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

Saturday 26 November 2016

A portrait of Louis XVI by Kucharski (and other royal portraits)

At the end of September 2015 the sale took place at Christie's in Paris of over a thousand pieces from the collection of the author and TV producer Jean-Louis Remilleux.  In 2012 Remilleux bought the 18th-century château de Digoine in the department of Saône-et-Loire with the intention of restoring it and opening it to the public.  The sale was to finance future restoration work in the stables, gardens and outbuildings and ensure the preservation of a magnificent 19th-century private "théâtre de société”.  The most expensive lots were mostly furniture:  a settee stamped by Mathieu Bauve was estimated at €350,000-450,000.

Lot 101:  A portrait of Louis XVI by Alexander Kucharski

Friday 25 November 2016

St. John's Eve - pussycat auto-da-fé?

The ritual torture of cats was an element of popular festivities throughout the Medieval and Early Modern period, possibly with roots in pagan practice.  One particularly bad time for puss was the Eve of the Feast of St. John.  Here is Robert Darnton (as quoted in Wikipedia):

Cats also figured in the cycle of Saint John the Baptist, which took place on June 24, at the time of summer solstice. Crowds made bonfires, jumped over them, danced around them, and threw into them objects with magical power, hoping to avoid disaster and obtain good fortune during the rest of the year.   A favorite object was cats — cats tied up in bags, cats suspended from ropes, or cats burned at the stake. Parisians liked to incinerate cats by the sackful, while the Courimauds (or "cour à miaud" or cat chasers) of Saint Chamond preferred to chase a flaming cat through the streets. In parts of Burgundy and Lorraine they danced around a kind of burning May pole with a cat tied to it. In the Metz region they burned a dozen cats at a time in a basket on top of a bonfire. The ceremony took place with great pomp in Metz itself, until it was abolished in 1765. ... Although the practice varied from place to place, the ingredients were everywhere the same: a "feu de joie" (bonfire), cats, and an aura of hilarious witch-hunting. Wherever the scent of burning felines could be found, a smile was sure to follow.......  Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre (1984) p.87-88.

There can be no doubt that such practices did indeed persist into the Age of Enlightenment, but did 18th-century Parisians really "incinerate cats by the sackful"?

Thursday 24 November 2016

Enlightenment cats

More 18th-century cats: it has to be said that the works of the High Enlightenment were arid reading for cat lovers!

The Encyclopédie

The authors of the Encyclopédie  were savants and men of science who approached their subject with seriousness. In the Article CHAT (Myth) Diderot, with Herodotus in hand, inquired into the place of cats in mythology, particularly that of Egypt. In this great and strange civilisation  the cat was worshipped "in its natural form, or in the form of a man with a cat's head". To kill a cat, even by accident, was a crime that was "severely punished".

This brief treatment was the final article in the section on "cats" which takes up four-and-a-half columns in all.  Consideration begins with CHAT s.n. felis, catus (Hist.nat.) by Louis Dubenton, completed by Jaucourt.  Gabriel François Venel  then devoted two columns to CHAT (Matière médicale).  Finally there were three anonymous lines on the use of cats fur by furiers "principally" for sleeves.

According to Dubenton, although cats are domesticated, they belong  to the category of animals that are "wild and ferocious" such as lions, tigers, leopards and .....bears. ( Jaucourt in QUADRUPEDE also likened cats and bears, on the basis of the shape of their heads and similarities in dentition).Daubenton insists on their natural savagery:. "There are wild cats [..] and there is reason to believe they would all be wild if they had not been tamed".

Sunday 6 November 2016

Paradis de Moncrif

Born in Paris in 1687, Paradis de Moncrif, author of Les Chats, was ten years older that Voltaire, who was a familiar correspondent. His career represents the archetypal “man of letters” of the earlier 18th century.  Lacking any independent fortune  – d'Alembert characterised his family as "poor but respectable" -  he was wholly dependent on aristocratic good will.  His most important patron was the comte d’Argenson  who employed him as secretary and later secured him a valuable sinecure as inspecteur des postes, which brought in an annual income of 6,000 livres. Added to this was an apartment in the upper floors of the Tuileries palace.  Powerful sponsors allow him to acquire literary respectability: he figured on the list of royal censors and in 1733 was admitted to the Académie française.   Most crucial of all in the 1740s he secured the envied position of “reader” to the Queen, allowing him to become something of a fixture in Court society; he was nicknamed “le fauteuil” so much was he an indispensible part of the furniture.  By all accounts Moncrif managing to “play the dévot” in the queen’s circle whilst still keeping up relations with d'Argenson and madame de Pompadour.  

Pastel portrait by Quentin La Tour , 1733, sold at Sotheby's in 2007

Friday 4 November 2016

Moncrif's cats (cont.)

Quite apart from arcane details of cat history, Moncrif's Les Chats preserves for us many splendid  titbits concerning contemporary pet cats and their aristocratic and literary lady owners.

Letters Six & Seven: Ménine, cat of the duchesse de Lesdiguières

Paule-Françoise de Gondi (1655-1716) duchesse de Lesdiguières, was a wealthy young widow and the niece of Cardinal de Retz. There is a portrait by Antoine Pezey (with an engraving by Drévet) which shows her with her beloved cat  Ménine  on her lap.  Ménine, it may be noted, was not an angora but an ordinary grey cat with yellow/gold eyes. Her death in 1684 at the age of eight was commemorated in a sonnet composed by no less a personnage than François-Séraphin Régnier-Desmarais, the perpetual secretary of the Académie française.   Moncrif reproduces this "famous sonnet" which centers on the slightly improbably theme of the little she-cat's fierce chastity.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Moncrif's cats

Rest assured, Madame:  one day the merit of Cats will be generally recognised.  In a nation as enlightened as ours, prejudice cannot hold out for much longer against so reasonable a sentiment.  You can be confident that soon, in society, at the theatre, on promenades, at balls, even in the Academies, Cats will be received, indeed sought after.  It is impossible not to feel that one possesses in a Cat a friend who is excellent company, an admirable actor, born astrologer, perfect musician, and the embodiment of every talent and grace.  But we cannot yet determine precisely when this golden age will arrive;  for reason has to destroy the work of prejudice and the progress of reason is not always rapid....

François-Augustin Paradis de Moncrif's Les Chats (1727) had the indubitable distinction of being Western Europe’s very first book devoted to cats. The work was published in1727 by Gabriel François Quillau and was adorned with eight fine engravings b  the comte de Caylus after drawings by  Coypel . (A second edition with a Rotterdam imprint followed in 1728).  Moncrif characterised his approach as “gravement frivole”; his burlesque praises of the feline race were elegantly written and backed by extensive reading. But, if Moncrif thought to impress, he committed a grave error of judgment.  Les Chats might have sold well, but his literary enemies chose not to get the joke; the work proved an irresistible source for the  “catty” witticisms which plagued him throughout his subsequent long career.  As the marquis d’Argenson commented, the ridicule was unfortunate; Moncrif’s only mistake was to have published as a book what was really only a society amusement.

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