Sunday, July 21, 2019

Console Tables, Italy and Jayne Wrightsman

"Why, you might ask, do I give a damn about a frou-frou gilded, curly-leg, marble-top table, the sole purpose of which, is to be displayed against the walls of grand rooms..."

Console Tables, Italy and Jayne Wrightsman

I thank the writer Nancy Mitford for her story about Stanislaw, King of Poland. The old goat called his daughter Marie, wife of Louis XV and Queen of France, one of the dullest Queens in Europe. “When I’m with her I yawn like at Mass.”

Stanislaw Leszczyński, King of Poland, should have been more grateful to his daughter Marie for the cushy life he lived in France. It was her standing as Queen of France that prevented his penniless exile after he was booted off the throne of Poland. Following disastrous political misfortune, Stanislaw resided at the palatial Chateau Chambord from 1725 to 1733, was briefly back in the saddle as Polish King in 1733, to be ousted again in 1736, after which he returned to France to live like a fat cat until his 1766 death.

Hyacinthe Rigaud’s portrait of Stanislaw depicts him dandied-up with wig, rouge and lipstick, and posed majestically in ermine cape and red silk sash tied around his suit of armor. Exceedingly monarchical, the portrayal slams against the fact that Stanislaw ignobly lost the throne of Poland, not once but twice.

In early July, Christie’s Auction House London sold a pair of Louis XV console tables made for Stanislaw. Manufactured in France in 1765 in the late Louis XV neoclassical style, and offered at auction by the Rothschild Collection, the consoles were presumably commissioned by the deposed monarch for Chateau Lunéville where he resided.

I’ve been partial to console tables ever since being dazzled by some in Palazzo Doria Pamphili’s Sala del Pussino many years ago in Rome.

Why, you might ask, do I give a damn about a frou-frou gilded, curly-leg, marble-top table, the sole purpose of which, is to be displayed against the walls of grand rooms and reception halls?

Because I enjoy studying European decorative arts, can get giddy learning about categories and stylistic descriptions. It’s neither trivial nor useless in my opinion to know that carved seashells and fruit garlands, and curvy cabriole legs are stylistic features of the rococo phase, not the neoclassical phase, of Louis XV. Or that the intensely theatrical carved winged putti, demon masks and sculptural caryatids, typify Italian consoles. Surely, console ornamentation tells me a thing or two about the characters who lived with it.

Even deeper than my historical interest is my aesthetic interest. I have a hankering to be near exquisitely designed and hand-crafted console tables.

If you visit the Cabinet Room at the Palace of Versailles, you can see a dark green marble top console table. When Louis XV’s court painter Charles André van Loo made his portrait of Stanislaw’s daughter, Marie Leszczynska, Queen of France, he included a console table in the portrait.

The console tables flipped by the Rothschilds at Christies carried swanky provenance after they departed the estate of the ungrateful King of Poland. For a while they were in the collection of the marquis de Beringhen (1693-1770), whose estate, according to Christies, sold them in Paris when de Beringhen kicked the bucket in 1770.

Prudent to cash in before the Revolution.

There was too much stuff stored in the attic at Chatsworth, what was the Duchess of Devonshire to do? So in October 2010 Sotheby’s Auction put on “Chatsworth: The Attic Sale,” and sold a stunning Italian carved giltwood console table, made in Rome in the middle of the 18th century. Decorating the center of the table's stretcher is a large dragon. A dragon? According to Sotheby’s, the table was probably commissioned by Prince Marcantonio IV Borghese (1730-1800), and probably acquired by William Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858).

Louis XIV was a hound dog. He had numerous mistresses, official and unofficial, who bore him many children during the years he ruled France. But the Sun King was a chaste choir boy compared to Louis XV, who ran a virtual brothel, with over 100 mistresses, it is said, the lower tier of which were illiterate and often ignorant of his identity. All the while, Queen Marie and Louis’ legitimate offspring prayed for his soul, and Jesuits hissed from pulpits on the evils of adultery and dissipation. Especially during Easter. I’ll never understand how someone who spent that much time whoring managed to fight the Austrians and the Prussians, and run France. Of Louis XV’s official mistresses, Madame de Pompadour was the most famous.

Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, had a passion for houses. She owned many, most of which she redesigned and decorated, and tacked-on sumptuous gardens. This, at the same time she was gussying-up the King’s houses. I easily visualize Madame de Pompadour designing the grand rooms of her Bellevue Chateau, a house she built, before she bought the Elysée. She inspects drawings of the garlands Verberckt will carve into wall panels, and the paint Boucher and Van Loo will use for decorations. Her unwavering attention to paintings, sculpture, lamps, tapestries, and porcelain provided a staggering amount of business for France’s artists and factories. It’s certain her purchasing agents spent time dickering with console tables. You can see a console that belonged to Madame de Pompadour if you visit her apartment in the palace of Versailles.

In April, philanthropist Jayne Wrightsman died at age 99, and you would have to be comatose to miss the tributes and lovely photographs in “Architectural Digest,” “Town and Country,” “Vogue” and other glossy mags. Lucky for us, Jayne and her husband Charles Wrightsman established the Wrightsman Galleries for French Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of the priceless pieces Wrightsman collected and handed over to the Met, along with her Vermeer and Georges de La Tour, is a bed side table used by Madame de Pompadour at Bellevue Chateau.

A quick word on Louis’ carnality. Among the common and illiterate women who serviced the King in his harem was a beautiful Irish girl named Mademoiselles Louise O’ Murphy. Louise turned out to be Boucher’s favorite model. Boucher painted her face in many of his compositions, as nymph, goddess, and shepherdess. The face is in Queen Marie’s private chapel.

Curiously enough, to relieve him of money worries so he could simply be brilliant, particularly in her literary salon, Madame de Pompadour moved Voltaire into an apartment in the palace of Versailles. It was, of course, the Age of Enlightenment. However the philosopher made the dumb mistake of publishing something tacky about the King and Madame. When the King became annoyed, Voltaire hightailed it out of there. Guess where he went. To Chateau Lunéville to stay with our buddy, Stanislaw.

About console tables. Arguably, French consoles are beautiful, as are the ridiculously rococo German consoles. But give me an Italian console table. Italian consoles are utterly pagan.

Sotheby’s Chatsworth: The Attic Sale October 2010, An Italian carved giltwood console table, Roman, mid 18th century

Palace of Versailles, Council Cabinet, marble top console table

Christie’s Auction House London. One of a pair of late Louis XV console tables from the Rothschild Collection. Made for Stanislaw Leszczyński, King of Poland Christies, Made France 1765.

Metropolitan Museum, Italian console table from Rome, circa 1700-1725

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