The Wallace Collection

The Romainville Gold Box, Pierre-Fran├žois Drais and probably Henri Joseph Van Blarenberghe, 1781-3
Treasure of the Month - April 2010

The Romainville Gold Box, Pierre-Fran├žois Drais and probably Henri Joseph Van Blarenberghe, 1781-3

This gold box, with its fabulously detailed and evocative miniatures, has not been on display for over twenty years.

This is because the miniatures are gouache painted on vellum, and thus very sensitive to light.  The Wallace Collection was unwilling to risk further fading to the miniatures, preferring instead to wait until the funding and technology could be found to keep this box - and other boxes like it - on permanent display in the new Boudoir Cabinet.

This snuff box bears marks indicating that it was made between 1781and 1783, as well as a maker’s mark of the goldsmith of Pierre-François Drais (working 1763-88). The miniatures, dated 1782, and under glass, were painted by a member of the Van Blarenberghe family, probably Henri-Joseph (1750-1826) and depict the Château de Romainville, on the outskirts of Paris.

The panels of miniature painting depict the château and its ‘Anglo-Chinese’ gardens.  This type of landscaped garden became especially popular in France in the 1770s and 80s, and was an alternative to formal gardens, with their lines of topiary. It was a studied imitation of nature in an English style, with carefully placed Roman temples, artificial lakes, Chinese pagodas and gently rolling hills.  Indeed, it was through the depiction of the gardens that the château on the box could be finally identified in the 1950s.  Le Rouge published Les Jardins Anglo-Chinois (Paris, 1774-1789), a compendium of gardens in this new style with large illustrations and plans drawn by Le Rouge in situ. 

It was commissioned by the Marquis de Ségur, Minister of War to Louis XVI, who owned the château, and removed the old parterres, redesigning his garden in 1780 à la mode.  He appears on the lid, where we see the château behind a village fête known as la Rosière.  This ceremony rewarded a virtuous village girl with her dowry, and embodied late eighteenth-century ideas of natural virtue and pastoral idylls. The box thus represents the marquis as not only as a man of fashion but as a benevolent philanthropist, and it is unique in the Wallace as being the only box whose original patron is so personally and touchingly identified..  In a social setting the box would have been viewed by all those who wished to partake of snuff and was a perfect way for the marquis to be seen by his peers.

Gallery Talks

Rosalind Savill will talk more about this box on Friday 9 and Thursday 15 April at 1pm.

Further Reading

Rosalind Savill, The Wallace Collection: French Gold boxes, 1991.

Alfred Marie ‘The Château de Romainville and a Snuffbox in the Wallace Collection’, The Connoisseur, 1951.

Monique Maillet-Chassagne Une dynastie de peintres lillois: lesVan Blarenberghe, Lille 2001.