Two pieces of furniture from Marie-Antoinette return to Versailles

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1. Georges Jacob (1739-1814)
Fire screen, 1788
Blue lacquered wood rechampi grey - 108 x 68 cm
Versailles, Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon
Photo: Sotheby’s
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19/5/23 - Acquisitions - Versailles, Musée national du château - Scrutinised with attention by a number of connoisseurs, the astonishing "Jacques Garcia, Intemporel" sale held at Sotheby’s in Paris on Tuesday afternoon certainly disappointed a few hopes - although the results were still satisfactory, a large number of pieces were bought in nonetheless - while giving French museums the opportunity to make their presence felt on several occasions. While the valiant Château de Lunéville was the first to make use of its right of preemption, quickly followed by Compiègne (articles to follow), let us begin with the much anticipated Château de Versailles. This museum has maintained close links with the famous decorator for a long time, who donated several objects to it - a milk jug, a brelan table and the all-too-famous carved and gilded wooden pelican intended to take its place in a bed reconstituted for the bedroom of the kings Louis XV and Louis XVI (see news item 1/9/17) - while keeping the jewels of his collection in his château of Champ-de-Bataille. The fireplace screen stamped by Georges Jacob (ill. 1) was one of the most important pieces of furniture acquired by Jacques Garcia, as it is part of a set that is now almost entirely preserved in its original location at the Château de Versailles. This very attractive fire screen in blue lacquered wood with grey highlights was delivered for the bedroom of the small flat that Queen Marie-Antoinette had fitted out on the ground floor of the central building of the château.

2. Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom on the ground floor of the central building of the Château de Versailles with the fire screen belonging to Jacques Garcia
Photo: Christophe Fouin
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Thanks to a photograph (ill. 2) taken prior to the exhibition "Marie-Antoinette, une reine à Versailles" organised in Tokyo in 2016-2017, we can get an idea of the object in situ: prior to the loan of the rest of the furniture to Japan, Jacques Garcia had indeed entrusted the screen to the Château de Versailles for the time of this reconstruction. In addition to the attractive prospect of seeing "the right piece of furniture in the right place", it is worth recalling the long term work carried out by several generations of curators to reconstitute this ensemble during the second half of the 20th century: Versailles was thus able to buy back three armchairs, a bergère, a chair, a toilet chair, a stool and a foot stool. Very fortunately loaned by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris since 2016, a beautiful carved mahogany bed cleverly completes the ensemble in order to offer a successful evocation of this bedroom fitted out in the former bathing room of Madame Sophie, daughter of Louis XV who died in 1782.

3. Georges Jacob (1739-1814)
Armchair, 1788
Carved and white lacquered walnut - 96 x 66 x 64 cm
Current location unknown
Photo: Christie’s
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Unexpectedly reappearing at an auction in Madrid and then subsequently offered at Christie’s, the fourth - and final - armchair in this set is now well known to furniture enthusiasts because of its singular history: unidentified at the time of its sale in Spain, with a very low estimate, it was nevertheless recognised by good connoisseurs and snapped up by one of them, who promptly offered it for sale - revamped - at Christie’s in London in July 2022. After being bought in, it crossed the Channel and was presented again - without its gilding - at Christie’s but in Paris in November of the same year (see the news item of 21/11/22) where it was then sold...for 906,000 €! The fire screen did not generate the same enthusiasm at its sale at Sotheby’s on Tuesday afternoon, as it was first bought in before being offered again a few lots later, probably so that the emissaries of the Château de Versailles could assert their right of preemption after a hammer price of €200,000, corresponding to the low estimate [1]. One could not really imagine any other destiny for this elegant piece of royal furniture, destined to return to its original place in the bedroom in one way or another.

4. French work from the late 18th century
Writing tray, circa 1780
Plum pudding mahogany - 16 x 59 x 38.5 cm
Versailles, Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon
Photo: Sotheby’s
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Not stopping there, the museum had also spotted another piece of royal furniture in the sale, albeit a much simpler one: bearing the famous mark of the Queen’s furniture store, this pretty plum pudding mahogany writing tray was certainly used by the sovereign to write her correspondence from her bed. Sold for €30,000 hammer price (€38,100 including fees), it was immediately preempted by Versailles. Although it is easy to imagine that the screen is destined to take its place in front of the bedroom fireplace, let us hope that this charming piece of furniture - we dare not speak of an everyday object - will soon be placed on a bed, perhaps even the one in this ground floor room. It would certainly clash with the "Etruscan" chairs corresponding to the most modern taste - inaugurated with the set commissioned for the Rambouillet dairy (see article), where one already found large carved palmettes - but this contrast was sought after, as shown by the choice of a mahogany bed.

5. Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806)
Nightstand, 1783
Oak, mahogany, oak frame, solid mahogany and mahogany veneer,
gilt bronze, white veined marble - 96 x 48 x 33 cm
Fundraising in progress by the Société des Amis de Versailles
Photo: Société des Amis de Versailles
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This wood adorns most of the pieces of furniture presented in the room, from the chest of drawers to the "secrétaire en armoire", via the dressing table and soon a second bedside table (ill. 5), if the fundraising organised by the Société des Amis de Versailles fulfils its objective: one can only support this campaign and hope to come back soon to its happy outcome, especially since it is already thanks to this indispensable patron that the two acquisitions at the Garcia sale could be financed: they were indeed ensured trough the bequest of Mr. Elward Bresett, who was very attached to Queen Marie-Antoinette [2].

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