French furniture in the Rococo style

On 12 June 2019, by Anne Foster and Claire Papon

Produced in the 19th century, this cabinet chest with doors is based on a medal cabinet made for the king at the Palace of Versailles. The bronzes, treated as genuine sculptures, almost overshadow the marquetry. 

19th century, cabinet chest with doors in kingwood marquetry with latticework motifs and Breche marble top, after Louis XV's medal cabinet at the Palace of Versailles, 92 x 173 x 64 cm.
Estimate: €80,000/100,000

The model for this cabinet can be considered one of the masterpieces of French royal furniture: the medal cabinet delivered in 1739 for a corner room in the Palace of Versailles, where it can still be seen today. Although there is no stamp, it was made by Antoine-Robert Gaudreaux (ca. 1680-1746), cabinetmaker to the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne from 1726 until his death, and a specialist in kingwood marquetry work. He also produced the chest of drawers with bronzes by Caffieri in the king's bedroom at Versailles, and the low wardrobe with three doors in the form of a bookshelf delivered in 1744 to go with the medal cabinet. Gaudreaux was not the only one involved in his furniture. The brothers Sébastien-Antoine and Paul-Ambroise Slodtz, designers for the King's Bedroom and Cabinet, drew the extremely precise plans used by the cabinetmaker, while the bronzes were entrusted to a sculptor, Caffieri or the Slodtzes themselves. As an icon of French furniture, this piece was copied many times in the 19th century, including by the cabinetmaker Sormani. We also know that Richard Seymour-Conway (1800-1870), the father of Richard Wallace, had this model reproduced in Paris between 1850 and 1870, at the same time as a dozen other pieces of furniture.

Victor Gisler, an outsider’s life

On 12 June 2019, by Pierre Naquin

On the eve of a new edition of Art Basel, Victor Gisler, from the Mai 36 gallery, looks back at his career and recent trends in the art world.

Victor Gisler

Victor Gisler, a veteran of continental contemporary art, has attended Art Basel since 1990. When he founded his own space in Lucerne in 1987 before moving to Switzerland’s economic capital six years later, he followed his passion, but above all he did a rational calculation.

How did you become a gallery owner?
Before opening my own space when I was 27, I had the good luck of meeting Jean-Christophe Ammann, who was head of the museum in our city, Lucerne. He must have been the best curator imaginable for an institution. Meanwhile, I worked on a project that involved interviewing many players in the artistic ecosystem while I was studying economics. That's how I eventually got into the field. I drew up a business plan, started attending events to meet people and made a list of artists I really liked. There was no e-mail or Internet back then. You had to write to these people or visit them. That's what I did! I met Lawrence Weiner, who in turn introduced me to his friend John Baldessari. John had no representation in Europe except for a gallery in Paris, which he wasn’t satisfied with. Thomas Ruff and Andreas Gursky were leaving their school in Düsseldorf. All of us were from the same generation. I drew up a schedule, installed the gallery and we embarked on the adventure.

View of the exhibition "Thomas Ruff: From the Press" at the Mai 36 gallery.
View of the exhibition "Thomas Ruff: From the Press" at the Mai 36 gallery. PHOTO PETER BARACCHI. COURTESY THOMAS RUFF AND MAI 36 GALERIE

You started participating in fairs very early on.
Right from the start, it was clear to me that fairs would be the inevitable extension of galleries. In 1989, I exhibited at Arco and the Frankfurt Fair, a very ambitious project at the time. The following year, I booked a stand for Art Basel. The rest is history. But nowadays, fairs are no longer emancipatory. On the contrary, they’re beginning to kill many players who don’t have the financial means or the size to participate, so the system literally prevents a new generation from emerging. The current model needs to be fundamentally rethought. It only works for 40 or 50 galleries in the world. To tell you the truth, it gets boring to see only these galleries taking up all the oxygen. When you compare with what they do in Miami and see everything they’re willing to do to attract new, increasingly important collectors, it is turning into a sham. The truth is that the real deals are made by the biggest players who have pre-sold paintings for $5 to $50 million. In my case, fairs cost about $1 million a year and account for about 60% of our annual turnover. That's huge, but don't forget I'm isolated in Zurich. If I were in New York, I’d probably attend fewer fairs. New York is a show that lasts 365 days a year!

Would you open a gallery today?
I don’t know how many sleepless nights I’ve spent wondering, "Why are you doing this to yourself?" Being a gallery owner is an outsider's life, at least socially. But it's what I really like to do. I want my artists to be famous. I want to work for them. As a gallery owner, you have to wear many hats: intellectual, salesman, negotiator, painter, house painter, communicator, "dad", confidant, accountant, organiser... I’ve had my failures, especially during the Kuwait crisis when I almost had to close down. And then I bounced back. But today, I’m no longer sure that passion alone is enough. A significant financial base has become essential. You have to be able to last five or six years without any real financial return.

"But nowadays, fairs are no longer emancipatory. On the contrary, they’re beginning to kill many players who don’t have the financial means or the size to participate, so the system literally prevents a new generation from emerging. The current model needs to be fundamentally rethought."

Is there still a recipe for success?
The major problem is that it’s getting very hard to start with new artists. When I exhibit Zang Kunkun, who is 32 and unknown, and I sell three or four pieces for CHF5,000 to 8,000, it doesn't cover costs. If I had to present only this generation’s artists, I wouldn't be able to fight my way through. And if I were only interested in my gallery’s growth, I just wouldn't do it. Right now, we have very wealthy people who like the idea of buying, for incredible sums of money, "gimmicks" that others have defined as the thing to own, a bit like a hunting trophy. It's a system based on rarity. It's purely behavioural. That’s why contemporary art galleries represent more and more estates. It’s ideal for them: there’s a product, a name, a brand. The second market is also crucial for contemporary art dealers. Some players, like us, only deal in the second market with their artists. Others deal in everything to keep the company running; the larger ones do so to be able to meet all their customers’ expectations and remain competitive with auction houses. When I started, I didn’t care about all that. It still doesn't stir my blood, but it's part of the job.

What does the future of galleries look like?
The gallery of the future will have to adapt to the situation it lives in: the economic context, the means of communication, thoughts, the spirit of the times, etc. As for my personal outlook, I'm a curious guy. Curiosity is really what guides me. If I lost it, I’d be very sad and stop. As for business, it's hard, probably as hard as it was at the beginning, and it will continue to be so. Grow or go! We must keep on finding new ways to reinvent ourselves. But many artists haven’t met their audience yet. So I have a purpose.

View of the exhibition "Paul Thek: Ponza and Roma" at the Mai 36 gallery.
View of the exhibition "Paul Thek: Ponza and Roma" at the Mai 36 gallery. PHOTO PETER BARACCHI. COURTESY MAI 36 GALERIE


Masterpiece London, a high-potential global fair

On 14 June 2019, by Agathe Albi-Gervy

To wrap up this semester’s calendar of contemporary art fairs, Masterpiece aims to capture the attention of customers who have barely gotten over Art Basel. The challenge will be launched from 27 June to 3 July in West London’s historic Royal Hospital Chelsea.


The number of exhibitors remains stable at 157, compared with 160 last year and 153 in 2017. Its identity, based on a blend of classical art and the latest contemporary creations, reflects the tastes of today's collectors more than ever. Classical painting and 20th and 21st-century arts are tied in terms of the number of exhibitors – around 60, including Agnews, De Jonckheere and Richard Green on one side and Hauser & Wirth, Mathivet, Henze & Ketterer & Triebold, Robilant + Voena and Toninelli Art Moderne on the other. Alessandra Di Castro, Steinitz, The Sladmore Gallery and Robert Young Antiques will represent antique furniture, while only four stands –Yann Ferrandin, Finch & Co, Patrick & Ondine Mestdagh and Axel Vervoordt – will exhibit African and pre-Columbian art. The diversity of specialties represented at Masterpiece is matched only by the number of lectures and round tables organised for the occasion. In particular, the one on 27 June at 7:30 p.m. by Anna Dempster, head of academic programmes at the Royal Academy of Arts, questioned why and how certain artists constitute an art collection. On 28 June at 5 p.m., a lecture by Andy Hei, founder and director of Fine Art Asia, a Hong Kong fair with which Masterpiece is linked this year by a partnership, explained the difficulties and challenges of the West's cultural collaboration with China.

Overview (Pre-sale)

Versailles and Women

Disregarded in the 20th century, queens and kings’ mistresses nonetheless left their mark within the château. Thanks to recent research, the Palace is shining a spotlight on them again in two exhibitions, just as the Queen's apartment has been restored.

"For these crowds hungry for legend, excited by novels and sometimes simply by history, Versailles is above all redolent of the women who lived there, who made for its charm and gave it ever-fresh adornment. It is well-known that many of them held the slackened reins of power in their light hands." This excerpt from the compendium on Les Femmes de Versailles (1901) by Pierre de Nolhac, curator at the Palace, reveals the extent of the cultural gulf that slowly widened. Within a century, the sovereigns and kings’ mistresses exchanged the "slackened reins of power" in historiography for an image as ornaments of the court. Without making Versailles a den of royal females, many very different women shaped its image. Probably their loss of political power, with Anne of Austria's exclusion from the Council in 1661, until Marie Antoinette's return in 1788, played its part in clouding their real position.
When the court moved to Versailles in 1682, the role of women was redefined, particularly in terms of the palace layout. To do justice to this neglected side of its history, Versailles is staging three events happily unified by some fortuitous research. The harmony between the spotlight on Madame de Maintenon in her newly restored apartments, the presentation of the recently reunited collections of Marie Leszczyńska and the now-completed refurbishment of the Queen's apartments, which has revealed much along the way, glorifies a whole range of work on the role and place of women at Versailles.

View of the exhibition "Madame de Maintenon. Dans les allées du pouvoir"

View of the exhibition "Madame de Maintenon. Dans les allées du pouvoir"© Château de Versailles/Thomas Garnier

The imprint of these ladies
Head curator of sculptures at the Palace, Alexandre Maral started the ball rolling when he published Femmes de Versailles in 2016. Up till then research was largely focused on the political influence of these ladies: the biographer Simone Bertière had published a series on the queens of France from the Valois to the Bourbons between 1994 and 2002; in 2011, the historian Bernard Hours, in La France de Louis XV, had restored their political role to women in the governmental systems, preceded by Joël Félix, in 2006, with Louis XVI et Marie-Antoinette. Un couple en politique. Ten years later, Maral's research not only revived a taste for forgotten figures – like Louis XIV's daughter, the Princesse de Conti, and the Duchesse de La Vallière, the Sun King's mistress and a major patron to the artist Claude III Audran, Antoine Watteau's teacher – but also analysed the topography of the palace as evidence of the importance given to sovereigns, favourites and dauphines.
On the strength of these discoveries, the restoration of the Queen's Great Apartment, recently completed after three years' work, has brought Maria Theresa's touch to light. "The most spectacular piece of restoration work is the Guard Room, which had been ignored for years. Apart from the doors (some of the few from Louis XIV's time to have survived there), there was little trace of Maria Theresa of Spain. Few were interested in the taste of the woman who was above all the wife of Louis XIV. But the restoration work enables us to see precisely what each queen contributed to the interior design," says Laurent Salomé, director of the Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon. For example, the ceiling by Noël Coypel (1628-1707) can now be seen in a new light after the removal of repainted sections. In this confusion of embellishments and sovereigns, the ceiling in the Queen's bedroom features both Maria Theresa's boxed rocaille sections and François Boucher's paintings for Marie Leszczyńska. Restoration has also revealed that the carton-pierre moulding of Maria Theresa's compartments dated from the following reign. Meanwhile, Marie Antoinette's textiles have been rewoven according to the original cartoons, while the bed and balustrade have been re-carved, based on archive documents.

Anonymous, Françoise d’Aubigné, épouse Scarron, ca. 1670

Anonymous, Françoise d’Aubigné, épouse Scarron, ca. 1670© Château de Versailles/Thomas Garnier

A Woman Far From Strict or Severe
Maria Theresa's death in 1683 paved the way to glory for another woman, Madame de Maintenon, who had been living a few steps from the King's Apartment for three years. "She was the only king’s mistress to live at the palace – for thirty-two years, to boot. To enable this, the king gave her a specific role: second lady-in-waiting. Her apartment, which she found small, became a strategic place at the centre of power: the entire court went via the staircase leading to it to get to the King's apartment," says Mathieu Da Vinha, associate curator for Versailles's first exhibition on the "virtual queen" (secretly married to Louis XIV in 1683) in her former apartments, restored for the occasion. The hangings have been rewoven according the original models, and various works have returned to their original positions, like Nicolas Poussin's Ravissement de Saint-Paul: commissioned by her first husband, the poet Paul Scarron, acquired by the Duc de Richelieu in 1665 and now in the Louvre.
The idea colouring the palace's history of an austere, strict woman has now been demolished, and proofs of her secret marriage are exhibited for the first time. At the heart of power, Madame de Maintenon set fashions for women at court, started up "apartment soirées" consisting of games and conversation, and supported the theatre by opening the palace to performances of Jean Racine's Esther and Athalie. This progress in research has given Laurent Salomé some ideas: "As well as her portrait and those of her entourage presented in the Louis XIV rooms, we will need to make a few acquisitions in the context of their reorganisation. We know of some paintings in private collections, and we have tabs on certain portraits of La Montespan!"

Rocaille vase with decoration of pink ribbons and bouquets of flowers painted naturalistically.

Rocaille vase with decoration of pink ribbons and bouquets of flowers painted naturalistically.

© Château de Versailles/dist. RMN/Christophe Fouin

2018: an acquisitive year 
Unable to preserve the different layouts over the years, the palace has fallen back on a dynamic acquisition policy. In 2018, as well as the return of the chest of drawers made in 1776 by cabinetmaker Jean-Henri Riesener for Louis XV's daughter Madame Adélaïde (1732-1800), the collections of Marie Leszczyńska (1703-1768) were swelled by some fine purchases. For example, in a dossier-exhibition on the taste of Louis XV's wife (on show in the Dauphine's apartments), there is a rocaille vase with a pink ribbon decoration from the early days of the Sèvres factory – a Christmas gift from Louis XV to the Queen – and the Chinese Cabinet, a group of nine panels partly painted by the queen herself on advice from Jean-Baptiste Oudry, or possibly Jean-Marc Nattier or Noël Coypel. Illustrating the tea trade and culture, this "cabinet de fantaisie" will be reassembled next year in the current "supplément" (add-on room) to Marie Antoinette's library. "A maternal character, the wife of a liberated king, she seemed dutiful and even dull to some people, but we should remember her role as an interior designer: she was the one who initiated the transition to the pleasing, flowery rococo style, and developed a taste for comfortable, refined private apartments," says Laurent Salomé.
The Dauphine's apartment has to be refurnished; the Queen's small apartments will be opening to the public by the end of the year, while Marie Antoinette's apartments on the second floor also need refurbishing. Meanwhile, at the Queen's Hamlet, now that the house is once more as Marie Louise knew it, work on the Boudoir should be starting soon. Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun said in her Mémoires that "women used to reign, then, and the Revolution dethroned them". Perhaps, in the end, she will be refuted...

Worth Knowing
"Madame de Maintenon. Dans les allées du pouvoir" (Madame de Maintenon: the corridors of power)
and "Le goût de Marie Leszczyńska " (The taste of Marie Leszczyńska),
until 21 July 2019, Château de Versailles.
céramiques, orfèvrerie, sculptures, bronzes, tapis, tapisseries, arts décoratifs du XXe
Wednesday 19 June 2019 - 14:00 - Live
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