas a group of artists and Jacobin poets, led by David with his painter's palette and easel, fly in amidst smoke and lightning bolts. On the right at mid-height sits the Revolutionary Tribunal, implacable as ever.  Across the bottom progresses a Revolutionary procession: Robespierre and  Saint-Just are carried in triumph, preceded by Marat in his bath. Scenes of killing and cannibalism occupy the foreground.  Even the demons of Hell themselves are afraid and flee, abandoning their flaming abyss to the Revolutionary invaders.


Nicolas-Antoine Taunay,  Le triomphe de la guillotine / Allégorie satirique révolutionnaire / le triomphe de Marat aux enfers
c. 1795. Hermitage, Oil on canvas.  129 x 168 cm
The Carnavalet has a small, preliminary oil sketch:

The attribution to Taunay rests only on stylistic analysis, but  is accepted in the major monograph by Claudine Lebrun,  Nicolas-Antoine Taunay (1755-1830) (2003), p.44.

See also
Mehdi Korchane, "Thermidor et l'imaginaire de la Terreur", L'Histoire par l'image, Jan.2009

The Doll, a Christmas tale

Légendes de Noël 

Another Christmas tale set in the time of the Terror, translated from G. Lenotre. Paternal sympathy triumphs over the Revolutionary divide!

 Illustrations are  by Paul Thiriat from the 1911 edition of the Légendes de Noël which is available on Gallica.

As far back as I can remember, I can picture the old marquise de Flavigny seated, smiling and serene, in an old armchair covered in peach-coloured velvet.  Her grey hair and her great bonnet of lace decorated with trembling knots stood out against the upholstery.

Next to her on a low chair, there almost always sat a woman of the same age, also smiling, with a calm and peaceful expression. They called her "Mademoiselle Odile" .  She was not a servant;  an intimacy united the two old ladies; they would sit together knitting the coarse blue woollen garments which were distributed to the poor, along with a loaf of bread and five two-liard coins, on Thursday mornings.  They exchanged interminable confidences in low voices, with an air of camaraderie, almost of complicity. On certain days,  days of tidying and arranging, the two friends laid aside their knitting and visited their cupboards, great chests of varnished oak with long brass lock fittings, narrow and tall, cut into arabesques. They opened boxes, tied up linen, spread out on shelves embroidered napkins, dusted and cleaned all day long.  We children were admitted to this salutary spectacle on condition that we touched nothing.

In the depths of one of these mysterious cupboards,  as though in a sanctuary,  there reposed in a glass case an object held by the two ladies in a sort of veneration.  It was a large doll, dressed in old-fashioned style, with a gown of threadbare silk. It was almost bald with age; its nose was broken, its hands and face cracked and discoloured. I remember that it had only one shoe, of cracked Moroccan leather with a blackened silver buckle and a high heel which had once been red.

When they came to this imposing trinket, the marquise and Mlle Odile moved it with great like a choirboy moving a reliquary.  They spoke about it in hushed voices, in short phrases.

SHE has lost more hair...  Her petticoat is now completely worn out...  This finger will come away soon...

The glass cover was lifted off with great care, the spices renewed, the skirts straightened carefully with a fingernail.  Then the doll was put back in its place, upright on the best shelf, as though on an altar.

Is she all right, my dear?" asked the marquise.

This was how she addressed Mlle Odile.  The latter called her familiarly "Madame Solange", without ever giving her her title. She spoke with with a hint of an Alsatian accent, but without roughness and so slight that it appeared eroded by time.

We knew nothing about the history of these two old ladies and their doll until one evening - it was Christmas Eve in a year now long past - when we were suddenly initiated into the mystery. That day Odile and the marquise had chattered with more animation than usual.  But towards evening they withdrew and became silent:  they held hands, looked at each other affectionately and it was clear that a common memory filled their minds.  When it got completely dark, Odile lit the candles; then, bringing out a bunch of keys from under her apron, she opened the cupboard containing the doll.

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Watteau's Cythera - aller ou retour?

For 250 years  Watteau’s great masterpiece, the Pilgrimage to Cythera, was taken to depict the embarkation of pilgrims for the fabled Greek Island of Love.  Then in the 1960s the British art historian Michael Levey offered a new interpretation: the pilgrims were not  embarking at all, but were already on Cythera, preparing to take their leave for home. This gave quite a different meaning to the painting.  Not all commentators, by any means, accepted Levey’s conclusion; fifty years later there is still no scholarly consensus.

Pélerinage à l'île de Cythère. c. 1717 Musée du Louvre  129 x 194 cm
The known facts concerning the painting are few.  Watteau painted the work as his reception piece for the Academy of Painting.  He was provisionally accepted into the Academy in July 1712 and, unusually, given a completely free hand in his choice of subject for his reception piece.  There are two versions of the picture, the original in the Louvre, completed in August 1717, and a more finished reworking, probably commissioned by Watteau’s friend and patron Jean de Jullienne, now in the Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin.  It is not known what prompted Watteau to choose his subject, though a pilgrimage to Cythera  was  a well-know  theme in Parisian theatre at the time; .It  enters popular  iconography in the first years of century – though only in handful of prints and  theatrical illustrations.  Watteau himself had painted an earlier version, usually dated to 1708 or 1709.

Embarkation for Cythera c.1718-9. Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin.  129 x 194 cm.

The name of the painting

Any interpretation of the scene must first of all take account of the contemporary assumptions about the subject of the painting.  Michael Levey pointed out that title “The Embarkation for Cythera”, originated only with Tardieu’s engraving for the Recueil  Jullienne  of  c1733.  The Academy’s procès-verbal  of 28th August 1717, which presumably reports Watteau’s own deposition, states that the picture represented "The Pilgrimage to the Island of Cythera" (Le pelerinage à l'isle de Cithère") This  title is slightly more ambiguous since it theoretically allows for the  possibility that the pilgrims are already  ON the island..  The Academy's secretary  in any case changed his mind, crossed out the title and replaced it with simply “une feste galante”.   

None of this is very conclusive.  It  does not seem that likely that  Jullienne, who know Watteau well and owned the second version of the painting, should have so fundamentally misread the iconography. There are other illustrations showing embarkations, but the theme of leaving Cythera would have been entirely novel.

The setting

The main strength of Levey's thesis is his conclusion that the land to the right of the painting represents Cythera. The pilgrims are paired off and already seem  bonded in love.   Moreover, as Levey noted,  the whole landscape  is clearly dedicated to love; there is a prominent term – a traditional boundary marker – in the form of Venus; on its plinth are hung a bow and quiver of arrows, and a pelt, in offering to love.  The statue is garlanded with roses;  freshly so, for the cupid-pilgrim who sits close by holds a rose in his hand.  There are also convolvuluses  which symbolise the lovers' bond.  “All these are suggestions of  a rite accomplished” (p.182) In the Berlin version the erotic context is even more emphasised.  The cupids are multiplied; replacing the term is a sensuous  statue of Venus confiscating Cupid's arrows  Beneath it  lie a coat of armour,  a shield and the hilt of a sword which has been struck into the ground.  Half hidden in the shadowsare a wineskin and a lyre.  Thus love prevails over Mars, Bacchus and the arts.  There are further suggestions of love consummated;  the couple added at the right of the canvas  seem lost in their amorous absorption: the man has discarded  his staff and scrip and his partner  taken off her cloak.  
Claude Duflos, after Bernard Picart,  L'Isle de Cithère 

The impression that we are already in Cythera is reinforced by comparison with another depiction of the island, engraved by Claude Duflos in about 1708, possibly after a design by Bernard Picart, (see Posner, p.187-8).  This illustration would undoubtedly have been known to Watteau. The  pilgrims are quite clearly on Cythera; the island's temple of Venus features prominently and a pair of lovers can be seen arriving in the distance by boat.   The engraving provides likely prototypes for at least two of Watteau's couples, the man  helping a lady to her feet and the pair where the woman is holding a fan.  Notice also the quiver in the tree which features prominently among the accoutrements of Venus in the Berlin Watteau.

The identification of Watteau's landscape  with Cythera is, however, by no means established.  The landscape does not definitely suggest an island.  Nor is there a temple to Venus. A boundary term may just as easily denote an embarkation point. The whole action takes place in the enchanted world of the fête galante and most of the imagery can be paralleled in other works by Watteau; the Venus statue for instance is the same one depicted in the painting Plaisirs d'amour.  

The destination

The pilgrims ARE clearly leaving. The movement of the painting is dependent upon it. The amorous couples wind down a hill, as if in a dance,  to a ship rowed by two oarsmen and crowned by a flock of cupids.  The Berlin version reinforces theme of departure by multiplying the cupids who orchestrate the movement, and by enlarged and defined the ship.

The destination is not defined; certainly there is no sign of the architecture which signalled Cythera, such as the Temple of Venus, but merely "misty Claudian peaks" in the distance (Levey p.182).  On the other hand, the destination is not in the real world either.  The Louvre picture has the smallest hint of ramparts and towers which perhaps suggest an otherworldly goal.

Possible antecedents

It tells against Levey's argument that, whereas departure from Cythera is unknown in iconography, there are at least two known possible embarkations.

The most telling is a drawing by from the Homburger Collection (University of Harvard) by Watteau's one-time master and mentor Claude Gillot.   The sketch is tentatively thought to depict  the last scene of the comedy, Les Trois Cousines by Florent Dancourt which was first performed in 1700.  (26 performances took place in all between Oct. 1700 and Feb.1701) The angle suggests that it was sketched from a theatre box.  The action of the play takes place in the Paris suburb of Créteil, which can be glimpsed through the arch on the right.  In the finale the youth of the village dress as pilgrims and gather on the shore in order to make the voyage to Cythera.  The boat can be seen in the left of the drawing, crowded with passengers.

Claude Gillot, Embarkation for the Island of Cythera (detail)  Drawing c.1700  20.7 x 31.7 cm
 Homburger collection, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard
The other embarkation picture is a theatrical illustration painted earlier by Watteau himself.  This picture belonged to Jullienne and was engraved under the title L'île de Cythère. Again it is usually related to Dancourt’s play, which was performed by the Comédie-Française in the Spring and Summer of 1709.  Charles de Tolnay and others, Levey included, have agreed that the pilgrims in this picture are setting out for Cythera.  The temple of Venus is can be seen in the background but there are no architectural embellishments in the foreground. The pilgrims stand hesitantly and are not yet paired off.

L'île de Cythère, c1709  Stadelsches Kunstinstitut Frankfurt

The theme of departure implies a certain assumptions about the mood of the picture.  Throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Pilgrimage to Cythera seems to have been regarded as simply a depiction of a happy journey to a symbolic island of love.  But to later romantic writers, the idea of love took on a tragic air and the idea arose of a  "melancholic Watteau"; thus the Goncourts discerned an “indefinable sadness” in the fêtes galantes.  Modern commentators  tended to accept this verdict.  Charles de Tolnay writing in 1955 saw the couples in the Pilgrimage moving through the stages of love, embarking to Cythera only to find disillusionment:  the season is autumn and the goal is lost in the distant mists;   love, like life itself, is necessarily transitory”(see Posner, p.184)  Levey’s view also emphasised  the transitory nature of love. The lovers must rouse themselves from their self absorption.   One pilgrim helps his partner to her feet.  The woman in the central group looks back longingly as she is urged to depart. The movement of the picture “suggests  the end rather than the beginning of a fête galante”.The partial cleaning of the picture reassures us that the golden tones are  not a matter  of discoloured varnish; the time is obviously evening and the setting sun gives atmosphere to the whole scene: "This is the reason why an air of transcience and sadness has so often been detected...There is even a hint that one cannot leave the island, sans cesser de s'aimer” (Levey, p.185).  

More recent interpreters, tend on the whole to reject this gloomy view as unhistorical. The golden tones may indeed be the effect of age and are, in any case, less noticeable in the Berlin picture, which is brighter and more highly finished.  According to Posner,  a melancholy mood is attractive to commentators mainly because  as lends itself to possible metaphysical readings.  It has no objective critical value: ”imagined music exists only in the ear of the beholder” (p.184).

Was Watteau’s picture simply incoherent?

This idea has been suggested by more than one recent commentator.  The scene is both an embarkation towards Cythera and a depiction of the Island of Love itself.  It is emphasised that Watteau was more interested in the structure and movement of his composition  than in any strict narrative meaning.(See the article by Le Coat) It is certainly likely that Watteau was interested primarily in the aesthetic coherence of his work.  Moreover  the fêtes galantes are intentionally difficult to read;   the viewer,  observing the interaction of lovers from the outside,  cannot know their state of mind.  There is an element of uncertainty - love can always miscarry.   

But does it really seem likely that Watteau would have abandoned any compositional logic?

For my part, I think there seems nothing wrong with the idea that the painting simply shows an embarkation for Cythera. The composition, with the boat to the left, echoes Watteau's earlier treatment of the theme. The ship in the Berlin version is strikingly like that of the Gillot sketch.  Neither  the landscape nor the behaviour of the couples goes beyond the familiar  spaces and themes of  other fêtes galantes.   The lovers are roused from their reveries to move on to the next stage of love.  Their plans may still miscarry – note the cupid at the left with his reversed arrow which may yet undo the enchantment.  At the centre a woman looks back momentarily , perhaps in hesitation, perhaps  to reassure herself that her companions are following.  The cupids, which proliferate in the Berlin version, are keen to hurry the lovers on -  they nudge them into action and swirl over the ship pointing the way on.  We do not see Cythera on the horizon.  But perhaps, as mere observers, we cannot follow the pilgrims, even imaginatively,  into the realms of love? 


Donald Posner, Antoine Watteau (1984) p.182-95

Michael Levey, “The real theme of Watteau's Embarkation for Cythera.” The Burlington Magazine,1961, vol. 103, no. 698, pp. 180–5 [JStor article]

Gérard Le Coat, . “Le Pèlerinage à l'Isle de Cithère: un sujet « aussi galant qu'allégorique ».” RACAR: Revue d'Art Canadienne / Canadian Art Review,  1975. vol. 2(2) p. 9–23. [JStor article]

Dewey F. Mosby, "Claude Gillot's 'Embarkation for the Isle of Cythera' and its relationship to Watteau", Master Drawings 1974, 12(1): p.19-56 [JStor article]

Wednesday 30 November 2016

The Manuscript of Cléry's Journal is auctioned

On 19th October this year, the manuscript was auctioned of Cléry's famous journal of the last days of the French royal family. It was one of over 600 lots in the collection of Lucian and André Tissot-Dupont (of the pens and lighters) sold  by Piasa in Paris. The manuscript represents Cléry's personal copy which served as the basis for the first printed edition of 1798.  It comprises 144 pages bound into six booklets and is a fair copy in the hand of a secretary, but with numerous autograph additions and corrections.   Cléry's family, who owned the manuscript until 1898, considered  that it may in fact have been entirely transcribed by Cléry himself. (According to P. Le Verdier, the original was a "manuscrit brouillon" consisting only of fragmentary notes).

The manuscript has several interesting annotations. There is a long note, dated November 1797,from the imperial censor who refused permission for the journal to be published in Vienna. Following this setback, Cléry journeyed to Blankembourg where on 21st January 1798 he presented the work to a visibly moved comte de Provence. Written on the title page in the future Louis XVIII's own hand, is the verse from the Aeneid which was later printed in the published work:

Animus meminisse horret - my spirit trembles with horror at the memory.

The sale also included the original copy of the first edition sent to Louis XVIII by Cléry, with his handwritten dedication.

The manuscript sold for €54,000 against an estimate of 30,000-50,000 . The autographed book made 24,000.

Henri-Pierre Danloux, Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Cléry (1759-1809), valet de chambre of  Louis XVI
This drawing of 1798 was auctioned in Christie's sale of the Rothschild Collection Marie-Antoinette in November 2015.

Monday 28 November 2016

Fake chairs in High Places!

The French art world has recently been rocked by a series of scandals concerning the marketing of fake 18th-century chairs.  In June 2015 the Jean Lupu, head of a respected dealership in the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré and a man in his eighties, was accused of fabricating chairs using recycled wood and counterfeit stamps and fraudulently selling them to private clients. No further action against him is anticipated, but his company went into liquidation in February.  At the beginning of 2015 a judicial enquiry was opened by the high court in Pontoise, in the context of investigations by the French art fraud squad, the OCBC, said to have been ongoing since 2012. It is rumoured that the authorities are on the trail of a considerable money laundering operation.  On 7th June two high profile figures were detained for questioning: the antiques dealer Laurent Kraemer, and Bill Pallot, head of the Aaron Gallery and a specialist in 18th-century chairs.  Pallot was accused of "organised fraud" and "aggravated money laundering".  Having been held in custody for four months, he was released on 8th October pending trial in Spring 2017.  A third dealer, Guillaume Dillée was arrested later in June.  All three men involved are highly respected experts.


Laurent Kraemer, is the fifth generation of the Kraemer dynasty. Founded in 1875, the Kraemer Gallery is the oldest dealership in Paris dedicated to furniture and decorative art.   Laurent Kraemer is a member of the prestigious Compagnie nationale des experts (CNE) and an officier in the French National Order of Merit.  He has stated publicly that he acted in good faith and has "never sold any furniture with the slightest doubt over its authenticity".

Bill Pallot has been in charge of furniture at the Galerie Aaron for thirty years. He is an internationally recognised art historian, officier of the prestigious Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and author of the standard reference work on 18th century chairs.   A "Dandy fantasque et érudit", with his trademark three-piece suits, long hair and round glasses, he is known affectionately in the trade as "le père Lachaise" .  This collector and lover of the high life is said to have spent his four-month incarceration in a nine metres square cell with three other men, forced to take take turns sleeping on a mattress on the floor.

Guillaume Dillée,  49-year-old father of five, until recently headed the Cabinet Dillée, a respected Parisian arts consultancy, established in 1925. He has acted as an expert adviser to French Customs and has curated some of Europe's most important auctions of decorative arts:  in 2012 he scored a major triumph when a marble bust by Edmé Bouchardon which he had discovered  was bought by the Louvre for 3.7 million euro. In 2015 Dillée announced a sudden decision to emigrate to Australia and set up a new business in Melbourne. The family art collection, begun by his grandfather, was auctioned by Sotheby's in March 2015 where it sold for the massive sum of 10.2 million euros.


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.

What next?

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

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

Sunday 27 November 2016

Important chairs 5 - Marie-Antoinette's chair from the Belvédère

Yes I've finally found another one!  Not perhaps the most interesting, but certainly the most valuable....

This armchair was sold by Christie's in London in July 2015 for a staggering  £1,762,500 - not surprisingly a world record for a single 18th-century chair.   Christie's specialist Amelia Walker selected it as her object of the year.  The price was chased up by keen bidding: the successful purchaser was almost done out of their prize when their phone cut out; they reconnected to find the price had risen by a million pounds! (The original estimate was a mere £300,000-£500,000....)

The chair is the only known surviving fauteuil en bergère (ie. an armchair with filled-in sides) from a set made by the celebrated cabinetmaker François-Toussaint Folliot for the pavillon du Belvédère.  The suite, which is known to have cost 20,000 livres at the time, was the most expensive ever produced.

In 1781 Marie-Antoinette ordered  from Pierre Élisabeth de Fontanieu, intendant et contrôleur général du Garde-Meuble,   eight armchairs and eight side chairs “in the very latest taste”  Preparatory work alone took four-and-a-half months and cost 3,200 livres.From among various preliminary models, there survives a wax maquette for one of the fauteuils, made by Gilles-Francois Martin, after designs by Jacques Gondoin, dessinateur des meubles de la Couronne. The elaborately sculpted chairs were the work of the Royal Carpenter François-Toussaint Folliot (also known as François II), with the carving by his uncle Toussaint Folliot.  The chairs were finally delivered to Marie-Antoinette in July 1781 and originally featured the heavy draperies shown in the maquette. The ornate silk cushions were adorned with painted flowers and arabesques designed by Gondoin himself. (The sale notes for the fauteuil specify that “the present upholstery is an attempt to re-create to some degree the beautiful painted silk described in the original order.”)

The suite  was eventually dispersed in the Revolutionary sales.  On September 4, 1793, just five weeks before Marie-Antoinette's execution, all sixteen pieces are recorded as sold  to one “citizen Sellièr” for a mere 2530 livres. The fauteuil  last appeared at auction in Paris at Sotheby’s on June 27, 2001 when it was sold as part of the collection of the well-known antique dealer Luigi Anton Laura. The lot has been on long-term loan to the Louvre.  Christie's have not identified either the 2015 seller or the new owner.

Six of the side chairs are known to survive:, five are in the Getty Museum and a single one in Versailles, donated by Edmond de Rothschild in 1990.


Description of the Lot:

Sale 10670: Taste of the Royal Court: Important French Furniture and Works of Art from a Private Collection, 9 July 2015, London, King Street Lot 18:
The arched toprail carved with ribbon-tied flowerhead trails, flanked by flaming ivy-entwined torch uprights, foliate-carved arms with imbricated scroll terminals and on stop-fluted and fluted supports, the seatrails carved with myrtle wound around a reed, below bead-and-reel borders, on spirally-fluted turned tapering legs with flowerhead and bead swag collars, the front legs headed by a patera to the front and a flowerhead within a laurel-wreath to the side, the back legs headed by fluted waisted capitals, on foliate-carved feet, stencilled twice with a 19th-century inventory number 449, the padded back, arm supports and seat covered in floral-embroidered cream silk, possibly originally with two additional legs to the front rail (as seen in the Gondoin wax model), the rail therefore conceivably replaced at the end of the 18th or early 19th century, the feet reattached, originally white-painted and parcel-gilt
36 in. (91.5 cm.) high; 28 ¾ in. (73 cm.) wide; 21 ½ in. (55 cm.) deep

Amelia Walker,"My highlight of 2015’ — Marie Antoinette’s chair", post of 03/10/15

Versailles chair:
Catalogue of the 2014 exhibition: 18e aux sources du design (chair and the wax maquette)

Chairs in the Getty Collection

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