Sunday, November 20, 2016

A FREQUENTLY OVERLOOKED LOUIS XV PERIOD COLLECTION OF DECORATIVE ART DONATED BY A ROTHCHILD TO THE ISRAEL MUSEUM IN JERUSALEM AND INSTALLED UNDER THE DIRECTION OF HENRI SAMUEL


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'S VISION OF THE JOIE DE VIVRE AU DIX-HUITIÈME EN FRANCE.. TRIBUTE TO AN UNDESERVEDLY NEARLY FORGOTTEN GENTLEMAN OF TASTE AND DISCERNMENT

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.



Thursday, August 27, 2015

INTERIOR DESIGNER MICHAEL GREER'S VISION OF THE JOYFUL FRENCH DIX-HUITIÈME... HIS LOVE OF NEOCLASSICISM, TÔLE PEINT AND STEEL FURNITURE

Few of the younger people in the world devoted to interior design, elegant living, antiques and collecting even remember the Georgia born society decorator who reached the pinnacle of success in the 1960's and one of New York society's most admired, pursued interior designers, the debonair Michael Greer. Greer's cosmopolitan clients also included the well born and successful residing in major places like Washington DC and in various cities in California. As a precocious teen I remember being taken by the unabashed, the no less effortless chic and panache of Greer's last New York City apartment which was the subject of an article in Architectural Digest in 1974.  It was an emphatic contributory factor in my journey as a young art historian and aesthete to eventually become a specialist in French Eighteenth Century decorative arts and to study its social history with keen diligence. At the peak of his successful career, Michael Greer was consulted by no one less than Mrs. Kennedy during her efforts to elevate the decor and collections in the White House. But, a more interesting fact is that Mr. Greer was also an advisor to Mrs. Kennedy's admittedly less discerning predecessor Mrs. Eisenhower and to Jacqueline Kennedy's successor Lady Bird Johnson. Michael Greer is seen in the photo below in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House next to Mrs. Kennedy during the heady Camelot Era. He is on the left of the First Lady.


In this photo portrait of Michael Greer seen below, from the verso of the dust jacket on his once widely admired book Inside Design (which had at least 6 printings!), we see the young successful designer who, at that wonderfully exciting time in his career had been recalled by one friend after his death as "stunning - tall, slender and witty". 


According to an article on Greer published in People Magazine after his tragic death in 1976, Greer counted among his clients, friends and dinner guests such personages as Joan Fontaine, Mary Martin, Geraldine Page and the irrepressible Ethel Merman. He enjoyed the invitations of such enviable hosts as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the Queen of Denmark. The article further added a description of a sybaritic life citing that Greer "drank from Baccarat crystal and travelled in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce. With his cook-butler, he entertained the Vanderbilts, Revsons, Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson." The urbane and charismatic Hermione Gingold was a special favourite "I'd known him a long time" she said in the same article, and added "He would offer me his car and chauffeur... "

I hope my readers will agree it is regrettable that such a fine, accomplished gentleman of discernment brimming over with, as more than one contemporary assures us, joie de vivre along with an infectious enthusiasm for grand interiors and facile appreciation of l'art de vivre, should more often than not be only scantly remembered today for the brutal and murky circumstances of his gruesome murder in his apartment in April of 1976 at age 60 when he was found strangled to death and tied to his favourite Neoclassical steel bed in the red room of his apartment. A newspaper clipping right after the murder is seen below. It didn't help either that, for reasons I find rather peculiar, when Doyle's auction house in New York City sold his collections of lovely Louis XVI and Directoire furniture and appointments, a piece of case furniture on display during the auction preview was discovered to still have a rather unexpected collection of dildos in it that, it seems, no one thought to remove! Need it be said? The story made the rounds all over New York and still comes up when poor Michael Greer's name is mentioned to the aged over 60 members of the antiques and interior design scene in New York!


Michael Greer should be more remembered and admired by today's lovers and students of l'art de vivre for his rolling off the proverbial log facility when it came to creating ravishing and welcoming interiors for himself and his clients that clearly demonstrate a well educated man of superior taste, an almost instinctive command of information about the history of the great periods of European decorative art and a particularly admirable knack for adapting historical styles to the mood and rhythm of the lives of well to do and sophisticated New Yorkers and other appreciative clients in other American cities of the mid 20th Century.  And while Greer did have a vast reserve of carefully acquired familiarity with all the great historical styles, it's obvious when we visit his own apartments that this man particularly gravitated to the joyful French Eighteenth Century - and especially to that particularly chic, clean period of Louis XVI and the Directoire with the occasional toe put into the waters of the First Empire!

That Michael Greer has been nearly forgotten today is genuinely to be lamented. There is much we can learn from him about the art of elegant living from reading Inside Design (which can happily be dug up second hand with a bit of diligence online) and looking at various photos of Michael Greer interiors.  However, no matter how much we immerse ourselves in a particular style of the past, it's really nearly impossible to recreate, to the last detail, a perfect Louis XVI or Directoire interior. Nor would even the most ardent collector and enthusiast of the period really want to do so. Modern comforts on which later generations depend would have to go for such a decorative ensemble to be a 100% historically correct recreation.  And with domestic help not being available in legions, it's not exactly realistic. That explains, for instance, why Michael Greer did not disdain the use of vinyl flooring when he felt it would be both convenient and effective.

For instance, Directoire inspired as this dressing room may be, it is clearly something that only a decorator working in the 1960's would have created. Perhaps not one of Greer's best moments... But it's still not without historic interest.  You can see it below as it appeared as an illustration in Inside Design.


A visit to Michael Greer's own New York City apartments confirms that, like all men who live life intensely and with joie de vivre, he lived life to the hilt and was an inspiration to the people fortunate enough to come into his orbit. His sure footed sense of style puts him in the league of other design legends such as Elsie de Wolfe, Tony Duquette, Billy Baldwin, Stéphane Boudin, Emilio Terry, Georges Geoffroy, Charles de Beistegui, Anthony Hale and David Hicks.  This apartment, until a tragic fire which occurred about 1970, was so admired in its day it was featured in the prestigious French magazine Connaissance des Arts twice in the 1960's as he tweaked and improved it with obvious love.  This is a view of the living room below which looked into a dining room that could be discerned through the three arches. 


This apartment, enjoyed by Greer from the later 50's into the early 70's, already has many of his distinctive touches and his penchant for Neoclassical lines and the use of bouillotte lamps along with tôle peint. The paravent with a grisaille decor on a gold ground is certainly reminiscent of Fornasetti with a strong 18th Century precedent at Haga Pavilion in Sweden.  Here are two more monochrome details as published in Inside Design





The library in this apartment that we see in the image below was particularly welcoming and stylish. I am tempted to compare it to the work of Emilio Terry with it's love of Neoclassicism and clean lines.  Here we also have more additions of Directoire and Empire tôle pient and steel furniture. 


Worth visiting brielfly is this library seen below for another of Michael Greer's clients. Note the tôle peint sconces flanking the trumeau and the hanging lighting fixture discerned in this monochrome image over the Louis XVI canapé.  Both images of libarires are also illustrations from Inside Design


Another distinctive area of collecting interest and connoisseurship to engage Michael Greer's attention was the use of French steel furniture from the late 18th and early 19th Century.  This dramatic steel Charles X period bed from ca 1820-30 was particularly impressive in the photo below which was published in the mid 1960's in Connaissance des Arts. It's almost certain the bed was altered by Greer to suit his use. But no less impressive is Greer's obvious love of historical details. Here he used fabric to recreate the ambience of a Napoleonic campaign tent fit for General Bonaparte himself during the Italian and Egyptian Campaigns!  Greer paid assiduous attention to such details as fringes and braids as well as hinges, and other hardware used in fine 18th Century interiors. For this he drew upon his well grounded love and familiarity with French 18th Century design principles. 


As stated earlier, a sudden fire that seems to have occurred in 1970 obliged Michael Greer to relocate with a few salvaged examples of furniture and other prized objets d'art that he understandably hastened to install in his next and final apartment which was nothing less than a tour de force!

Photographed in Architectural Digest in the January/February 1974 issue in full colour, it's obvious a mature, more self assured and fully evolved Michael Greer has emerged in this oustanding and elegant apartment which he enjoyed until his death in 1976. Ever the affable host, the magazine hastened to add that when the journalist writing about this apartment in 1974 arrived, Greer had a gathering in honour of the magazine that included Earl Blackwell, Joan Bennett, Eliot Janeway and even the Duchess of Argyll. The AD writer also thought to note that on that same day, Greer was delighted he had just accomplished the purchase of a rare antique desk costing "only $120,000.00".  The remaining photos seen below are of Greer's final residence as seen in AD and which begins with a view to the corner of the main drawing room in which an admittedly questionable Louis XV bureau plat (that is either remade from various antique elements or oddly restored) is laden with such tantalizing items as a monumental ormolu inkstand that was understood to have been made for Catherine II of Russia. Another typical Greer detail rooted in the 18th Century is the collection of obelisks. Note the lovely draped Grecian beauty of antique 18th Century terracotta which was among the items salvaged from the fire in the former apartment as was the desk and the inkstand.


Looking across this desk into the main drawing room, Greer's passion for Louis XVI and Directoire with a tempered sprinkling of Empire is omnipresent.  The suite of Louis XVI seating furniture under the large fragment of an 18th Century French tapestry is stamped by B. Grivet as per the article in AD. And of course, a steel gueridon and a fine bouillotte lamp can be discerned. This is so obviously completely inspired by the festive French 18th Century. However, conceptually this is a very 1970's decorative ensemble. One can't help speculate how Greer may have influenced a few celebrated designers just slightly younger than he was at the time, such as Robert Metzger. Metzger loved his obelisks!


Again, when we cast a glance at the photo below from that same AD 1974 article, we know it's the early 1970's when we see such stylish accommodations to subtly hide the stereo and other entertainment items like televisions and LP's of classical music behind built in cabinets and a pair of trellised doors (a nod to Elsie de Wolfe perhaps?) flanking the monumental French 18th Century terracotta allegory of Autumn in the mirrored niche. Note the lovely pair of painted and parcel gilt decorative urns atop each pilaster on each side of the mirrored back of the niche. They are very likely Italian, late 18th Century.  Also subtly discernible is the pair of terracotta draped Grecian inspired beauties seen in the mirror and which are clearly in the opposite side of this small lounge appointed in a very embracing welcoming Louis XVI and Directoire luxury that includes fine examples of late French 18th Century steel furniture such as the recycled wash stand next to the side chair seen in the left and the small adjustable table `a dejeuner seen in the foreground along the right next to a very sober but chic Directoire bergère. 


Michael Greer's very focused and admirable pursuit of knowledge about the areas of late 18th Century French steel furniture and tôle peint were widely known and his connoisseurship on both subjects were such that among the few reference articles on these subjects still consulted today were authored by him for The Magazine Antiques in the late 1960's.  The Charles X period steel bed was salvaged and reused and now set in a powder blue room with a clearly late 18th Century Pecier and Fontaine inspired decor with lavishly draped fabric.  Greer loved to reuse lovely 18th Century architectural fragments with which he created curtains and decorations for false windows. The tôle peint hanging lighting fixture is typical Greer as are the outstanding and rare steel chairs and the hauntingly curvaceous rocker that antedates Thornet's bentwood by decades. But in the midst of these eccentric and esoteric decorative fancies, a solid and deeply rooted love and appreciation of the late French 18th and early 19th Centuries resonates


The room, seen in the two illustrations below, in which Michael Greer liked to write and work, was swathed in the most Imperial red digne de Malmaison and sums up the grand Greer style admirably. The attenuated elegance of the fine mahogany late 18th Century French bonheur du jour under the Louis XVI giltwood wall mirror, the Regence caned canapé, the Baltic late 18th Century ormolu chandelier, bouillotte lamps, the steel gueridon, the painted canvas depicting Ganymede and Zeus over the steel Directoire campaign bed and the obelisks not only remind us of a connoisseur who deeply loves and understands the late 18th Century in France and Continental Europe. It's a decorative ensemble created by a gentleman and a connoisseur who had the self confidence of an Emilio Terry or a Georges Geoffroy. If Michael Greer had ever considered other careers, he might have been an admirable theatrical designer! 





Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A CHARMING LOUIS XV PERIOD SUITE OF SEATING FURNITURE RETURNS TO VIZCAYA MUSEUM IN MIAMI... ATTRIBUTED TO NOGARET DE LYON

In early December of 2011, I was perusing the online catalog for an upcoming "Interiors" auction of assorted furniture and decorative arts at Christie's in New York City. Two lots being offered in succession intrigued me. They were lots 261 and the next lot. The first comprised a pair of lovely painted and ever so gently worn and charming fauteuils à la reine and the other lot comprised a a canapé en suite. Christie's offered the plausible suggestion that the suite might be by the noted menuiseur active in Lyon during the reign of Louis XV, Nogaret. Examples shown on the Christie's online catalog as presented in December 2011 are seen below. Photos are courtesy of Christie's.








Although I could not fail to notice the similarity of these lovely examples of Mid 18th Century French menuiserie, to some seating furniture in the Rococo "Reception Room" at Vizcaya, a stunning and romantically ravishing house museum in Miami, Florida on Biscayne Bay built during WWI for its owner, industrialist James Deering, I was not prepared for the surprise that these pieces were in fact identical and had once been part of a larger suite of Louis XV seating furniture in that room at Vizcaya before it made the transformation from private house into public museum in the 1950's.  Below are views of the room taken in the 1980's as it appeared with what was left of the furniture after the Deering nieces removed the items which reappeared decades later in the auction market in late 2011. The photos are courtesy of Vizcaya.



A condition report that was kindly provided by email was the moment when it all came together and it became clear that this offering of 2 fauteuils à la reine that comprised Lot 261 and a canapé which was the next lot up for auction were part of a larger suite of Louis XV period caned seating furniture that was part of the ravishing decorative ensemble of the museum's Rococo "Reception Room".  In this condition report, a very strong provenance demonstrated that two nieces of Vizcaya's owner and builder, James Deering, who were Marion Deering Mc Cormick (Mrs Chauncey) who lived from 1886 and died in 1965, and Barbara Deering Danileson (Mrs Richard) who lived from 1888 to 1987, took possession of the chairs after the death of their uncle. After all, Vizcaya was still a private family owned home and breaking up a large suite of furniture to take back to another residence either niece had up North was not amiss or in any way unusual. it was the prerogative of James Deering's beneficiaries to do as they pleased with the contents of this grand house. The provenance also records that the items were subsequently donated to The Speed Art Museum by these ladies in 1950. Obviously, by 2011, The Speed Art Museum was seeking to sell them in what was likely a sort of de-accession sale and consigned them to Christie's. It was apparent the consigning institution and the auction house had no idea of the historical importance of this set of seating furniture to this widely loved and visited house museum in S Florida.  If any further proof was required, that this set of 2 arm chairs and a canapé were part of THE set in the "Reception Room" , a perusal of original vintage photographs of the interiors in Vizcaya document the prior existence of these very same furnishings when Mr. Deering lived at Vizcaya from 1917 until his death in 1925!  Below you can see a photo of the room as it appeared in 1917 in which the entire suite seating furniture is seen intact. This photo is taken from the December 1917 issue of The Architectural Review, in which the entire issue is dedicated to Vizcaya and penned by its great outrageously talented mastermind, principal decorator and artistic coordinator, the debonair Paul Chalfin.


As anyone who has lived a little knows, life is not usually simple or uncomplicated. Getting from point A to point B is not always a straight line.  The harrowing events that followed entailed Vizcaya missing the chance to buy the furniture at auction when the Christie's sale transpired after being alerted on such short notice.  It seemed as if the museum had lost an enviable opportunity. Then suddenly, while perusing 1stdibs.com in the early part of 2012, to my astonishment, the same 3 pieces reappeared on the gallery market in the inventory of Le Trianon Antiques in Sheffield, MA!  This dealer had been the highest (for all one knows perhaps the only) bidder and was now offering them for sale on the retail market. I alerted the museum again. They set in motion the pursuit of the furniture and the curatorial office contacted Le Trianon Antiques immediately. It is to this gallery owner's credit that he was very considerate and reasonable with the museum when approached by the curator of collections employed there at the time in early 2012 (but who is currently no longer at Vizcaya) and agreed to resell it to the museum so the suite could be once again reassembled. Special mention and credit goes to then head of the museum's fund raising arm, "The Vizcayans", Ms. Lynn M. Summers. She was the one to agree with me that the proverbial second chance seldom presents itself, really put the fire under everyone and unrelentingly pushed for this deal happen as soon as she realized the chance to bring this lovely original furniture was there for the taking! Bravo Lynn!

Below are some recent photos that show the current appearance of the "Reception Room" that has regained its "James Deering Era" (1917-1925) appearance again, with its hypnotically enchanting Vernis Martin inspired black and gold wall panels believed to be from an 18th Century palace in Palermo, luxurious wall silks depicting tropical trees after Rococo style originals designed in the 19th Century (which were kindly rewoven free of charge by Scalamandré after it was clear the originals were threadbare about 60 years ago), a rare and delicate Portuguese mid 18th Century needlepoint carpet, a soberly elegant french Louis XV stone mantle piece, various small Louis XV period tables and a Louis XV style bureau plat, original 18th Century Naples and Chelsea porcelains, a Louis XV tôle cartel clock and all of this dizzying array of Rococo beauty under the benignly serene 18th Century Venetian plaster ceiling from the Rossi Palace in Venice! And finally, back after too many years during which they had been long separated, is the now fully reassembled suite of Louis XV period seating furniture. These photos were taken by myself in January 2014.  A truly happy ending!  Go to Vizcaya when you are next in Miami and see this historic house of unimaginable poetry, fantasy and charm and fall in love!








 

Additional good news about the return of this furniture is that, under the careful supervision of the curatorial staff so ably headed by Gina Wouters, Curator and Remko Jansonius, Deputy Director of Collections and Curatorial Affairs, under the direction of Museum Director Joel M. Hoffmann, Ph D., the suite is scheduled
for a serious restoration and new upholstery for which Tessinari and Chatel silk will be used! 

Below are recent photos of the restoration crew carefully working on the chairs in the summer of 2014.