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Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth Century

Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth Century

Koda, Harold, and Andrew Bolton, with an introduction by Mimi Hellman
128 pages
68 illustrations
Graphis Gold Award (2008)
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During the reigns of Louis XV (1723–74) and Louis XVI (1774–92) fashion and furniture merged ideals of beauty and pleasure through their forms and embellishments. With their fragile surfaces and delicate proportions, tables, chairs, and other pieces of furniture enhanced the elite's indulgence in leisurely pursuits, fostering highly complex standards of etiquette and performance. Men and women restated the splendor of the Rococo and Neoclassical interiors of the period in their opulent costumes. For the eighteenth-century libertine and femme du monde, a refined elegance and delicate voluptuousness infused their world with a mood of amorous delight.

Dangerous Liaisons takes its theme from this era, when trifling in love propelled the energies of elite men and women, providing almost daily stimulating encounters, and when, as has been written, "morality lost but society gained." In Choderlos de Laclos's novel of the same name, Cécile, a young girl, is praised by her tutor in the worldly arts: "She is really delightful! She has neither character nor principles ... everything about her indicates the keenest sensations." Valmont, her seducer, notes the following morning, "Nothing could have been more amusing." Valmont has won a game in the contest of lovemaking.

The beautifully photographed and handsomely reproduced images on the following pages bring these amorous adventures to life. The vignettes, staged for the widely praised exhibition "Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth Century," held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2004, feature eighteenth-century costumes in the Museum's spectacular French period rooms, The Wrightsman Galleries. The artfully composed scenes include: a woman sitting for her portrait while her husband flirts with her friend; a man being granted an audience with a woman in a peignoir who is having her hair dressed; a vendor embracing the wife of an old man, his back turned, examining a table for sale; a girl receiving more than a harp lesson from her teacher, while her oblivious chaperone reads an erotic novel; a woman giving up her garter as a memento of a very private dinner. The entertaining and knowledgeable texts set the scenes perfectly.

Court suit, silk, French
Robe à la française, silk, probably French
probably French
Robe à l'anglaise, cotton, metal, silk, French
Daybed (duchesse en bateau), Jean-Baptiste II Lelarge  French, Carved and gilded beechwood, silk velvet upholstery, brass casters, French
Jean-Baptiste II Lelarge
Banyan, silk, linen, French
ca. 1760
Mechanical table (Table mécanique), Jean Henri Riesener  French, Oak veneered with marquetry of bois satiné, holly, amaranth, barberry, stained sycamore, and green-lacquered wood; gilt-bronze mounts; steel, iron and brass fittings; mirror glass; velvet (not original), French, Paris
Jean Henri Riesener
Jean-Gotfritt Mercklein
Robe à l'anglaise, silk, French
Grand Salon from the Hôtel de Tessé, Paris, Nicolas Huyot, Carved, painted, and gilded oak; marble; plaster, French, Paris
Multiple artists/makers
ca. 1768–72, with later additions
Corset, flax, cotton, leather, wood, American
third quarter 18th century
Combination table, Martin Carlin  French, Oak and pine veneered with tulipwood, sycamore, holly, boxwood and ebony; Carrara marble; gilt-bronze mounts; accessories of Sèvres porcelain, rock crystal, silver gilt, and lacquer, French, Paris
Martin Carlin
ca. 1775
Robe à la Circassienne, silk, French
Side chair (chais à la reine) (one of a pair), Georges Jacob  French, Carved and gilded walnut; pink silk moiré damask (not original), French, Paris
Multiple artists/makers
Suit, silk, cotton, British
ca. 1770
Side chair (chais à la reine) (one of a pair), Georges Jacob  French, Carved and gilded walnut; pink silk moiré damask (not original), French, Paris
Multiple artists/makers
Suit, silk, British
ca. 1780
L'art de la coëffure des dames françoises, avec des estampes : où sont représentées les têtes coëffées, gravées sur les dessins originaux de mes accommodages, avec le traité en abrégé d'entretenir & conserver les cheveux naturels, Legros de Rumigny  French, a-e) leather, paper, French
Legros de Rumigny
Boiserie from the Hôtel de Cabris, Grasse, Carved, painted, and gilded oak, French, Paris
French, Paris
ca. 1774, with later additions
Chimneypiece, Carrara marble, gilt bronze, French, Paris
French, Paris
ca. 1775–85
Robe à la française, silk, French
ca. 1770
Armchair (one of a pair), Gilded beech, French
ca. 1730
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View Citations

Bolton, Andrew, Harold Koda, and Mimi Hellman. 2006. Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth Century. New York New Haven (Conn.): Metropolitan Museum of Art Yale University Press.