September 2015 marks the 300th anniversary of the death of the French King Louis XIV. This month we’ll be exploring the artistic legacy of Louis with a series of blogs and films.
This week our Curatorial Assistant, Carmen Holdsworth Delgado, explores the English fascination with Louis, in particular, George IV.
This bonbonnière (a gold box without a hinge used for holding sweets), is one of ninety-nine gold boxes and ‘objets de vertu’ in the Wallace Collection. In this short film, I examined the significance of the historical context at the time of the box’s construction (sometime between 1814 and 1816) and its decoration, notably the two seventeenth-century portrait miniatures of Louis XIV.
This blog will look at its previous owner, King George IV of England.
We know of this gold box’s royal provenance from a letter from the 3rd Marquess of Hertford (one of the founders of the Wallace Collection and friend of George IV), in which he tells his son of a box he had bought in June 1834:
“I found the K. [King William IV] selling all the late K’s snuff boxes, and the one reckoned by Himself formerly his finest I picked up & will send for, it has a King above and a King below by Petitot…”
George IV (1762-1830) was a well-known Francophile and collector of French decorative arts. These were more widely available after the French Revolution (during which many of the aristocratic eighteenth-century collections were sold) and during the peaceful interlude to the Napoleonic wars, between 1801 and 1803. It has been argued that the British king especially admired objects associated with Louis XIV, and the luxurious and lavish decorative style associated with his reign.
According to the inventory of his collection, on his death in 1830 it included 330 snuff boxes. 305 of these were sold to Rundell Bridge & Co, a major London-based firm of jewellers and goldsmiths, and twenty-five of these carried paintings by Jean Petitot, six of them featuring portraits of Louis XIV. Rundells then sold the boxes and it is from this firm that we believe the 3rd Marquess acquired this box.
Though sadly records do not survive of how or when George IV acquired this box, it is interesting to note that he thought it one of the finest in his vast collection, and he may have particularly enjoyed the two enamel portraits of Louis XIV.
By Carmen Holdsworth Delgado
Jeremy Warren ‘The 4th Marquess of Hertford’s Early years as a Collector’, The Burlington, 150. No.1265 (August) pp544-47.
 George IV: The Grand Entertainment, Steven Parissien, 2001, p195
Gold Boxes in the British Royal Collection, Kathryn Jones, in Going for Gold: Craftsmanship and Collecting of Gold Boxes, Murdoch and Zech, 2014, p217
Gold Boxes in the British Royal Collection, Kathryn Jones, in Going for Gold: Craftsmanship and Collecting of Gold Boxes, Murdoch and Zech, 2014, p218
Many thanks to Sally Goodsir, Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts for the Royal Collection Trust, emails September 2015