Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object
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Armchair (fauteuil à la reine)

Date:
ca. 1750–60
Culture:
Southwestern German
Medium:
Carved and gilded beech; covered in eighteenth-century blue damask not original to the armchair
Dimensions:
Overall: 43 1/4 × 29 1/2 × 23 1/2 in. (109.9 × 74.9 × 59.7 cm)
Classification:
Woodwork-Furniture
Credit Line:
Bequest of George Blumenthal, 1941
Accession Number:
41.190.74
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 533
The flowing, curvilinear silhouette of this exuberantly carved armchair is close in inspiration to a design attributed to the French ornamentist and court goldsmith Juste-Aurèle Meissonier (1695–1750), who was named architect and designer to the king in 1726. Meissonier's chair is characterized by the same overall sweep of the back and cabochon-cartouches heading the legs, and a similar disposition of the armrests. As in the Museum's example, the crest and front rail are centered by an ornamental carving that retains a certain symmetry, although otherwise the Rococo ornament is full-blown.[1] An engraving by Meissonier published in Paris probably about 1735 resembles the drawing in many details and may have contributed to the popularization of the chair design abroad.

Thus, in its general form this German fauteuil à la reine is French, but the striking array of C-scrolls at the crest rail and the floral decoration on the central cartouche, as well as the expressive undulation of the side volutes in combination with the dramatic convex moldings of the armrest supports and scroll legs, have transformed the original Gallic conception into something much more dramatic, without compromising the French elegance or comfort.[2] In short, the composition of the frame elements has assumed a much greater importance in the German variation.[3] The gilding on the front, much of which is presumably original, catches the light, showing off the refinement of the carving. As a whole, the armchair strikes the eye as gracefully light and fancifully stylish, although it is difficult to estimate how the original upholstery and show covers might once have influenced this impression. (The blue eighteenth-century damask covers and the upholstery beneath it date from a conservation project undertaken at the Museum in 1963)[4]

The chair is part of a set, of which three other pieces are known. One was until 1995 in the collection of the grand dukes and margraves of Baden at the castle of Baden-Baden in Germany.[5] The other two entered the Museum in 1974 with the Lesley and Emma Sheafer Collection.[6] Mrs. Sheafer had acquired the pair in 1958 from the Munich art dealer Fischer-Böhler. By that time, they had already been stripped of their gilding or paint and had tapestry show covers. One of them is depicted in a painting by Fritz Bayerlein (1872–1955) of the Green Salon at Schloss Seehof, near Bamberg (see the label for acc. no. 1974.356.120),[7] and a photograph thought to date shortly after 1900, taken in the south wing of Seehof, shows the same chair or its twin in situ.[8] Nonetheless, no archival evidence exists to prove that the armchairs were part of the well-documented eighteenth-century furnishings of the castle. Most probably, they were brought to Seehof during the nineteenth century.[9]

The set to which the present chair belongs may be compared with other South German seating furniture, such as the Audience Chair of the Elector of Bavaria at the Munich Residenz, dating to about 1750.[10] In 1958 Fischer-Böhler attributed the design of the pair that Mrs. Sheafer bought to the Franconian sculptor Ferdinand Tietz (1708–1777) and their manufacture to a workshop in Würzburg, but there is no written or circumstantial evidence for this. The strong French influence and the fact that one chair was formerly in the collection of the grand dukes and margraves of Baden suggest an origin for the set in southwestern Germany, possibly at a court workshop in Mainz, Bruchsal (see the catalogue entry for acc. no. 35.23.1, 2), Karlsruhe, the Palatinate, Württemberg, or the Baden-Baden region itself.[11]

[Wolfram Koeppe 2006]

Footnotes:

[1] Peter Fuhring. Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier: Un génie du Rococo, 1695–1750. 2 vols. Archives d'arts décoratifs. Turin and London, 1999, vol. 2, pp. 360-61, no. 95.

[2] For related French models, see Jules Mannheim and Édouard Rahir. Catalogue de la collection Rodolphe Kann: Objets d'art. Vol. 2, XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1907, no. 195; and Charissa Bremer-David, with Peggy Fogelman, Peter Fusco, and Catherine Hess. Decorative Arts: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue of the Collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum. Rev. ed. Malibu, 1993, p. 64, no. 91.

[3] See Bruno Pons. "Arabesques, or New Grotesques." In The History of Decorative Arts: Classicism and the Baroque in Europe, ed. Alain Gruber, pp. 157–223. Trans. John Goodman, New York, 1996, p. 217.

[4] Archives of the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Metropolitan Museum.

[5] Catalogue of the Markgrafen von Baden collection sale, Sotheby's, Baden-Baden, 5-21 October 1995, vol. 1, lot 106. That chair was described in the catalogue as nineteenth-century; however, one month before the sale, this author personally examined it and concluded that the frame was eighteenth-century, with some restoration and several layers of regilding. The chair was auctioned again, at Kunsthandel Hampel, Munich, in 2002.

[6] The accession numbers of this pair of chairs are 1974.356.199 and 1974.356.200.

[7] Illustrated in Adolf Feulner. Historic Interiors in Colour: Eighty Coloured Views from Castles and Private Houses. New York, 1929, pl. 45.

[8] York Langenstein and Michael Petzet. Seehof: Baugeschichte und Restaurierung von Schloss und Park. Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege. Munich, 1985, p. 11.

[9] Gisela Masching[-Beck]. "Arrangements for th Margrave of Ansbach's Visit to Schloss Seehof, Whitsun, 1775." Furniture History 27 (1991), pp. 72, 80, n. 70, figs. 26-28.

[10] For the Electoral armchair, see Brigitte Langer, ed. Pracht und Zeremoniell: Die Möbel der Residenz München. Exh. cat., Residenz, Munich. Organized by the Bayerische Verwaltung der Staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen. Munich, 2002, p. 228, no. 72 (entry by Brigitte Langer). For other examples, see Heinrich Kreisel. Die Kunst des deutschen Möbels: Möbel und Vertäfelungen des deutschn Sprachraums von den Anfängen bis zum Jugendstil. Vol. 2, Spätbarock und Rokoko. 2nd ed. Rev. by Georg Himmelheber. Munich, 1983, figs. 460-65; and the catalogue of a sale at Christie's, Amsterdam, 11 December 2003, lot 214.

[11] Heinrich Kreisel. Die Kunst des deutschen Möbels: Möbel und Vertäfelungen des deutschn Sprachraums von den Anfängen bis zum Jugendstil. Vol. 2, Spätbarock und Rokoko. 2nd ed. Rev. by Georg Himmelheber. Munich, 1983, figs. 570, 580, 582 (these chairs have stylistically related, flowing, curvilinear ornament), 1058 (the movement of this clock is marked "Frankfurt," but the vividly designed case could have been carved in one of the court workshops mentioned).
George and Florence Blumenthal , New York (until 1941; bequeathed to MMA)
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