Side chair (Chaise à la reine) (part of a set)

Various artists/makers

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 526

Various games of cards and chance, such as lansquenet, faro, quadrille, piquet, and cavagnole, had long been popular entertainment at the French court, where the stakes were high and entire fortunes could be won or lost at the gaming table. Reporting to Empress Maria Theresa on March 18, 1777, the Austrian diplomat Florimond-Claude de Mercy-Argenteau declared: "The gambling of the Queen grows more and more unrestrained. The public know that the identical games, strictly prohibited to them by the laws of Paris, are played nightly and to excess by the Queen."[1] To accommodate all those who might wish to participate in the play, a large set of furniture consisting of thirty side chairs, six voyeuses, or spectators' chairs, and a fire screen was ordered on August 12, 1786, for Louis XVI's Salon des Jeux (Gaming Room) at the Chateau de Fontainebleau. A label pasted underneath the seats of the Museum's three chairs (see also 45.60.42, .43) identifies them as part of this ensemble, which was commissioned for the court's annual sojourn at Fontainebleau in October 1787. The set was never used as intended because the royal visit did not occur that year or the next. In fact, the king and his family left Versailles in October 1789, never to return to the palace, nor did they visit Fontainebleau again.

The various memoires documenting the creation of the seat furniture illustrate the typical eighteenth-century division of labor in such projects. The menuisier Boulard, who received many commissions from the court, cut the wood for the chairs with their arched top rail and slightly curving seat rails and assembled them. The decorative carving, consisting of guilloche and pearl motifs matching the ornament of the door cases in the king's Salon des Jeux, was done under the direction of Jean Haure by the sculptors Nicolas-Francois Vallois and Lambert Charny, who were responsible for, respectively, twenty-four and twelve chairs each. Three different gilders were called upon to finish the frames, and the upholsterer Claude-Francois Capin (d. 1789) covered the set in blue, white, and gray lampas with an arabesque design woven for this purpose by the firm of Louis Reboul, Fontebrune et Cie in Lyons. The seat rails of the Museum's chairs are slightly lower than those on some of the other side chairs of this suite, indicating that they were among the twelve intended to have a removable seat cushion.

[Daniëlle Kisluk-Grosheide, 2010]

[1] Quoted in Lillian C. Smythe. The Guardian of Marie Antoinette: Letters from the Comte de Mercy-Argenteau, Austrian Ambassador to the Court of Versailles, to Marie Thérèse. Empress of Austria, 1770–1780. 2 vols. New York, 1902, vol. 2, pp. 481–82; see also Mercy-Argenteau. Marie-Antoinette: Correspondence secrète entre Marie-Thérèse et le cte de Mercy-Argenteau, avec les lettres de Marie-Thérèse et de Marie-Antoinette. [Correspondence for the years 1770–80.] Edited by Alfred Ritter von Arneth and Auguste Geffroy. 3 vols. Paris, 1874, vol. 3, p. 35.

Side chair (Chaise à la reine) (part of a set), Jean Baptiste Boulard (French, 1725–1789), Carved and gilded beech; silk damask (not original), French, Paris

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