Six chairs from Fontainebleau
These neo-classical gilt beechwood chairs evoke the elegance of the royal apartments used by Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette in their royal palaces.
Ordered on 12 August 1786 for the salon des jeux du roi, a room used for after-dinner card games at the château of Fontainebleau (south-east of Paris), they originally formed part of a set of 36 chairs. The Louvre owns two chairs from the same set with longer legs, indicating that they were once among the 18 top-stuffed chairs intended for gentlemen’s use. The six in the Wallace, however, were made with shorter legs and separate cushions, suggesting that they were for the ladies. The frames of all the chairs in the set are decorated with a delicate interlace pattern which refl ects that on the door-frames of the salon des jeux du roi.
The chairs were made by Jean-Baptiste Boulard (c.1725-1789), a menuisier or maker of furniture in solid wood. Chairmakers such as Boulard tended to work in the Bonne Nouvelle area of Paris, as opposed to the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, where the workshops of the ébénistes or makers of veneered furniture were clustered. A whole team of craftsmen would have been involved in the decoration of the chairs, including carvers and the gilder Louis Chatard (active 1773- 1789), whose label appears under two of the chairs. The chairs were upholstered by Claude-François Capin (active 1763-1792) with blue, white and grey silk lampas decorated with the Four Elements, represented by pairs of Cyclopses, spaniels, river-gods and sea-horses, supplied by Louis Reboul, Fontebrun et Cie. All six chairs are marked ‘F No. 43 /12’ on a stencilled label inside their back seat rails, indicating that that they were once used at Fontainebleau.
With the break-up of the royal collections after the French Revolution, the chairs were transported from Fontainebleau to the Garde-Meuble National in January 1796. They were first recorded in the collection of Richard Wallace in the 1871 inventory for his Parisian apartment at 2 rue Laffi tte. In the nineteenth century they were reupholstered with contemporary fl oral Beauvais tapestry covers on fi xed seats, supported by pinewood blocks. By the early 1980s the chairs needed conservation as the gilding had become partly obscured by dirt and bronze paint repairs and the Beauvais tapestry covers had become decayed and faded. Using archival evidence, the chairs were recovered with modern silk lampas woven to the original design, with newly-made top-cushions stuffed with horsehair.
- Sylvie Chadenet (ed), French furniture from Louis XIII to Art Deco, Bullfinch Press, London, 2001
- Peter Hughes, ‘The Re-Upholstery of Six Chairs from the King’s Card Room at Fontainebleau’, Apollo, 1982, pp.299-303
- Peter Hughes, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Furniture, London, 1996
- John Whitehead, The French Interior in the Eighteenth Century, London, 1992