French fashion at Petworth: although the 3rd Earl of Egremont is now best remembered as a major patron of Turner and other British artists, in his youth he had fashionable Francophile tastes. Peter Hughes examines the furniture he acquired at Petworth House, Sussex.
Among the greatest treasures at Petworth House in Sussex are the British neo-classical sculpture and the paintings by J.M.W. Turner collected or commissioned by the 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1837). This article looks at a much less well known aspect of his collecting, French furniture. It forms a sequel to an article that appeared in this year's National Trust Annual, published by APOLLO in April, which discussed the Boulle furniture acquired for Petworth House by the 2nd Lord Leconfield (1830-1901) from the celebrated Hamilton Palace sale of 1882. The high point of these purchases was the commode by Andre-Charles Boulle, of the same model as the pair that he delivered in 1708 for the bedroom of Louis XIV at the Grand Trianon. The article also considered two slightly earlier Boulle marquetry writing-desks in the Somerset Room, both probably acquired by the 2nd Earl of Egremont (1712-63).
Although a greater patron in general than either Lord Leconfield or the 2nd Earl, the 3rd Earl of Egremont is now remembered largely for his interest in British art. (1) Yet his two Grand Tours in the 1770s both included visits to Paris, and he associated, when young, with the Prince of Wales, then in his most francophile phase, and with his own neighbour in Sussex, Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh of Uppark, another friend of the Prince. The 3rd Earl also commissioned a portrait of Napoleon as First Consul from Thomas Phillips, a picture that hangs in the Beauty Room at Petworth and which was painted from the artist's ad vivum sketch made in Paris in 1802 during the Peace of Amiens between Great Britain and France.
Alison McCann has discovered that Lord Egremont was himself in Paris from 1 to 28 July 1802, taking advantage, like many other English visitors, of the short-lived peace. (2) It was probably on that visit that he bought a pair of five-light candelabra supported by bronze female caryatids with upraised arms and with their legs flanked by seated gryphons holding up the ends of their tunics so as to reveal their feet (Fig. 3). The candelabra were almost certainly purchased from the marchand M.-E. Lignereux, the successor to Dominique Daguerre, whose shop, greatly favoured by English visitors, was at no. 44 rue Vivienne, a street running northsouth immediately to the east of the Bibliotheque Nationale. A pair of candelabra in the Royal Collection with figures of the same model are included in a bill from Lignereux to the Prince of Wales, dated 28 April 1803: (3)
Une paire de girandole avec figure de femme Egyptienne en bronze Couleur antique portant un groupe des Cinq lumieres en bronze dor6 aumat pied en marbre jaune de sienne ... 70 [pounds sterling] Sterl.
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The Royal Collection candelabra were chosen for the Prince in Paris by Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh and, as the bill states, they have bases of yellow Siena marble, enabling Sir Harry to associate them as a garniture with a clock of the same marble mounted with a standing bronze figure of Apollo, also from Lignereux and still in the Royal Collection. (4) Lord Egremont's candelabra, on the other hand, have bases of gilt and patinated bronze, resting on shallow plinths of verde antico marble, and are not associated with a clock. The mounts on their bases are also of a different model, each base having a gilt-bronze relief of a river god (Fig. 2) in place of the small patinated bronze roundel with a pendant of fruit on the bases of the Royal Collection pair.
The figure on the Royal Collection and Petworth candelabra was described by Lignereux in his bill to the Prince of Wales as 'figure de femme Egyptienne', but, with their hair dressed in chignons at the back, the figures could equally be described as Grecian. The reliefs on the bases of the Petworth candelabra also employ the standard iconography for a Roman river god: a beamed male figure in the prime of life, holding with one arm an urn flowing with water and with the other a rudder, denoting that the river in question is navigable.
The Empire style, already being defined under the Consulate with the appearance of Percier and Fontaine's Recueil de decorations interieures in 1801, employed Greek and Roman elements just as much as Egyptian ones. The 3rd Earl's candelabra were made at least two years before Napoleon assumed the imperial title in May 1804, but the chasing of their figures already has the slightly dry precision of the Empire style. Lignereux's use of the word 'Egyptian' to describe the figures on the candelabra probably implies that they are to be regarded as in the latest fashion. The 3rd Earl no doubt thought them fashionable too, particularly since, buying them in the summer of 1802, he had anticipated by several months the Prince's employment of the same model in the furnishing of Carlton House.
Five years later, on 28 October 1807, the accounts of the 3rd Earl record the purchase of:
A very handsome Mahogany Cylinder Writing Desk with small drawers inside, large drawers on each side, with Kneehole, on strong castors ... 19 [pounds sterling]. (5)
The mention of 'small drawers inside' and of 'strong castors' links this description with a neo-classical desk of about 1780, stamped by Francois Rubestuck, in the White and Gold Room (Fig. 4). Rubestuck was, as his name suggests, an immigrant to Paris from the old German Reich. Born in about 1722 in Westphalia, he began his career as a free workman in the faubourg Saint-Antoine, the area to the east of the Bastille in which immigrants and other free workmen could enjoy partial freedom from guild regulations. After about seven years there, Rubestuck became a master on 7 May 1766, setting up shop in the rue de la Roquette, which runs north-east from the place de la Bastille, and later moving to the rue de Charenton, which runs south-east from the same place. Although a talented cabinetmaker, Rubestuck was intemperate in his habits, leading his wife to demand a legal separation, and he died in poverty in 1785. (6)
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This intemperance is not, seemingly, reflected in his furniture, which does, however, show a considerable change from pieces in the Louis xv to those in the Louis XVI style. The former tend to be agreeably rococo, often with panels of Chinese lacquer, whereas the latter are notable for their severity and rectilinear outlines. These last characteristics are seen on the Petworth desk, which has severely straight legs and strictly rectangular panels and drawer fronts bordered by narrow gilt-bronze mouldings edged with lines of beading. In the centre of the roll-top an oval gilt-bronze frame encloses a count's coronet above the initials 'LD' in marquetry, which might, one day, indicate the original owner. The tier of drawers on top of the desk stands up very high and is not softened by any curved profiles at its corners. The red sating veneer is enlivened by cross-bandings of the same veneer, while the main panels are also inlaid with bandings forming variants of the Greek key pattern in the corners. The Greek key, like the Vitruvian scroll, was a motive favoured during the early years of French neo-classicism at the end of Louis XV's reign and its use here, in about 1780, gives the desk, despite its severity, a somewhat transitional character, although to English eyes it would probably still have looked up-to-date in 1807.
The Rubestuck desk has in the past been described as coming from the Hamilton Palace sale, a provenance which has also been attributed to an unstamped roll-top desk in the White Library, although neither of the desks can be found in the Hamilton Palace sale catalogue and the Rubestuck one has now been linked to a purchase by the 3rd Earl in 1807. The desk in the White Library, which is veneered with sating and tulipwood, appears to date from around 1770, but has perhaps been fitted with later gilt-bronze mounts in the style of Riesener. (7)
A piece of furniture that was certainly at Petworth in the time of the 3rd Earl, but cannot be stated to have been acquired by him, is the carved and gilt pier table with a porphyry top displayed against the window wall of the Carved Room which was restored in 2006 (Fig. 7). The table is shown, in the same position, in C.R. Leslie's painting The Carved Room at Petworth Looking North, dating from about 1828 (Figs. 1 and 6). (8) The table frame appears to date from around 1700 and is carved in the centre of each leg with the cross of Lorraine and at the corners of the frieze with variations on the same motive. The prominent cartouche in the centre of the apron below the frieze is, however, blank, but perhaps formerly enclosed a cypher or coat-of-arms.
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If the table was made for a member of the House of Lorraine, the most obvious candidate would be Duke Leopold, who reigned nominally from 1690 to 1729, although only recovering his duchy from French occupation in 1698. The duke had the chateau of Luneville built to designs by Germain Boffrand and the table at Petworth may possibly have been connected with that undertaking, although the porphyry top looks like a later replacement. On a pier table of around 1700 one would expect to find a top of brecciated marble, such as Sarrancolin or marbre d'Antin from quarries in the Pyrenees, with the marble cut more thinly and with a moulded edge and without the wide overlap over the frame at either end found at Petworth. The porphyry is fine in itself and it is unusual to find a top of solid porphyry on a pier table, as opposed to one in which sheets of porphyry have been veneered on to an artificial stone base. The top may date from the end of the 18th or the beginning of the 19th century, when neo-classicism had made porphyry fashionable and when archaeological excavations had made it available.
If the pier table is largely of the late Louis XIV period, a small gilt-bronze clock in the Little Dining Room, likewise of uncertain provenance, is very much of the transitional period between the Louis XV and Louis XVI styles (Fig. 5). Cast as a truncated column surmounted by a vase, the clock belongs to a model introduced in about 1770. The Petworth example may perhaps date from a few years later, as the clockmaker, Frederic Du Val, was made a master of the guild only in 1777. The case is stamped OSMOND at the back of the column, showing that it was cast either by Robert Osmond (1711-89, maitre fondeur in 1746) or by his nephew, Jean-Baptiste Osmond (maitre fondeur in 1764). A clock set in a truncated column seems a quintessentially early neo-classical design, evoking the idea of ancient ruins; the model may have been inspired by the architect and designer Jean-Charles Delafosse (1734-91), whose drawing for such a clock case is in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris. (9)
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The Osmonds, on the other hand, clearly regarded the design as their copyright, being very aware of the need to protect artists' models; Robert Osmond was one of the signatories of a declaration by the maitres fondeurs on this subject in 1766. The founders drew up a book of copyright designs, the Livre de desseins (Bibliotheque Doucet, Paris); drawing no.53 in that book, signed Osmond, shows the column clock model, albeit with a pair of billing doves at the top, rather than a vase. (10) Several examples of the simple version, with the vase on top, are known, the Petworth clock corresponding exactly to one in the Royal Palace, Stockholm, (11) whereas a clock formerly in the Sauvage collection in Paris has billing doves at the top, as in the Livre de desseins. (12)
The idea of a column containing a clock movement was quickly taken up by the Sevres porcelain factory, which listed a colonne a pendule in 1772 and, a few years later, a petit vase pour la colonne a pendule to go on top. (13) A late example of the Sevres column clock, bearing the date letter for 1786, is in the Wallace Collection; (14) the design is virtually the same as that of the Petworth clock, but the blue, white and gilded porcelain makes a very different impression from the gilt bronze at Petworth and the mounts of 1786, probably commissioned by the marchand Dominique Daguerre, are more intricate than the solid and vigorous ones designed by Robert Osmond in about 1770.
(1) For the 3rd Earl, see Max Egremont, "The Third Earl of Egremont and his Friends', APOLLO, vol. CXXII, no. 284 (October 1985), pp. 280-87, and C. Rowell, 1. Warrell and 13. Blayney Brown, Turner at Petworth, exh. cat., Petworth House, 2002, pp. 16-27.
(2) Petworth House Archives (PHA) 12010. See also C. Rowell, 'French Furniture at Uppark,' Furniture History, vol. XLIII, 2(X)7, pp. 272 and 290, n. 32.
(3) Windsor Castle, Royal Archives, Georgian Papers, no. 25142, quoted by G. de Bellaigue, 'Martin-Eloy Lignereux and England', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol. LXXI, May-June 1968, pp. 283-93, at p. 285.
(4) The clock and one candelabrum illus. J. Harris, G. de Bellaigue and O. Millar, Buckingham Palace, 1968, p. 155, and in de Bellaigue, op.cit., pp. 286-87.
(5) PHA 5959.
(6) F. de Salverte, Les Ebenistes Du XVIIIe Siecle, Paris, 1927, art. Rubestuck.
(7) Both desks were attributed to the Hamilton Palace sale in the Petworth guidebook published in 1981.
(8) Tate, UK, illus. Rowell, Warrell and Blayney Brown, op. cit., fig. 124, cat. no. 31.
(9) Illus. Les Dessins de Delafosse Epoque Louis XVI Exposes au Musee des Arts Decoratifs (Donation David Weill), Paris, n.d., fig. 67.
(10) Bibliotheque Doucet, Paris, VI E 15 Res.
(11) Illus. H. Ottomeyer and P. Proschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, Munich, 1986, vol. I, no.3.12.3.
(12) Illus. Tardy, French Clocks The World Over, 1981, vol. n, p. 52.
(13) See R. Savill, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Sevres Porcelain, 1988, vol. II pp. 792-93.
(14) Illus. Savill, op. cit, p. 794.
Peter Hughes is former head curator of the Wallace Collection. For information on visiting Petworth House, telephone +44 (0) 17987 343929 or go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk
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|Date:||Sep 1, 2008|
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