The Danish statesman of German origin Baron Johann Hartwig Ernst Bernstorff (1712-1772) remarked about King Frederick V of Denmark (1723-1766) that he "loved France with a passion."¹ The same could be said of Bernstorff, who was a true Francophile and was credited with speaking the language better than many French people.² During his tenure as Danish ambassador at the court of Versailles, from 1744 until 1751, Bernstorff developed a marked preference for the arts of France and lived in a beautifully furnished hôtel in the rue Bourbon in Paris.³ In 1752, not long after he was recalled to Copenhagen to assume the post of minister of foreign affairs, Bernstorff began building a grand town house in a new part of the city named Frederiksstaden, after the king. Although the exterior of the house, designed by Johann Gottfried Rosenberg (ca. 1709-1776), betrays German influence, the interior decoration was according to the latest French taste.
Particularly beautiful was the tapestry room on the main floor, embellished with four hangings from the series Les Amours des Dieux (The Loves of the Gods). Woven of wool and silk at the Beauvais Manufactory in 1754, after designs by the painter François Boucher (1703-1770), these tapestries were commissioned for Bernstorff by his friend the collector Louis-Antoine Crozat, Baron de Thiers (1700-1770), who acted as his representative in France.⁴ To complement these tapestries, a set of twelve chair backs, seats, and matching armrests as well as the covers for two settees were woven at the same time.⁵ The set of wall hangings and the tapestry-covered seat furniture -- two settees and twelve armchairs -- were shipped to Copenhagen and installed in 1756. A marble fireplace and overmantel mirror as well as three pier glasses and three console tables were also made in France for this room, as were the gilt-bronze three-light candelabra signed by François-Thomas Germain (1726-1791) and based on designs by Pierre Contant d'Ivry (1698-1777).⁶ The splendid carved and gilded armchairs and settees that were arranged against the walls of the room must have formed an important element of the decoration, which was described by Baron de Thiers as "satisfying our ultimate conception of exquisite luxury."⁷
The frames of the seat furniture were made by the Parisian joiner Nicolas-Quinibert Foliot, who stamped eight of the chairs and one of the settees. Established in the rue de Cléry, just like his father, Nicolas Foliot (ca. 1675-1740), whom he succeeded as menuisier du Garde-Meuble du Roi, the younger Foliot supplied many pieces to the court. Characteristic of his furniture is the somewhat massive, undulating outline of the chairs in this set, enlivened by symmetrically placed Rococo ornament such as the floral garlands, palm branches, and stylized leaves, which are gadrooned. A prominent shell motif forms the center of the back rail on both the chairs and the settees. Supported on cabriole legs, the feet are elegantly adorned with a large flower head. The set is upholstered à châssis, with removable tapestry seats, armrests, and backs, displaying colorful compositions of birds and animals in landscapes after designs by the painter Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755), codirector of the Beauvais Manufactory from 1734 until his death.⁸ Yellow and brown symmetrical borders of scrolling foliage and rocaille motifs surround these scenes that clearly reflect the outline of the seat furniture, creating a beautiful harmony between the woven covers and the carved and gilded wooden frames.
The tapestry room remained intact until the beginning of the twentieth century, despite the vicissitudes of Bernstorff's house after his death. He bequeathed it to his nephew Andreas Peter Bernstorff (1735-1797), who, like his uncle, served as foreign minister of Denmark.⁹ The property was sold by his son to developers. It was divided and later reunited, and in 1829 became the residence of Prince Frederick Ferdinand (1792-1863) and his bride, Princess Caroline (1793-1881), the eldest daughter of the Danish King Frederick VI. There were renovations to the palace, but the tapestry room was left unaltered and the seat furniture was listed as in situ in the inventory drawn up during that same year.¹⁰ The widowed Princess Caroline remained in the house until the end of her life. The next owner of the Bernstorff palace was King George I of the Hellenes (1845-1913), the second son of King Christian IX of Denmark (1818-1906), who stayed there during visits to his country of birth. It was during this time that the crowned-G mark was branded into the wood of the furniture seats, identifying the pieces as his property. George I sold the seat furniture and the tapestries separately, early in the twentieth century. By 1902 the American financier and collector J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) had acquired the Foliot chairs and settees from the London dealer Charles Wertheimer.¹¹ Morgan kept the set with most of the rest of his collection at his London town house to avoid paying United States import duties on artworks more than one hundred years old. Much to their surprise, Queen Alexandra of England (1844-1925) and her sister Dowager Empress Marie of Russia (1847-1928), both Danish princesses, recognized the seat furniture during a visit in 1908 as having belonged to their brother George I.¹² After the tariff was lifted, the suite was shipped to New York as a loan to the exhibition of Morgan's collection held at the Museum in 1912. Morgan died the next year, and, in 1915, following the exhibition, the furniture was returned to his heirs, who sold the settees and chairs to the New York art dealership Duveen Brothers. Presumably hoping to make a double profit, Joseph Duveen (1869-1939) had the tapestry covers removed from their eighteenth-century frames and fitted on Louis XV-style chairs and settees that were specifically made for this purpose by Carlhian et Cie, the Parisian decorating firm of Paul Carlhian and his brother André.¹³
In 1919, assuming he was acquiring antique furniture, one of Duveen's regular clients, the philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. (1874-1960) agreed to purchase, for the staggering sum of 650,000 dollars, what was in fact a set of twelve reproduction chairs and two reproduction settees with the Beauvais covers from the Bernstorff tapestry room.¹⁴
The seat furniture was included in this condition in the Metropolitan Museum's fiftieth-anniversary exhibition the next year.
The original pieces of furniture received modern upholstery, and half of the set was sold; the other half remained with the dealer. Only in 1948 was it discovered that the frames of the seat furniture in the Rockefeller collection were new, and a thoroughgoing effort was made to locate the eighteenth-century frames. In 1951 six of the original chairs and one settee were found in the Duveen Brothers warehouse, and the remaining half of the set turned up in 1965 at the Gothic Revival-style manor house Lyndhurst, in Tarrytown, New York. The last owner of this house had been Anna, duchess of Talleyrand-Périgord (1875-1961), the youngest daughter of the railroad magnate Jay Gould (1836-1892), who was an avid collector of French furniture.¹⁵ Having subsequently been acquired for the Rockefellers, the entire suite of seat furniture and tapestry covers eventually came into the possession of the Museum.¹⁶ Clothed once again in their original upholstery, the armchairs and settees serve as excellent reminders of the fact that French furniture was widely admired during the eighteenth century and served as elegant furnishings for residences all over Europe.
[Daniëlle Kisluk-Grosheide, adapted from European Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Highlights of the Collection/ Daniëlle O. Kisluk-Grosheide, Wolfram Koeppe, William Rieder ; photography by Joseph Coscia, Jr; New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006]
1. "aimait la France à la fureur"; quoted in Louis Reau, L’Europe française au siècle des Lumières. L’evolution de l’Humanité 31, Paris 1971, p. 55.
2. Charles Philippe d’Albert, duc de Luynes. Mémoires du duc de Luynes sur la cour de Louis XV (1735-1758). Ed. Louis Dussieux and Eudoxe Souié, 17 vols. Paris, 1860-65, vol. 6, p. 452.
3. Martine Rémusat. "L’aventure sentimentale de J.-H. Bernstorff (1741-1748)." Revue des deux mondes, 6th ser., 40 (1917), pp. 398-99.
4. Two of these tapestries-Vulcan Presenting Arms for Aeneas to Venus and Bacchus and Ariadne-are in the Museum's collection (acc. nos. 22.16.1, 2). See Edith Appleton Standen, European Post-Medieval Tapestries and Related Hangings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1985, vol. 2, pp. 534-35, no. 79.
5. The set of furniture consists of two settees and twelve armchairs with Beauvais tapestry covers. Frames: Gift of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., 1935 (35.145.1-7); Gift of Martha Baird Rockefeller, 1966 (66.59.1-5); Purchase, Martha Baird Rockefeller Gift, 1966 (66.60.1-2). Tapestries: Gift of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., 1935 (35.145.15a-d-35.145.28a-d).
6. James Parker, "Eighteenth-Century France Recreated in the ‘cold, barbarous country’: The Tapestry Room from Bernstorff Palace, Copenhagen" Burlington Magazine 115 (June 1973), pp. 368, 371. Most of these furnishings are still in place. Two tables and a pier glass, still in situ, are illustrated in Pallot, L’art du siege au XVIII ᵉ siècle en France, Paris 1987, pp. 166-67.
7. "dans le goût de notre dernière volupté"; quoted in Mario Krohn, Frankrigs og Danmarks kunstneriske forbindelse I det 18, aarhundrede, Copenhagen 1922, vol. 1, p. 74.
8. Edith Appleton Standen, European Post-Medieval Tapestries and Related Hangings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1985, vol. 2, pp. 484-98, no. 74.
9. The history of the furniture is largely derived from James Parker, "Eighteenth-Century France Recreated in the ‘cold, barbarous country’: The Tapestry Room from Bernstorff Palace, Copenhagen" Burlington Magazine 115 (June 1973).
10. Rigsarkivet, Copenhagen, Hofmarskallatets Arkiv I. F. 34. An excerpt is in the archives of the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Metropolitan Museum.
11. A photograph of two of the armchairs, said to be in the collection of Charles Wertheimer, was published in Emile Molinier, "Le mobilier française du XVIIIᵉ siècle dans les collection étrangères: Les Arts, no.2 (March 1902), p. 26.
12. Francis Henry Taylor, Pierpont Morgan as Collector and Patron, 1873-1913, New York 1957, p. 24. The seat furniture was in Morgan's bay-windowed back parlor; see Thom, "From Pierpont Morgan to the Kennedys and Beyond: New Light on the Art and Architecture of No. 14 Princes Gate", Apollo 149 (June 1999), p. 34.
13. See the correspondence of 26 July 1919 between Duveen and Carlhian referring to the making of new chairs and a settee for the "Morgan" tapestries, Carlhiam Firm Records 1867-1975, box 386, dossier 9. I am grateful to Charlotte Vignon, Annette Kade Art History Fellow, 2005-2006, Metropolitan Museum, for sharing this information with me.
14. An agreement was drawn up on 7 July 1919 between John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Duveen Brothers. Rockefeller agreed to buy a set of ten Gobelins tapestries depicting ten months of the year, the Bernstorff tapestry-covered seat furniture said to have been in the possession of the king of Sweden, and the portrait of Lady Dysart by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830). The transaction was dependent upon delivery of the Lawrence painting. Duveen Brothers Records 1876-1981, Papers and Correspondence, 1901-81, box 504 (microfilm, reel 359). The invoice for the tapestries and seat furniture is dated 31 May 1920. Duveen Brothers Records 1876-1981, Business Records, 1876-1964, Salesbook 2, June 1919-May 1920, box 165 (microfilm, reel 59).
15. Amelia Peck, Lyndhurst: A Guide to the House and Landscape, Tarrytown, N.Y. 1998, pp. 16-17, 48.
16. Half of the eighteenth-century set has retained some of its original gilding. The gilding on the other half was replaced by gold paint at some point after 1951. See the detailed memorandum by James Parker in the archives of the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Metropolitan Museum