Thursday, October 27, 2011
Enthusiasts of the 18th Century and its seductions are all familiar with one of its many notable charms - the garden folly. One architectural historian described them as "joke buildings". Indeed these small whimsical constructions were not so small and could accommodate a good number of people for a reception or a chamber music performance. And it's not unlikely that many a folly was not considered to be a most accommodating place to arrange an assignation with a lover. 18th Century France and all of Europe's elite delighted in commissioning architects to design and erect such endearing edifices. Among the most notable remains the famous Desert de Retz with its pyramid and house in the form of a large broken column from Antiquity.
However in the 1960's, one of the 20th Century's most admired and eccentric taste makers, the Hispano Mexican bon vivant Charles de Beistegui, spent the last 10 years of his life, in the wake of a stroke, embellishing his much admired Chateau de Groussay near Versailles with a population of absolutely magical follies to evoke the douceur de vivre of the 18th Century as it has seldom been evoked - even in Hollywood! In this last great project of his life, he was assisted by his architect of choice, Emilio Terry and the Russian artist Alexandre Serebriakoff.
This is the front entrance to Groussay...
And one of our animated and enthusiastic group of visitors that participated in this memorable outing is Thierry Coudert who is seen in conversation with Olivier who is the personal assistant to the owner at the time of our visit.
Promenading at Groussay with a group of friends last May as guests of its former owner Jean Louis Remillieux (who just sold Groussay this summer to a mystery buyer about whom little is currently known), we had the delight of enjoying an unforgettably magical spring day taking in the enchantment of lush green gardens, cool placid lakes and rivers amidst which these eccentric architectural fantasies were so effortlessly dotted.
The first stop was the hypnotically spellbinding Tente Tartare inspired by a Swedish model as commissioned by Gustav III at Drottningholm.
The "tent" is actually made from painted metal sheets over the concrete construction.
Here we see the French politician Thierry Coudert with the charming musical historian Veronique Schwob. Messr Coudert is also the author of that delightfully riveting book Cafe Society.
I am in this photo with my much admired and fond friend the noted French scholar, private museum guide, and author on the decorative arts, Anne Marie Quette without whom the visit to Groussay would have been impossible to imagine!
In this instance Beistegui added the original detail of specially ordered blue and white tiles from Delft which line the entire inside of the pavilion!
Other follies included this Paliadian Pavilion peacefully nestled in a green maze of bushes and shrubs.
This is followed by a charming outdoor theatre.
The pyramid is inspired by the ice house pyramid at the Desert de Retz.
And the Palladian Bridge is a cross between the bridge at Wilton in England and the bridges of the Venetian canals.
Then comes the unforgettable Chinoiserie Pavilion which is a riot of polychrome and reveries of a China that existed only in the fantasies of 18th Century patrons who yearned for the visual novelties evoking the distant exoticism of the East...
The inside is no less evocative of the 18th Century's sense of whimsy and joie de vivre!
Below, resting inside the Chinese Pavilion is the much valued friend and colleague, the eminent historian of the City of Versailles Messr Jacques Villard with whom I was so happy to be able to share this landmark visit.
Messr Remillieux kindly had our group also enjoy the lovely interiors of Groussay but did not send us off without the lovely gesture of inviting us to a glass of champagne in the widely admired and famous library where you see me and this generous host and guide toasting a successful and unforgettable day at Groussay!
Any serious collector or connoisseur of 18th Century French furniture has made the mandatory pilgrimage to the legendary family owned antiquaire, Dalva Brothers in New York City. Situated after a recent relocation in a historic town house at 53 East 77th Street, this gallery of Olympian category has various floors of boiserie paneled rooms offering a dazzling selection of cabinet work as well as the art of menuiserie on which we shall focus in this visit. Menuiserie was the art of the wood carver who specialized in chairs and other seating, console table and frames of various sorts. The strict guild regulations clearly separated the menuiseur from the ebeniste who specialized in case furniture that was veneered. During my recent visit with Mr. Leon Dalva, the current owner, I was given the customary cordial greeting by this gentleman whose erudition is matched by his affability and delight in sharing his enthusiasm with collectors and historians of the period whose seriousness is evident. I had the pleasure of first meeting this exceptional gentleman in 2007 when I directed a workshop for appraisers in NYC about French 18th Century furniture and on which I collaborated with the world recognized expert in the field, Mr Thierry Millerand. Thierry kindly arranged an excursion to Dalva Brothers to be a perfect ending to this two-day workshop which allowed the participants a chance to view this exceptional museum quality collection in the company of these 2 widely acknowledged authorities. It was quite a thrill! And for me it was a most gratifying introduction to Leon Dalva and his lovely wife Nancy who was also present. During a more recent visit, I discussed several of the gallery inventory's chairs with Leon Dalva who balked with utter conviction at my observation about what I perceive as a waning taste for great French furniture of the Ancien Regime in the collecting and auction world of the early 21st Century. To such a suggestion he replied without a moment's hesitation, "French 18th Century furniture is alive and well here at Dalva!" When you visit, it's easy to agree with him and to question how anyone would not want to collect such glorious furniture if given the opportunity.
Leon Dalva's enthusiasm is unabashedly contagious! And no wonder... The inventory in the settings of finely carved wall panels and creaky wood floors is utterly mesmerizing in its beauty!
Take for instance this chair which is part of a suite attributed to the greatest menuiseur of the reign of Louis XVI, Georges Jacob. The set was executed on the eve of the Revolution in an assertively avant guard style anticipating the Empire under Napoleon with its reliance on Egyptian motifs.
In a more familiar manner is this perfectly carved and oil gilded Louis XVI pair of fauteuils of which we see an example. Oil gilding was a less commonly used technique (as opposed to the more common technique of water gilding) and surviving examples of chairs with the original oil gilding are very rare.
Below is a fine example of the late Louis XVI's period penchant for "Anglomanie" in certain court and aristocratic circles with favoured the use of mahogany in both cabinet work and seating. This particular armchair was clearly designed for an officer to whom it was important to be able to seat himself comfortably while wearing his understandably cumbersome sword! Note the exaggerated inward curvature of the support on the arm and you can see how the client often worked with the artisan to ensure a successful design that was also accommodating the patron's needs while resulting in what had to be the most harmonious period of successful collaboration between patron and artisan in Western history!
Of course Dalva Brothers has much more than just the chaste neoclassicism of the Louis XVI period in its vast and uniformly superb inventory. The Louis XIV period is well represented with such examples as this assertive fauteuil of the 17th Century with what appears to also be original gilded wood.
Plenty of exceptionally fine Louis XV chairs are part of the Dalva Brothers collection. Most outstanding to my mind was this pair of fauteuils of which we have an example below in which a truly rare and not often seen finesse of carving is immediately apparent with the rhythmic and twisting vines and foliage carved by the hands of an obvious virtuoso! In this instance the menuiseur was one of the period's greatest artisans L. Cresson who was well patronized in court circles.
Other examples seen below are ample testimony, in visual and tactile terms, to Talleyrand's often cited remark that only those fortunate enough to have enjoyed the world of elite Parisian and court society before 1789, could understand how sweet life could be for that enviable and enticing ruling caste!