Monday, August 13, 2012

A LITTLE KNOWN IMPORTANT FRENCH ROYAL GIFT INTENDED FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON FROM LOUIS XVI AT NEW YORK CITY'S METROPOLITAN MUSEUM

Visitors coming to New York City's Met Museum to view important French 18th Century furniture and decoration often miss a very important collection of rather rare and historically significant things because they are not included in the more familiar Wrightsman Rooms. I shall have occasion to visit these justly legendary galleries in the months to come...

However just beyond those better known galleries are 2 large lesser known rooms where it seems the museum curatorial and administrative staff have placed some ravishing French items that include some of the suite of furniture ordered by the Danish Minister Count Berndstorff when he lived in Paris in the mid 18th Century. That too is the subject for a future blog article and discussion. And among the other items of not insignificant interest to American lovers of French 18th Century decorative art, which will be discussed in this essay, is a partial exhibition of some of an overwhelmingly grand series of Beauvais wall hanging tapestries that Louis XVI ordered in 1789 along with a complimentary suite of Beauvais tapestry seat covers. These absolutely breathtakingly beautiful tapestries and their related seat covers were woven after cartoons by the artist Jean Jacques François Le Barbier, the elder. Some of the artist's cartoons are still conserved in the Moblier National in Paris.

This is the ill fated King of France as he appeared on the eve of the French Revolution in a portrait I took recently during a visit to the Revolutionary Galleries at the Musée Carnavalet in Paris.

 
This commission should be of particular interest to Americans as the documentation indicates that it was intended to be given to the first and then newly inaugurated American President, General George Washington! Below is the familiar Gilbert Stuart portrait in the White House.


Where the President would have placed such large tapestries in his modest official residences - first in New York City and then subsequently in Philadelphia - would have been a big question and quite a challenge!  Regrettably, it was a challenge President Washington did not have to confront. The events of the French Revolution and the general turmoil of the 1790's that followed never allowed Louis XVI's well intentioned generous official gift to a valued ally and head of state to be presented or enjoyed by its intended recipient!

However in the 19th and 20th Century, the tapestries did eventually change hands and ended up in New York City's Metropolitan Museum where, at the time this blog is published in the summer of 2012, one tapestry and 2 giltwood Louis XVI fauteuils with their complimentary Beauvais upholstery can be viewed and examined by visitors and scholars.  Below is a general view of the installation I photographed last year in June during a routine visit to the museum.


Worth noting is the addition of some lovely Louis XVI period furniture on the platform by David Roentgen...

The one of the four tapestries that is available for viewing at the moment is appropriately that one depicting America.


The flag of the fledgling republic is prominently seen being held by an attractive female allegorical and obligingly classically depicted figure in the centre.


While on the viewer's left, another fetching female allegorical figure is next to the column carrying an oval relief portrait of the American Republic's great friend and ally, Louis XVI.


In between the two is another female allegory of the Kingdom of France, carrying her shield covered with Fleur des Lys, over what art historians believe is a rather dejected reclining allegorical female figure suggesting a vanquished Britain.


Exotic birds and animals, trees and such also add a note of letting the viewer know this represents the New World!


Alas! The Met does not have the other three tapestry wall hangings out for the public to view at the moment. But I was able to scan the images from that invaluable 2-volume reference of European and Post Medieval Tapestries in the Metropolitan in which the entire known history of the tapestry set is documented.

This is a very exotic and evocative tapestry depicting Africa below. It is simply splendid! Under the shade of a tree and before a backdrop including an Egyptian pyramid, we see a majestically seated Negress with leopard skin garb next to her muscular negro attendant resplendently attired in finery including turban and plumes. Another nod to Ancient Egypt's splendors is the obelisk on the right. An allusion to the challenging terrain of the African deserts is the female allegorical figure on the right cupping her hands to get a drink of precious water as well as the appearance on the scene of a snake and other desert features. A zebra, an elephant and a lion are also depicted in all their customary epic scale that nearly dwarf the figures.


And below we see the distant splendors of the Far East in this tapestry representing Asia....


Closer to the hearts and homes of most 18th Century patrons would have been this depiction of Europe...


By no means of lesser interest is the tapestry seating, also following Le Barbier's designs, and executed by Beauvais. The MET has two of the fauteuils on public exhibition. The first of two chair covers depicting allegories of America is seen below.




And the other of two chairs with tapestry covers celebrating America is seen below and can also be enjoyed by the public.




As already noted, not all of the suite is available... Consequently,  in the museum's storage facilities, not currently exhibited, are other armchairs and an additional canapé celebrating Europe and America. It is illustrated below.


 While yet another one has as its subject a celebration of Asia and Africa.  It is seen below.


While it is sad and ironic President Washington was never able to enjoy this gift of undeniably Olympian splendor, it did eventually end up in his country's premier museum where it not only serves to further educate American scholars, dealers, collectors and connoisseurs of 18th Century French decorative art. But it is also a fitting place for this early tangible cultural reminder of a long historic Franco-American friendship to be on view for many to enjoy and to be conserved for generations to come!

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Peek at the Usually Hard to See House by The Gustavian Designer Masreliez in Gamla Stan, Stockholm


Louis Masreliez was born and formally christened Adrien Louis Masreliez (1748 – 19 March 1810). He was a Swedish painter and interior designer. Masreliez was born in Paris and came to Sweden in 1753. He began his education at Ritakademien (Drawing Academy) at the age of 10. Since the academy did not teach painting, he studied at Lorens Gottman's workshop. In 1769 he was given a study grant which he used to travel to Paris and Bologna to study. He left Bologna in 1773 to live in Paris for eight years. He then returned to Sweden in 1782 to become ledamot of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts. The following year he was made a professor of art history. He became rector of the Academy in 1802 and director in 1805. His work is represented in the Swedish National Museum of Fine Arts, the Gothenburg Museum of Art, and the Royal Palace. Among his works are: The interior of Gustav III's Pavilion at Haga Park in Solna; The interior of Tullgarn Palace; The altar paintings of Maria Magdalena church in Stockholm, Romfartuna church near Västerås in Västmanland and the S. Stefano in Alexandria.  The perfectly restored suite of rooms in Salviigränd in the Old Town in Stockholm, created for the tradesman and bachelor Wilhelm Schwardz in 1795 is the subject of this blog essay. It is a little known Neoclassical masterpiece. 

This is a portrait of Louis Masreliez below. 


He was one of the artists in the employ of the discerning, elegant and mercurial Gustav III who very actively nurtured, via his patronage and self assured good informed taste, the development of a viably Swedish variant of the then prevailing Neoclassical Style which we regularly label the Louis XVI style. It is certainly to the credit of Gustav III that he allowed Masreliez and other artists of caliber and outstanding talent to do so much work for the Swedish court and that he similarly encouraged the Swedish nobility to patronize artists of high category and foster a very sophisticated legacy of fine houses, interiors with some of the finest furniture, gilt bronzes, painted wood paneling, glass and textiles being produced in late 18th Century Europe.  This is King Gustav III by Alexandre Roslin in his coronation robes.


The Swedish Gustavian Style is often noted for its attenuated (some say a bit glacial) treatment of Pompeian inspired decoration. It's not as animated as the decor one sees in France in the 1780's and 1790's. But it's still quite beautifully quietly refined and very chic! As noted above, among the other accomplishments of Masreliez is the utterly poetic and sublime Pavilion of Gustav III at Haga Park. We shall have occasion to visit Gustav III's pavilion in the coming weeks...

But today I thought it would be interesting to take a glimpse of this apartment in Gamla Stan ( the old historic quarter) of Stockholm designed by Masreliez for a private client Wilhelm Schvardz, a Stockholm merchant. The work was finished in 1795.  Today the apartment is privately owned by a Swedish insurance company who makes it nearly hopelessly inaccessible. When in Stockholm, I was kindly given a nice colour booklet produced by the insurance company and lavishly illustrated.The photos below are scanned from this booklet.

Below are two views of the drawing room... Note the prominence of grisaille decoration on a gold ground on the wall panels. This is similar to the decorative treatments of the Mirrored Hall at Haga Pavilion.



Below are two views of the dining room... Note the lovely painted ceiling and the typically stylish Swedish chandelier.



The illustration below depict another smaller sitting room with its monumental porcelain stove that, along with the stunning chandelier, is a staple in classic Gustavian interiors.


The last illustration depicts the designer's treatment of his client's private intimate bedroom.



Sunday, July 22, 2012

THE RAVISHING DECORATION OF THE RENTED APARTMENTS OF THE DUC DE GUINES, A GREAT FRIEND OF MARIE ANTOINETTE, SEEKING INFORMATION AS TO ITS ULTIMATE FATE!

Years ago, in the early 1990's, in preparation for a lecture I was going to present on the visit of Grand Duke Paul of Russia to Paris and Versailles in 1782,  I was conducting research in the University of Miami Library and looking up an article about diplomatic gifts of Louis XVI. As anyone looking up articles in old periodicals knows, they are usually hardbound by year. This instance it was the volume containing Connaissance des Arts for 1962 which was the magazine that concerned me at the time. During the 1950's and 60's this magazine really published some outstanding scholarly articles about various aspects of the French 18th Century. Understandably,  I was interested in leafing through each month while having a chance to enjoy the volume. In the August edition of that year, the noted writer Eveline Schlumberger (who constantly wrote in this magazine about the additions to The Chateau de Groussay for her great friend and patron Charles de Beistegui) penned a riveting article which I never forgot about the looming menace to a not particularly significant or distinctive old residential building by the impending construction of a highway in the outer areas of Paris in Courbevoie where this building was situated. She asserted how the uninspiring exterior of the building belied the ravishing beauty of two sumptuous rooms entirely decorated in the finest surviving Louis XVI period stucco which had amazingly survived (what was then) just less than two centuries of revolutions, wars and other menaces such as redevelopment. This feature was indeed the cover story and a view of the rooms was on the cover seen below.


When the article was published, the rooms were part of an apartment occupied by the family of a certain Dr Henri de Frémont whose family had owned the apartment since the mid 19th Century. As it turns out, this enticing decorative ensemble of stucco was apparently commissioned from the building's architect and 18th Century owner, a certain Boiston, by Adrien-Louis de Bonnières, Duc de Guines. The Duc de Guines was a great friend of the new King's fashionable consort, Marie Antoinette. Among his other professional positions, such as Ambassador to Berlin (where he annoyed Frederick the Great who insisted on his eventual recall)  and later to the Court of Saint James (where he really got into hot water and had to undergo a trial after charges of being involved in smuggling!), and being a Chevalier of the Ordre de Saint Esprit, he was also named to the Council of War and in 1787 made Governor of Artois. This is his portrait by the father of Madame Vigée Lebrun, Louis Vigée, which is dated earlier in the 1760's before the Duc de Guines became so corpulent that his valet would have to ask him every morning if he was planning to stand all day or sit at some point in the course of the day as Guines would wear one pair of breeches for standing and one with a looser fit for sitting!


It would seem he also took his duties as an officer of the Guards Suisses seriously enough to make the effort to rent these lodgings at convenient proximity to the Swiss Guards barracks near Malmaison (which of course, at that time had not the historic association it would soon have under the Consulat and the Empire) and which is seen below.



As noted, the architect of the apartment building near the Suisses barracks was a certain Boiston from whom Guines rented this apartment where he clearly felt the need to decorate to make it nice enough to perhaps receive friends from The French Court and perhaps even the queen herself.  As carved, gilded and painted boiseries would have been costly for a rented apartment (though there is ample proof that many renters did commission lovely boiseries in 18th Century Paris in rented homes), Guines settled for more cost effective stucco. The effect is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful! Dr Frémont discussed a restoration he had ordered in which the original vibrant 18th Century colours were revealed after a cleaning in which the entire painted stucco decoration was restored to life with shimmering blues that recall Wedgwood Jasperware and Tuscan columns of painted finishes that resemble Sienna marble!  Below are another view as seen on the cover and some other monochrome photos that appeared in the 1962 article. 


Below the following 2 images from the article show opposite views of the main reception room or drawing room.



The article also published other monochrome photos showing the extravagant and contagiously festive sculptural decoration along the cornices with allegories celebrating the resident's various accomplishments and artistic interests. Guines may have been a questionable success as a diplomat or warrior. But he was a fine flute player. This was confirmed by Mozart who even dedicated a Concerto for Flute and Harp (K299) to the Duc de Guines! 



 The other smaller room with the vibrant blue and with relief decoration also served as the entrance foyer.


Happily, Connaissance des Arts also published this colour photo of a detail of the smaller room seen below. 


Curiously, I recently found this photo dating from the same year in which the room served as a location and backdrop for a fashion shoot. Le Duc de Guines would certainly have been very pleased to see this! 


Now the mystery begins... Where are these splendid panels today? What was the eventual fate of this very intriguing Louis XVI period interior with a connexion to such an important personage in the court of the ill fated Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette? A Parisian friend assures me this area of the outer parts of Paris is now densely populated by newer developments and that the fate of the building was probably not a happy one... But what of the interiors? Did a generous patron, collector or a rich American step up to the plate and rescue these two rooms? Does anyone know if they are preserved in a great private home or a museum anywhere?  I have naturally tried to do a Google search and nothing comes up of any substance. Any information is most welcome!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

18th CENTURY ART, FURNITURE AND DECORATIONS AT A RECENT CHRISTIE'S INTERIORS SALE, FEBRUARY 2012




Nothing develops a connoisseur's eye better than frequent physical examination and personal scrutiny of the items in which one is seeking to obtain a level of expertise. While attending the grand scale, high profile auctions at Christie's and Sotheby's and other noted auction houses is essential, I am particularly partial to the less exalted sales held discretely, almost monthly, at Christie's in New York known as the "Interiors" sales. Here, dealers, collectors, appraisers get a chance to study and acquire good art and antiques of the second tier market. And let's face it, that's the day to day stock in trade of the antiquarian market. When I refer to second rank or second tier, I mean perfectly respectable authentic paintings, furniture and decorations that are not of royal provenance or made for the super elite patrons of 18th Century Europe. I do mean nice items made for well to do patrons and consumers such as a doctor, a lawyer, a business owner or successful merchant. Thomas Jefferson lived in Paris from 1784 to 1789 and bought things of this category that were lovely and elegant and he furnished his embassy at the Hotel Langeac with such purchases and later returned with them to North America...

I was in New York City in early February to take an appraiser's seminar on furniture at the New York Historical Society and spent the day before taking in the current Christie's Interiors sale preview exhibition at their Rockefeller Centre location which, as usual, offered everything from 18th Century to nearly contemporary items. Of course as befits this blog, I shall point out some very nice offerings which were realistically estimated and sold realistically. In fact, 18th Century decorative arts has never been so affordable due to the fact that it's not in fashion with the wider (I believe very misled!) collecting public who are smitten by the current media driven craze for mid 20th Century modern. Never has it been so within reach of a collector on a budget to buy a perfectly respectable pair of Louis XV or Louis XVI fauteuils at auction! Below are two examples offered at that auction.



Here was a lovely oval portrait of Marie Antoinette after the one sent ahead to France to let her future groom see her image as she was about to arrive at the French Court...


And here is another portrait done in the late 18th or early 19th Century of the Austrian Emperor Francis seen below.


This sale had a very good array of French 18th Century furniture which included a fine early Louis XV parquetry commode seen below.


Also among the notable pieces of fine ebenisterie was this Louis XVI mahogany console dessert and another commode from the 1780's as well which are both seen below.



This sale was chock full of lovely small objects and framed drawings and prints. My fellow blogger, interior designer James Andrews is correct in describing a Christie's Interiors auction preview as a perfect intimate "pop up" museum!

Among the other offerings were 2 charming 18th Century snuff boxes with miniature painted scenes after Vernet and from the French Revolution, a ravishing Louis XV encoignure, and plenty more seen below... Enjoy!