Two Overdoors from Marie-Antoinette's Bedroom in the Château of Marly
The château of Marly was situated north of Versailles not far from the river Seine. It had been built for Louis XIV between 1679 and 1684. Together with its spectacular park it served as an exclusive retreat for the French King who bestowed invitations as a particular favour to selected courtiers and the Royal family. Marly consisted of a central building for the King and his immediate family (the Royal Pavilion) and twelve pavilions for guests. For a century, the château was repeatedly modernised until it was sold by the Revolutionary government and demolished in 1806.
The two paintings in the Wallace Collection were part of the remodelling of the Queen’s bedroom for Marie-Antoinette in 1781. At that time a mezzanine was added to the room and as a consequence its overall height reduced. The new decoration of the room took these changes into account and new overdoor paintings were required to react to the changed dimensions of the room.
The commission was given by the Direction des Bâtiment (the building administration) to Nicolas-René Jollain (1732-1804) and Hughes Taraval (1729-1785), two members of the Royal Academy. They have since been almost forgotten, and both their works had been acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford as by the much better known Fragonard, an indication that the signatures must have been covered. It is, however, possible to link the two works with the overdoors for the Queen’s bedchamber documented in the sources. Their decorative character is in line with Marie-Antoinette's preferences whose taste in the Decorative Arts was cutting edge while most of the paintings commissioned for her, except portraits by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, are much more conventional. Equally traditional is the iconography of the two works: Putti are depicted as allegories of Sleep (by Jollain) and Awakening (by Taraval), obvious choices for a bedroom.
The overdoors are beautifully decorative works. The figures are arranged in a triangular composition in both works to visually link the pair. Their pastel-like palette responded to the light colour scheme of the room, the slightly elongated figures to their position high up above the doorways. On closer inspection the works show a smoother and more detailed brushwork typical for the late eighteenth century.
The Queen’s apartment was situated in the North-West corner of the building. The two overdoors were inserted into the South and East walls. The different angles of lighting on the paintings respond to their situation relative to the windows. Taravals painting must have been on the South wall where the light falls in from the right, Jollains on the East side of the room, right next to the Queen’s bed where an allegory of sleep is particularly appropriate.
After the French Revolution, the paintings were sold by the revolutionary government together with the entire contents of Marly. A drop-front desk and a corner cabinet by Jean-Henri Riesener in the Wallace Collection (also in the Study) same room once were part of Marie-Antoinette’s furniture in Marly.
Friday 11 and Thursday 24 January at 1pm with Christoph Vogtherr.
John Ingamells: The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Pictures III. French before 1815, London 1989.
Stéphane Castelluccio: Le château de Marly sous le règne de Louis XVI, Paris 1996.