These splendid armoires, lavishly decorated with spectacular gilt-bronze mounts that fuse seamlessly with the scrolling foliate pattern of the sumptuous font of brass and tortoiseshell première and contre-partie marquetry, are exquisite examples of André-Charles Boulle's genius and spectacular representatives of the group of armoires of medium height Boulle created after 1700. Conceived initially with shelves to house collections of precious medals, as is still evident on the armoire in contre partie here, and decorated to the doors with trails of medals celebrating the Life of Louis XIV as well as the figures of Aspasia and Socrates, this series of armoires proved so successful, it remained in production in Boulle's workshop throughout the first half of the 18th century and was subsequently continued by Boulle's followers, including the ébénistes Montigny and Delorme who signed the armoire in première partie.
LES ARMOIRES A MEDAILLES DE L'HISTOIRE DE LOUIS XIV
The composition with the figures of Aspasia and Socrates, representing 'Wisdom and Religion', inspired by Michel Corneille's ceiling painting in the salon des Nobles at Versailles, is recorded in a drawing by André-Charles Boulle on the reverse of a 1701 invoice for the Grand Dauphin, preserved at the Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris.
The series of armoires a medailles was comprehensively studied by Alexandre Pradère in 'Les armoires à médailles de l'histoire de Louis XIV par Boulle et ses suiveurs', in Revue de l'Art, 1997, no. 116, pp. 42-53, and Pradère established that their conception was not linked to the medal cabinets made by Oppenord for Louis XIV as had previously been suggested by the comte de Salverte, but derived from a pair of tall armoires by Andre-Charles Boulle from the Nicolaÿ family, that were subsequently owned by William Beckford at Hamilton Palace and are now at the Louvre.
Of the known armoires still in existence today the majority are in public collections, including ten in French museums and national chateaux. These comprise a pair in the palais de l'Elysée, three pairs at Versailles and a further pair in the palais du Quai d'Orsay. Their history has been traced to revolutionary confiscations in the years 1793-1794, with two pairs confiscated from the Noailles family, one pair from Lenoir du Breuil and another from Breteuil. A pair now in the Royal Collection at Windsor castle was purchased in 1813 by George IV, possibly through the dealer Robert Fogg, for Carlton House in London, where they were depicted in the Blue Velvet Closet, in a watercolour of Pyne's The History of Royal Residences (London 1819). A pair in the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg comes from the Cheremetiev family; while a pair in the collection of the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth was probably purchased by the 'bachelor duke', the 6th duke of Devonshire, in the 1830's. The history of a further pair in the collection of the prince of Liechtenstein was not known at the time of Pradère's article.
Only four other known pairs are still recorded in private hands. Two of these pairs share the Ogden Mills provenance of the present armoires, with one matched pair in contre-partie and another in première-partie. The latter sold from the Ogden Phipps collection at Sotheby's, New York, 19 October 2002, lot 126. Another pair formerly in the Beauvau collection was listed in an inventory of 1864, while the fourth pair, its mounts marked with the C-couronne, was sold from the collections of Victor Rothschild in London in 1937 and was subsequently in the collections of Misia Sert and Antenor Patino and was most recently sold at Christie's, Paris, 16 December 2008, lot 6 (Euro 1,745,000).
18TH CENTURY RECORDS OF LES ARMOIRES A MEDAILLES
The earliest archival reference is in the 1739 inventory drawn up after the death of the duchesse de Noailles, born Françoise-Charlotte d'Aubigné, and niece of Mme de Maintenon (Arch. nat., MCN., t. CXVI 305), where a pair of such armoires are described in the anteroom of the state appartment of the 3rd duke:
'Deux armoires en médaillier de marqueterie écaille et cuivre ornées de bronze doré d'or moulu, prisées ensemble, 2 200 L'
The huge house of the Noailles on rue Saint-Honoré had been completed in 1718, therefore the furnishing must have followed, which allows us to date the Noailles pair to the early 1720's. The Noailles subsequently acquired a second pair, which was seized during the revolution and is not at Versailles.
As suggested by the trails of medals to the doors the prototype of the series was conceived as a medal cabinet, and an armoire decorated with seven medals to each door and now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is still fitted with three vertical rows of trays for medals. The weight of the medals explains the presence of the additional central foot, which was needed to take the weight of the supports of the shelves and would not otherwise be necessary on an armoire of this scale. It is interesting to note that the armoire decorated in première partie offered here also still bears evidence of such shelves for the storage and display of medals, all the more as it appears to be the only other armoire apart from the example in Oxford to retain traces of its original purpose.
That these armoires, generally described as bookcases, were indeed used as medal-cabinets, is confirmed by a description in the 1772 sale of M. Gaillard de Gagny, the earliest recorded sale reference, were a pair fetched the impressive price of 3 012 L:
'No 274. Deux corps de bibliothèque en marqueterie à ornaments de cuivre qui peuvent servir à faire des médailliers; chacun a quatre pieds de haut (1,30m) sur 3 pieds 9 pouces de large (1,22m); elle ferment à deux battants; des figures à demi-relief, des médailles en guirlandes et autres agreements dorés d'or moulu ornent ces deux bibliothèques qui sont de Boule le père'.
While no longer used as medal-cabinets - the fashion for medal collections had passed in the 1730s - these armoires remained very much in demand throughout the 18th century, used as collector's cabinets or bookcases. They retained the central foot, which no longer served a structural purpose, as a purely stylistic element. The Boulle revival of the 1760's meant these armoires were more in demand than ever before and were restored for various Parisian marchant merciers by some of the best Parisian ébénistes, some of whom also made new versions, often as pairs to existing armoires. The two main ébénistes responsible for these restorations and replications were Philippe-Claude Montigny (1734-1800) and Jean-Louis Faizelot Delorme (maître in 1763). Montigny's stamp is found on six of these armoires, including one at the Elysée, one at the Quai d'Orsay and four at Versailles; while Delorme's stamp is found on the present armoire in première partie as well as one at Versailles, one at Windsor and one in a private Swiss collection. Since both ébénistes were received masters in the 1760's, their intervention can be dated after those years. Although both ébénistes are known to have sold Boulle pieces themselves - in fact Montigny was well-known for his Boulle furniture - it is more likely that the initiative for such productions stemmed from dealers such as Claude-François Julliot (d.1794) or his son Philippe-François Julliot (1755-1835), both of whom specialized in the resale of Boulle furniture and Boulle reproductions.
After the death of Claude-François Julliot's wife in 1777, an inventory was drawn up of the stock, which listed a quantity of old pieces by Boulle, as well as various pieces in the process of realisation, with models recognizable as by Levasseur or Joseph Baumhauer. The stock also included quantities of bronze ornaments with some descriptions reading:
'modèles d'ornements d'après Boulle pour bibliothèques, modèles de bas d'armoires' and more specifically 'huit rubans en relief et neuf médailles non ciselées', which were clearly intended for the production of the series of armoires with Aspasia. At the auction of Julliot's stock on 20 November 1777, the bronze models for the armoires with Aspasia were sold as lot 871:
'Deux fortes figures à bas relief & leur support, une grande rosace, deux mascarons, deux équerres contournées à plate-bandes & fleurons, deux petits cartels, 17 pièces de moulures, deux agraffes, deux rinceaux ciselés, huit rubans riflés & neuf médailles non ciselées faisant 48 pièces, modèles d'après Boulle pour bibliothèques.'
Interestingly, these bronzes were purchased by the marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre who could therefore - and very possibly did - continue the production of the series. It is almost certain that Julliot junior also continued the production of the armoires since his 1802 sale includes as lot 3 two armoires of this model:
'Deux autres grandes armoires de marqueterie de Boule, seconde partie à deux battants, avec ornaments, chapiteaux et soubassements de bronze doré, à figure d'apôtre sur les panneaux'.
The early history of the series is difficult to establish as the mention of armoires 'with figures' is too vague to base an identification on - and a variety of similarly-described armoires can for example be found in the inventories of Boulle's clients such as Pierre Gruyn or Pierre Thomé. The aforementioned listing of a pair of such armoires in the 1739 inventiry of the duc and duchesse de Noailles is the first such record. In the second half of the 18th century a number of such armoires are described in both sales and inventories, generally attributed to Boulle of followers of Boulle, including:
- A single one was described in 1760 with seven medals on each door, as part of the contents of the château d'Asnières belonging to the marquis d'Argenson.
- In 1765 Horace Walpole describes in a letter four such pieces in the salon of M. de la Borde, rue de la Grange Batelière:
'Dined at M. la Bordein the 2nd ante-chamber are four large tawdry pictures by Le Moine, that cost 4000, bas reliefs in marble under them hung on red damask. Large armoires of bronze and tortoise-shell inlaid with medals of Louis XIV and festoons'.
They were purchased by Grimod de la Reynière (along with the house) and were sold in his sale in 1797, lots 107-108, as 'beaux ouvrages de Boule', one pair in première partie, the other in contre-partie, with garlands of medals.
- In 1776, the sale of Blondel de Gagny included a single armoire of that type (lot 955), in a section of catalogue with the heading 'Ouvrages du célèbre Boule. Described 'en marqueterie with garlands of medals, it sold for 990 L.
- Two more were valued at 1 500 L in 1777 in the inventory of the comte du Luc, being bequeathed to the bishop of Béziers, Aymard de Nicolaÿ, who then left them to the Nicolaÿ family in 1785 and they were sold in 1815. They were 'en marqueterie, sur les dessins de Boule', which implies that reproductions of this model had already been made for quite a period of time.
- In March 1780, another pair in première-partie, with garlands of six medals (like the above cabinets) was included in the sale of M. Poullain (lot 88). Again, they were described as 'd'après les dessins et modèles de Boule' and fetched 2150 L, bought by the dealer Langlier.
- In 1782 two pairs with garlands of six medals, like the above cabinets, were sold as part of the collections of Maximilien Radix de Sainte Foix, nos 142-143, one in première-partie, the other in contre-partie. They were purchased by the dealer J.B.P. Le Brun for 2 000 L per pair and reappeared in the sale of Leboeuf on 8 April 1783, lots 209-210, where they were purchased for 2 400 and 1600 L respectively by the dealer Laplanche. The pair in première-partie later featured in the sale of Harenc de Presle, 16th April 1792, lot 399, then in the Robit sale, 11th May 1801, lot 323 (sold 1180 F to a Mr Franklin).
- Another pair featured in 1787 in the sale of M. de Boullogne (lot 274 in the 8th May sale, postponed to 19th November, lot 259), without any precision as to the marquetry.
Archival documents drawn up during the revolution reveal the presence of further armoires in great Parisian collections. In addition to the ones that were seized from the Noailles, Breteuil and Lenoir du Breuil families, the following can be added:
- The duc de Choiseul-Praslin had a pair in contre-partie, in the salon of his house, rue de Lille, which was described in his inventory of 1791 and sold in his sale of 18th February 1793, lot 241 for 1500 L to Verdun. He was probably acting as agent for the son and heir, the next duc de Choiseul-Praslin: at the latter's sale in 1808, there was a similar pair, along with two more pairs, all in contre-partie, lots 55-56-57, each sold for 1400 F to Demidoff.
- The duc de Bouillon had a pair in première-partie that was valued 800 L in 1793 in the salon of his house, Quai Malaquais (now the Ecole des Beaux-Arts) in Paris.
- M. de Besenval had a pair in contre-partie, sold in 1795 (lots 282-283).
LES ARMOIRES A SIX MEDAILLES
There are very few characteristics that might help link such archival sources with the present corpus of surviving armoires, making formal identification or establishing of provenances for the individual cabinets virtually impossible. One feature, the number of medals, has been confused by the fact that a number of armoires have lost one or indeed more medals and the surviving ones have in many cases been rearranged. This is the case for instance with the ten examples in the French national collections, which suffered during the 1814 occupation of St Cloud by Prussian troops. They were subsequently restored and now each have the same number of medals - four.
Next to the two armoires offered here the only known surviving armoires decorated with six medals on each door are the following:
- Two armoires in première-partie, formerly in the collection of the prince de Beauvau, listed in the inventory of Charles-Just de Beauvau in 1864.
- Two armoires in contre-partie in the collection of the prince of Liechtenstein, Vaduz.
- Two armoires in contre-partie, stamped Montigny, at Versailles, donation Roudinesco.
THE ORNAMENTATION OF THE ARMOIRES
The ornamentation of the armoires à medailles was inspired by the iconography of Louis XIV, the 'sun king', and intended to glorify his life and achievements.
The figures of Socrates and Aspasia are constant features of the decoration of these armoires and derive either from Michel Corneille's painting of 1673 on the ceiling of the Salon des Nobles at Versailles or perhaps from a drawing by Corneille of the same subject in Boulle's possession. The theme of Corneille's ceiling paintings, which had been commissioned by Louis XIV in 1672, is feminine patronage in antiquity of art and learning, in the case of Aspasia, the lover of the Greek politician Pericles, her patronage of philosophy.
The second re-curing ornament inspired by the propaganda's glorification of the Sun King is found in the medals on the doors, which record the principal events of Louis XIV's reign. In 1663, Colbert, ministre des finance et surintendant des bâtiments du roi, created the Petite Academie, changing its name in 1691 to 'Academie royale des Inscriptions et des Medailles'. The principal activity was the elaboration of the motto and the iconography of Louis XIV in tapestries, medals etc.
One of the medals found on the armoires bears the motto 'Ornata et Amplicata Urbe', representing a standing maiden holding a boat in her hands, flanked by two triumphal arches, in allegoric representation of the city of Paris. The two arches can be recognised as the Porte saint Denis (by Blondel) and the Porte saint Martin (by Bullet), both of which were built under Louis XIV. The coin does not only glorify Louis XIV as the sponsor of these magnificent architectural monuments but also as the ruler of the first country to tear down all fortifications around its capital.
OGDEN MILLS AND 73, RUE VARENNE
A private residence since its construction, the hôtel at 73 rue de Varenne, like the Domaine in Alain-Fournier's Grand Meaulnes, conceals behind its high walls a rich history and fine 18th century interior décor. Purchased in 1752 by Victor-François de Broglie, Duc de Broglie and Maréchal de France, the hôtel Julliet de Taverny was, until 1777, the residence of Abbé Charles-Maurice de Broglie, Bishop of Noyon. The Duc then decided to occupy the hôtel himself, at which point the central part of the building was extended two-fold towards the garden and was given a new façade by the architect Le Boursier. The walls of the main salon were then covered with panelling carved with arabesques. Seized and stripped of its furnishings during the Revolution, the hôtel was in the 19th century home to the Duchesse de Montebello, widow of Maréchal Lanne and former Lady-in-Waiting to Empress Marie-Louise.
Purchased in 1910 by the American connoisseur, collector and philanthropist, Ogden Mills, the hôtel was initially occupied by the American Forces during the First World War, but then completely refurnished under Mills' direction in the early 1920s. Ogden L. Mills, US Secretary of the Treasury under President Hoover and son of the powerful American banker Darius Ogden Mills, re-awakened the hôtel's 18th century interior with the acquisition of some of the best furniture and decoration available at the time.
A TECHNICAL ANALYSIS
While both armoires are constructed in the full tradition of Parisian ébénistes, the fact that the armoire in contre partie still retains the horizontal marks of the medal trays to the insides of both sides as well as the marking to inside top and bottom boards of the central divider, identifies it as one of the original armoires, actually conceived to carry medal trays. The mounts of that armoire show the free sculptural tooling expected on mounts of the Louis XIV period and as typical of the mounts used by Boulle a very generous use of mercury gilding. The mounts of the armoire in premiére partie display the more refined tooling associated with the late Louis XV period. Delorme's stamp is found on five further armoires, including one at the château de Versailles, one at the palais d'Elysée, one at Quai d'Orsay, as well as on the two armoires sold with Ogden Mills provenance at Sotheby's, New York, 19 October 2002. Interestingly, the marking 'FAIT par Richard' is also found in the latter two armoires as well as in one armoire at Windsor. Verlet records two bronziers under the name Richard, though both appear to have been listed as maître doreur, suggesting the bronzes were cast by a different member of the Richard family? (see P. Verlet, Les Bronzes Dorés du XVIII Siècle, 1987, p. 457.
The contre partie Boulle panels to the sides of the contre partie armoire appear to have been replaced or at least restored at some point and their remarkable closeness in design to the side panels on the armoire in premiére partie suggests they might have been restored at time of the production of the second armoire, possibly in the atelier of Delorme.
THE OGDEN MILLS 'ARMOIRES A SIX MEDAILLES'
THE PROPERTY OF A LADY (LOTS 30 - 31)
Ormolu-mounted and decorated in brass and tortoiseshell première and contre partie Boulle marquetry and ebony respectively, each with a rectangular top outlined with brass banding above an egg-and-dart moulding and a pair of doors mounted with the figures of Aspasia and Socrates respectively and with ribbon-tied trails of medals celebrating the life of Louis XIV, on a fond of scrolling foliage and a simulated plinth with flower-filled trelliswork, the corners with scrolling clasps, the sides similarly decorated with ormolu-edged Boulle marquetry panels in première and contre partie respectively and centred by a cartouche formed of intertwined scrolls, the plinth base with central shield-shaped apron and raised on turned feet with gadrooned collars, the armoire in première partie stamped three times 'J.F.L. DELORME', the bronze of Aspasia signed 'FAIT par Richard' and the inside of the doors veneered in bois satiné, the contre partie armoire retaining constructural elements of original medal trays, the insides of the doors in rosewood with bois satiné lozenge, the contre partie Boulle marquetry panels to the sides replaced, probably at the same time as the medal trays were removed, possibly in the workshop of Delorme
Andre-Charles Boulle, early 18th Century, armoire, Furniture & Lighting, cabinets/cupboards, ebony, marquetry, tortoiseshell, France, Louis XIV
EUROPEAN FURNITURE & WORKS OF ART
51 in. (129.5 cm.) high; 48½ in. (123.5 cm.) wide; 17½ in. (45 cm.) deep [the première partie armoire] 51 in. (129.5 cm.) high; 48 in. (122 cm.) wide; 17½ in. (45 cm.) deep [the contre partie armoire] (2)
A. Pradère, 'Les armoires à médailles de l'histoire de Louis XIV par Boulle et ses suiveurs', Revue de l'Art, 1997, no. 116, pp. 42-53.
Acquired circa 1910 by the philanthropist and collector Ogden Mills for his Parisian residence 73, rue de Varenne, inherited by his daughter, Beatrice, the Countess of Granard, and by descent in the family.
Prospective purchasers are advised that several countries prohibit the importation of property containing materials from endangered species, including but not limited to coral, ivory and tortoiseshell. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should familiarize themselves with relevant customs regulations prior to bidding if they intend to import this lot into another country.