Monday, October 11, 2010

Furniture Discussion, 2nd in a Series: Les Chaises Voyeuses in 18th Century France

The voyeuse is an often misidentified form of seating furniture produced in France in the 18th Century. It is often mistaken for a prie dieu chair which is, as implied by its name, for devotional practices and used by gentlemen and ladies for kneeling upon while saying morning or evening prayers. The prie dieu is emphatically lower and it's obvious no one of normal scale or stature and sit on it as it's clearly exclusively for kneeling. I good example of a prie dieu is seen below in this photo I took of one fine example in the Musée Lambinet in Versailles last month.

The voyeuse is for a clearly more mundane purpose! It was a chair on which a gentleman or lady would, in fact kneel casually while taking in a card game in which he or she was not directly actively taking part as a player. The chair was usually positioned with its back facing towards the players and the gaming table in the periphery of the gaming activity. One thing should be made clear here as it's often believed incorrectly to be the case. A voyeuse was not occupied by the card players at the table with the spectator leaning over the player on the padded chair rail which is the principal feature that distinguishes the voyeuse from an ordinary side chair or dining chair. Below in the photo I took at Versailles this past month, you can see a good example of a standard voyeuse chair by Claude Sené in Louis XVI's private dining room in the royal chateau in his Petits Apartments. As in most examples it has an upholstered back surmounted by the required padded chair rail on which the occupant rests his or her forearms.

Many voyeuses are scarcely distinguishable from a side chair in either the Louis XV or Louis XVI periods. However it's obvious this seating form reached it's apogee of beauty under the later reign when it was often characterized by superb and delicate carved decoration on an open back with a lyre motif! Not surprisingly, Georges Jacob and some of his contemporaries like Henri Jacob or Martin Jullien made a specialty of such voyeuses with a lyre motif on the back.

A fine example is seen here. It was offered at Christie's Paris in December of 2007 as lot 92 in the sensational auction of the excess inventory of the legendary Parisian antiquaire Bernard and Benjamin Steinitz. This example is stamped by Jullien. We can only hope the winner of this charming voyeuse at this stellar auction has taken great care to show it the respect it deserves and has upholstered it in something lovely, appropriate and stunning by the likes of Scalamandré!

A Visit to The Lambinet Museum in Versailles

A Few great cities and smaller ones have a museum dedicated to exhibiting art and historical artifacts that essentially are put to the task of telling the history of the city and its cultural contributions. Perhaps the most notable is the Carnavalet in Paris. However less known, and only a short drive or train ride away is the Musée Lambinet which is dedicated to the City of Versailles and which has just been unveiled after having had a major renovation that was definitely worth the wait!

When I attended on the reopening day in September, it coincided with that massively attended weekend of Patrimonie Nationale during which anyone can, for no admission fee, enter museums and historic houses (including some like government ministries not usually accessible to the public) The crowds were predictably considerable and daunting. But it was also encouraging as it showed just how much the local Versailles community love their museum which is virtually unknown in the USA - even among the most committed lovers of the 18th French Century.

The Musée Lambinet is a municipal museum in Versailles telling the history of the town. Since 1932 it has been housed in the Hôtel Lambinet, a hôtel particulier designed by Élie Blanchard, built in the second half of the 18th century by a part of the Clagny Lake (drained during the reign of Louis XV to encourage the city's expansion and development) and left to the town of Versailles by the heirs of Victor Lambinet (a cousin of the painter Émile Lambinet) in 1929. It has been classed as a monument historique since 1944. Its garden façade has a sculpted pediment representing an allegorical figure of architecture.

The museum has 35 rooms, some with period decor. One one floor is a very charming recreation of a gentleman's domestic establishment with the table laid out for dinner, the toilette table all ready for a gentleman to don his powdered wig, and the gaming table arrayed with cards and tokens to imply someone from the glorious 18 eme is just about to walk in the rooms to enjoy a convivial game of whist!

There are collections on the town's history on display, such as furniture, ceramics and objets d'art as well as historic plans of the town and paintings, sculptures and other works of art by artists from the town. Indeed, the newly renovated museum now has a worthy gallery on the ground floor to showcase a sumptuous collection of sculpture by one of the city's most celebrated sons, Jean-Antoine Houdon!