Friday, May 26, 2017

Babette's Feast! A Neglected Collection of Outstanding French Royal Louis XV Furniture and Decorative Arts at the Court of Philip and Louise-Elizabeth, The Reigning Duke and Duchess of Parma

Louise-Elizabeth, Enfant de France was the first daughter of Louis XV. Her pet name was Babette. The gallant King of France never minced words with regard to Babette.  She was his unquestioned favourite! 

This is Louise-Elizabeth as a young lady by the preferred court portraitist of the day at Versailles, Nattier. 

Louis XV was an unrelenting lover of women, of hunting, of beauty and civilized living... The decorative arts in France and the Court of Versailles during his reign (1715-1774) reached an apogee that many decorative arts historians to this day believe have never been surpassed.  This is a famous pastel portrait of the King of France by De La Tour.

Below is a portrait, also by Nattier, depicting a grown and married Louise-Elizabeth in hunting dress during one of three of her return visits to see her family at the French court at Versailles after her departure to marry abroad in 1739 at the age of 12. She revisited Versailles in 1748, again in 1752 after the death of her twin sister Madame Henriette and again in 1757 until 1759.  Her father's love was emphatically reciprocated.

Louise-Elizabeth grew up seeing and obviously coming to appreciate the best furniture, tapestry, ormolu, porcelain and other related decorative arts that she clearly brought with her when obliged to relocate and leave Versailles to marry her cousin once removed, Don Felipe (Philip), a Spanish Prince who was destined to eventually become Duke of Parma. Philip became the reigning Duke of Parma which was handed to him thanks to the endless machinations of his tirelessly ambitious mother, Isabella Farnese (Queen Consort  to the Spanish King Philip V to whom she was his second wife) whose family had once been reigning dukes of Parma. Her tireless efforts and intrigue paid off. She was able to regain the Duchy of Parma on his behalf as a result of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

Below is Philip's portrait as Duke of Parma by an unknown court artist. As as ruler, Philip was notably competent and he seems to have been receptive to many of the exciting new ideas that characterized his century which were part of what is today known as The Age of Enlightenment. During his reign (1748-1765) Parma and the court welcomed numerous savants including accomplished personages from the ranks of the less widely known philosophes Such as Etienne Bonnot de Condillac. During his reign, education and philosophical discourse were nurtured widely and successfully.

Below is a state portrait of Louise Elizabeth by Charles Andre van Loo who has tactfully flattered her while not concealing her double chin. She was well known to be a chubby woman all her adult life. .

Below is a very revealing family portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Parma chez eux depicted rather informally in Louise-Elizabeth's private apartments in their preferred residence, the Palazzo Colorno. The court artist who painted this very welcoming image depicting royal coziness was Giuseppi Baldrighi. It was painted in 1757 on the eve of Louise Elizabeth's final  return visit to Versailles and where she died of Smallpox in 1759.  The Ducal couple did not have a happy marriage. But they managed to secure the succession for the throne of the Duchy of Parma. And as this portrait clearly depicts, they had a son (the future Ferdinand who succeeded his father Philip of as Duke of Parma in 1765), and two additional daughters. The smaller daughter on the left is the future Queen Maria Louisa of Spain.

This detail seen below depicts a greyhound which was part of a pack of greyhounds that was a Royal gift from Louis XV to his son in law Philip. Note the panache with which a silk ribbon ties the greyhound to a sumptuous Louis XV giltwood  fauteuil `a la reine!

Below is the Ducal Family's preferred official residence, the Palazzo Colorna. Today it houses one of the World's most admired culinary schools!  During the reign of Philip and Louise-Elizabeth, it was where some of the finest examples of the art of Parisian ebenisterie and menuiserie and other glorious examples of sumptuous French court decorative art were assembled so that the Duchess of Parma could bring the decor of Versailles to which she was accustomed and which she clearly sought to recreate around her in her new home abroad.

Archival records enlighten decorative arts historians that the Ducal couple relied on an agent named Bonnet, working on their behalf with various artisans and marchands merciers to procure a staggering quantity of important and superior furniture, clocks, lighting, chenets for the fireplaces, tapestries, porcelain, and other related items to complete Louise-Elizabeth's objective of recreating the atmosphere of Versailles at the court of Parma. Below is an animated pair of ormolu chenets for the fireplace depicting courtly huntsmen which was procured for Louise-Elizabeth by Bonnet, in Paris in 1752, from the ciseleur doreur Le Lievre.

Below is another pair that was purchased from the marchand mercier Chez Boucher et Chez Jacquemin in 1754. These were actually in the Ducal Palace apartment of Monsieur de la Combe who was in charge of the Ducal Guarde-Robe. It is in the buoyant Chinoiserie style and after a model believed to be by Thomas Germain.

The Ducal Palace had a vast collection of clocks by the best clock makers of the day such as Lepautre and Julien Le Roy. The current whereabouts of some of these clocks is unknown. But some do exist today. Among the more notable clocks remaining is this one seen below. It is by Dennis Masson and was acquired by the Duke of Parma in 1759.

The more extravagant clock below is of tortoiseshell with ormolu with an allegorical decorative scheme and is signed by Jacques Panier who was known for making clocks with fine repeater movements. It was probably acquired from the marchand mercier Testard in Paris in 1754 and matches a description in an archived invoice that states it was sold for 260 livres.

The Duke and Duchess of Parma seem to have relied a great deal on Bonnet, He was probably involved in the negotiations that led to the acquisition of considerable quantities of exceptionally fine tapestries from the Royal Manufacture of Tapestries founded by Louis XIV at Gobelins. 

Below is a Gobelins tapestry depicting a very romanticized and luscious depiction of the New World after the artist Desportes from a series entitled Nouvelles Indes.

Below is another Gobelins tapestry depicting the adventures of the Spanish character immortalized by Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote. The series acquired by the Duke and Duchess of Parma, of which we see one example, was after cartoons by Antoine Coypel.

Note the ravishingly carved and gilded suites of seating furniture seen above and below which give an idea of the sumptuous triumphs of the art of the menuiseur in the Ducal collection... Records indicate that the carved and gilded menuiserie that mostly included seating furniture were by the very best artisans of the period such as Avisse, Tilliard (who was a great favourite of Madame de Pompadour with whom Louise-Elizabeth became acquainted in 1748), Foliot and Cresson!

Below are more examples. Do note how the seating furniture was created en chassis. The upholstery could be consequently changed to suit furnishing needs in winter and summer with alternating covering. Winter seating seems to have been mostly with Gobelins tapestry.

In this portrait seen below of Louise-Elizabeth and Philip's son and successor Ferdinand by Johann Zoffany, note the tapestry upholstery has been changed for summer with green silk damask.

The acquisitions also included this cartonnier seen below with five gilded leather fronted compartments surmounting a frieze of three veneered drawers over a front case with a diamond trellis design. It is missing the ormolu clock that would have certainly been placed atop.

Below, another portrait of Ferdinand as a youth depicts a bureau plat and cartonnier from the ducal collections acquired in France by his parents. But you'll note how the cartonnier seen in this portrait does have the clock intended for it.

The two encoigneurs below are also part of the cartloads of exceptional Parisian ebenisterie to make their way to the court of Parma. On the left, by an unknown ebeniste, the encoigneur was ordered for the private apartments of Louise-Elizabeth at the Palazzo Colorno. On the right, the encoigneur is attributed to Jacques Dubois. It is noted by its fine floral marquetry and no less finely defined ormolu that is strikingly similar to a desk by Dubois ordered by the Duc de Choiseuil that is now in the collection of the Louvre Museum.

However, among the most superb examples of ebenisterie in the Ducal collection was this commode ordered from Bernard Van Riesen Burgh that has a veneer of consummately executed Vernis Martin imitating Asian lacquer embellished by gleaming ormolu mounts. This commode was acquired and placed in the apartments of La Marquise de Leyde who enjoyed a very important position in the household of the Duchess of Parma. Though, after the return of the marquise to Versailles in 1754 it was retained in the Ducal collection.  

Other commodes with veneers of fine and rare wood included these two below... The one directly below is by Jacques Dubois. 

The commode seen below is by Jean Pierre Latz. But note how both commodes are embellished by identical ormolu mounts. This is not unusual as the guild system that ensured this Olympian quality in the art of Parisian ebenisterie before the French Revolution forbade an ebeniste to apply mounts made by his studio. The ormolu had to be supplied by a ciseleur doreur and it was not surprising that two ebenistes would work with the same ciseleur doreur. If not the ebeniste, the marchand mercier might understandably be responsible for the choice of ormolu if he was directing the production of the artisans, as was often the case.


Another important example of the Duchess' acquisition of Parisian furniture was this exuberantly designed bureau plat that once occupied pride of place in the grands apartments of Louise-Elizabeth in the Palazzo Colorna. It is attributed to Charles Cressent. The ormolu mounts are especially important and have the "C" couronné stamps that were done only during the period of 1745-1749. The quality of the ormolu in this bureau plat is outstanding in its execution with dazzling surfaces and extavagantly assertive female busts on the cariatid mounts seen on the four legs. It is seen below. 

The eventual dispersal of the Ducal collections in the 19th Century and the Unification of Italy destined such furniture of regal quality to eventually end up at the Palazzo Quirinal in Rome. Formerly the residence of the Pope, after Italian Unification, it became the official residence of the Kings of Italy and later became the official residence of the President of Italy after the loss of the Italian Monarchy in the wake of WWII.

However, not all of the exceptionally fine furniture ordered from Paris by the Duke and Duchess of Parma ended up at the Palazzo Quirinal.  This portrait at the Metropolitan Museum in New York seen below depicts the youngest daughter of Philip and Louise-Elizabeth of Parma named Marie-Louisa. She was married to her cousin the Spanish Prince of Austurias who later became Carlos IV. As his consort Maria-Louisa became one of Spain's most controversial queens, patron of Goya and mistress of Manuel Godoy, her husband's no less controversial minister. In the portrait below, the young Maria Louisa is seen with another fauteuil `a la reine by Nicholas-Quinibert Foliot that is believed to be after a design by Contant d'Ivry...

... And the same museum is fortunate enough to also have the same fauteuil in the Wrightsman Galleries which is seen below in the salon the Metropolitan Museum has from the Palais Paar in Vienna. As you can note, this fauteuil enviably retains its original upholstery.  Having grown up surrounded by furniture, tapestry, and other objects of such outstanding beauty and quality, Maria Louisa would also go on to become one of the most discerning patrons of decorative arts as Queen of Spain as can be seen by all the interiors she occupied and had decorated for her at the Palacio Real in Madrid as well as other Spanish Royal residences.

We are indeed fortunate that Louis XV's eldest daughter was such a discerning woman of enlightened taste in the best of the decorative arts of a time that the art of the cabinet maker, the bronze smith, and the tapestry weaver reached unparalleled heights of unapologetic perfection! Without her prodigious Royal orders from Paris to recreate the elegance of the Court of Versailles in Parma, both the Italian Palazzo Quirinal and the Metropolitan Museum would have been the poorer! 

Sunday, November 20, 2016


In his unforgettably lively diaries, Le Duc de Saint-Simon assures us that the businessman and financier Samuel Bernard was the one man in front of  whom even Louis XIV would have to ever so subtly grovel by flattering the banker's vanity and turn on the royal charm to obtain the monies needed to keep going during in in the early 18th Century when the wars of the last period of his reign were taking a toll on Royal finances. Anyone who was informed in late 17th and early 18th Century France knew that Samuel Bernard (1651-1739)  could command sums like no one and he was very important and influential as a result. Money talked then as it talks today. This is his portrait below by Hyacinthe Rigaud - who of course painted the well known official portrait of the mature Louis XIV in his glory. Samuel Bernard, who later was given the title of Comte de Coubert, could certainly afford the best!

Samuel Bernard represented the emerging class of men of commerce that were the true beneficiaries of the reign of Le Roi Soleil and as this cast of businessmen, financiers and fermiers generaux of the Ancien Régime began to progressively gather power and influence in the 18th Century, they often commissioned fine Hôtels in Paris that rivaled the residences of the older and socially superior  noblesse d'épée.

His son,  Samuel-Jacques Bernard (1686-1753) , later Comte de Coubert after inheriting from his father, was fortunate enough to be born in to a great fortune. This allowed him to ally himself to the better pedigreed noblesse d'épée by marrying the daughter of of Le Marquis de La Coste by which means he procured a property and eventually joined two houses on the rue du Bac and the rue Saint-Dominique and the architect entrusted with taking the two houses and giving them a proper remodeling was François Debias-Aubry who engaged a master wood carver Jean Martin Pelletier to execute the boiseries.  Below is a surviving plan of this house of which nothing survives as it fell victim to the ambitious remaking of Paris directed by Baron Haussman during the reign of Napoleon III in the Second Empire Period.

The house was sold after the death of Samuel-Jacques Bernard in 1753 by 1761. Its succeeding resident and owner was another financier, Pierre Pierre Tavenier de Boullongnne.

The historic significance and admirable quality of the boiserie paneling and remaining contents was already appreciated by many before the demolition of the house and these elements were sold in 1887.

This was so, even before the public sale of the contents of the house  long after the death of Tavanier de Boullogne in the early 1790's. As the demolition of the house approached, Baron Edmond de Rothchild (1845-1934) bought the panels of the grand salon de compagnie before the remaining boiseries and appointments were sold to the public.

The boiseries of this grand salon de compagnie were later installed in Baron Edmond's Paris residence at 47 Faubourg St Honoré. They remained there until 1969. This is a photo of Baron Edmond below.

The panels of sumptuously carved and gilded boiseries from this historic salon de compagnie were donated in the late 1960's by Baron Edmond's grandson to the new Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  The room was opened to the public in May of 1969 to great fanfare and the installation was entrusted to one of the great personages of the world of aristocratic decorating, Henri Samuel.   As is also widely known, It was to Henri Samuel that the munificent donors to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, Charles and Jayne Wrightsman, entrusted with the similar supervision of the installation of a breathtaking suite of period French 18th Century rooms much admired today as The Wrightsman Galleries.

In the December 1969 issue of Connaissance des Arts magazine, an article was written by Marcelle Berre de Turique celebrating the new installation. At the time, without the benefit of today's more updated scholarship which later shed more light on the room's history and original configuration, the room was hailed as a masterpiece of historical authenticity and a perfect representation of a Louis XV period salon de compagnie  which the article also incorrectly believed to be by Germain Bouffrand. It cited the presence of no less superb furniture such as the large bureau plat in the centre of the room attributed to Pierre Migeon, the ravishing Porcelain de Saxe inkstand resting upon it, the luxurious suite of seating furniture covered in fine needlepoint, the pair of portraits, the large Beauvais tapestries and the large scale marble statue of Diana the Huntress which had a provenance of having come from the royal gardens of Marly. All this was cited to show the correctness and authenticity of this installation reputed to recreate a salon in which Voltaire and Madame de Pompadour would have felt at home. See the five illustrations below from that article.

The reality is entirely different. No one who loves the joie de vivre of the French 18th Century would argue the room is not ravishing and of great interest. But, like just about any American museum "period room" (with the exception of the admirable Salon Doré recently restored at the Palace of the Legion of Honour Museum in San Francisco), it's not quite an authentic recreation. On a good day, it's an assembled group of lovely representative French 18th Century decorative art in a room  of boiseries carved in the mid 18th Century and vastly changed by the time it got to Israel to the point that its original owner would be very bewildered  and disoriented!  Years after the article cited above appeared and claimed my notice, the late Bruno Pons, in his landmark book French Period Rooms shared his research that established the architect was not Bouffrand and that the room was significantly altered to suit Baron Edmond de Rothchild,  and later the museum under Henri Samuel's supervision.  This is how the room appeared in Bruno Pons' book. With slight tweaking it's not too different today when this essay was written in late 2016.

In the mid 18th Century, a salon de compagnie  would have been for a reception or gatherings to play card games or tric trac. The seating `a la reine with flat backs would have been formally arranged around the wall and seldom removed from there. While the less formal curved backed seating en cabriolet would have been used in the center of the room and used around the gaming tables. Console tables with marble tops were part of the original furnishings as well. The currently displayed console tables are adequate substitutes however. Tapestries were not customary either. More mirrored panels would have been part of the original ensemble. Pons' research also established how the doors which now flank the short walls would have been in the corners. The current corner panels would have flanked the mantle piece!

The original cornice was once a tour de force of carving and gilding and long ago lost. A pretty but repetitive cornice was installed under Henri Samuel's direction.

There would have been no bureau plat. It was not a study. And while no one will deny, that to an early 21st century visitor, the large marble figure of Diana adds fetching note of panache as a decorative addition, it would have been an inconceivable addition to drag in a statue from the garden into a grand salon de compagnie  of the Ancien Régime!  And while the room has some lovely Sevres porcelain as well, the factory didn't exist when Bernard commissioned the room and no Sevres porcelain is cited having been in the room in an extensive inventory taken after his death in 1753.

 In the Pons publication the dessus-de-porte paintings are also discussed. This is the finest one below depicting an allegory of Asia. It was painted by Carle Van Loo and is clearly the best of the set of four such over door paintings depicting the 4 corners of the world which also had panels representing Africa and America by Jacques Dumont le Romain as well as another panel representing Europe by Jean Restout.

These are some more recent images that show the latest arrangements of the salon with the bureau plat in a different position and the canapé that was not seen in the earlier images. Note the incorrect placement of seating `a la reine in the centre of the room around the bureau plat...

...While on the wall on the right seen in the photo below, from which the room is entered to be visited with a barrier, in between the windows and doors, there are a pair of Louis XV canapés with curved backs against the walls...  Of course they would have not been anywhere except the centre of the room in the 18th Century if they would have been placed in the room at all!

In the end, the room is a fine and welcome addition for study of the decorative arts in the middle of the French 18th Century. It assembles a high quality variety of representative categories of architectural wall panels, furniture, a fine Savonnerie carpet of the period, exemplary Beauvais tapestries, Sevres porcelain ormolu lighting fixtures, clocks and fireplace related items such as chenets. It even incorporates Chinese porcelain which would have been to the taste of 18th Century elites in Paris during the reign of Louis XV.

For a young Israeli student of the decorative arts seeking to see good examples of the French decorative arts of this period it's a very good start until such a student can get to see more examples in Paris and Versailles. However as a decorative ensemble, like the Wrightsman Galleries, it's just a gathering of superb and representative items in one room that only manages to evoke and fails to authentically recreate a grand salon de compagnie of  mid 18th Century Paris in which the works of the great writers of the French Enlightenment would have been a plausible subject of discussion along with the latest gossip from the Court of Versailles! 

Monday, November 14, 2016


Frèdéric de Cabrol was one of the more engaging personages in that delightful social constellation of social figures who animated what has become known as "Cafe Society" which was international but inevitably most at home in Paris from the 1920's until the 1960's.  Married to the delightful Daisy, "Fred", as he was known in society, and his charming wife were a fetching pair to be sure.  She actually lived to a very mature age and died in 2011.  Both husband and wife had unimpeachable and enviable family backgrounds. Frèdéric de Cabrol was a Baron.  Entry into the best circles was never much of a challenge to this very attractive and likeable couple who were part of some of the most memorable social events of their generation. For instance, Fred escorted Diana Cooper to the Beistegui Ball in Venice held at Beistegui's Palazzo Labia in September of 1951. Ambassador Duff Cooper couldn't make it. Fred escorted Diana whose costume (styled by Oliver Messel and Cecil Beaton) was that of Cleopatra as interpreted by Tiepolo, the Venetian 18th Century master whose mural in the grand salon of the Palazzo Labia depicted the banquet of the legendary Egyptian queen.  No surprise. Frèdéric de Cabrol came dressed as Marc Antony!

In spite of the enviable position, neither the Baron or the Baronne were at all wealthy and  Frèdéric de Cabrol had to make his living as a society decorator. This was his drawing room in Paris in 1948 seen below.

However with time, he upgraded it as rationing of expensive materials such as fabric began to recede as the post war world prospered. And we can see how he covered the walls in unabashedly sumptuous blue velvet which looked ravishing against the Beauvais tapestry of the early 18th Century that served as the focal point of  the drawing room of which we can see two images from an article in Connaissnce des Arts in July 1962. The application of velvet could have been due to the influence of such other decorators of the time of which Georges Geffroy and Emilio Terry come to mind...   A deep appreciation of Pre-revolutionary French 18th Century styles resonates in these rooms which still also seamlessly introduce 20th Century comforts.  Of course the underpinning of Ancien Regime elegance is seldom out of view. The tapestry, the bureau plat and the splendid objects in ormolu resting upon it are the principal objects that lend the room its 18th Century esprit d'epoque with great apparently effortless theatrical flair.. And the splendid tabouret pliant is utterly digne de Versailles!  But the pair of English style cozy club chairs flanking the fireplace also introduce the same comforts as Beistegui introduced in his library at Groussay.    An undeniable tour de force!

According to Evaline Schumberger, the author of the same Connaissnce des Arts article (who regularly reported on the various works being commissioned by Charles de Beistegui  at Le Chateau de Groussay and at the Palazzo Labia) Frèdéric de Cabrol, who largely drew his clients from his social friends and acquaintances, believed intensely that the designer's obligation was to create a room that genuinely reflected the client's tastes and way of living. Of course it's probably safe to assume his clients were not too different in background and inclinations and style of living and it wasn't as challenging as it might be today in a far more diversified social environment.All the remaining photos below are from that same article in the July 1962 issue of Connaissnce des Arts by Evaline Schlumberger. 

Le Baron de Cabrol was also an ardent advocate of three principals: Comfort, Convenience and Warmth.  But like most of le gratin of Paris at the time, he loved the French 18th Century. This dining room he designed in a very refined attenuated Louis XVI style is a symphony of blue in which simple cotton fabric covers the walls and plays off against two tone blue velvet curtains and that hopelessly chic cut velvet upholstery on the chairs which is so evocative of the period. The spare use of a discreet 18th Century portrait of a gentleman flanked by ormolu sconces and a few other spare but delicate framed pictures contribute to create a welcoming and serene environment in which to dine which is animated ever so gently by the blue and white Delft chandelier over the Louis XVI mahogany dining table of sober elegance.

 Below is a reminder of what Evaline Schlumberger also reminds us was another penchant of Le Baron de Cabrol: reusing and making creative use of the "nice things" his clients already owned or inherited. He was not one to discourage massive discarding of family items. Of course, one can only imagine the caliber of "things" his clients brought to the project! The drawing room below with its original Louis XIV period marble fireplace and "bones" was a good example of how Le Baron de Cabrol would delight working with the things he clients already owned. The lovely old masters and Regence chairs were other fine heirlooms that come along with the client of which he was no doubt glad to put to use in the project. C'etait magnifique! 

 Below is a room in which 18th Century French elements are in evidence... The lovely Louis XVI mahogany writing table in the Reisener tradition in the centre of the room, the Louis XVI green marble mantle piece and white and gold trumeau above it are good 18th Century anchors. But the room in this instance is more of a mid 19th Century mood with the use of golden yellow moire wall coverings and the vibrantly red upholstered Napoleon III style upholstered sofa and easy chairs. It conjures up the kind of room one of Proust's characters such as Orianne de Guermantes would have perhaps enjoyed in private while betraying the influence of Beistegui and Madame Castaing.  When all is said and done, Frèdéric de Cabrol was a master of his art and brought to it the self assurance that only someone steeped in an appreciation of the Ancien Regime and an understanding of its douceur de vivre could bring to the task of the creation of a timeless interior of the sort we'll very likely not see again in our lifetime.