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Work Set of four "fauteuil à la reine" armchairs

Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: rococo

Suite of four fauteuils à la reine (flat-back armchairs)

© 1994 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts
18th century: rococo

Author(s):
Muriel Barbier

This set of four "fauteuil à la reine" style armchairs was made by the carpenter Nicolas Heurtaut (1720-1771). It has been established that they were made for Martial-Louis Beaupoil de Sainte-Aulaire, bishop of Poitiers. The powerfully sculpted decoration is striking for this date (1755), when the fashion was for more antique designs. The armchairs are in the symmetrical classical Rocaille style that Nicolas Heurtaut played a role in developing.

A design that proved popular

These armchairs are known to have been made for Martial-Louis Beaupoil de Sainte-Aulaire, appointed bishop of Poitiers in 1759. They later belonged to the chateau of Gorre in Haute-Vienne before being sold on in Paris on several occasions. They were sold along with another very similar set of six armchairs and a sofa, also bearing Nicolas Heurtaut's mark, but dating from 1757. This second set is now in a private collection. A number of similar chairs are also known to be held in other private collections, particularly one branded with the mark of the Palais du Temple, the residence of the Count of Artois, Louis XVI's brother. It therefore seems likely that Nicolas Heurtaut's design was very fashionable in the eighteenth century, and remained so for many years, as several nineteenth-century copies of the design are recorded.

The Symmetrical classical Rocaille style

These armchairs have a number of features that would have looked archaic at a time when furniture began to be designed along purer, slenderer lines, inspired by the growing interest in Greek and Roman Antiquity. The rectangular back is characterised by its sloping shoulders and lively curved lines, while the console legs still curve inwards. The seat and the wooden frame are very solid. The powerfully sculpted flowers, shells, and heart-shaped cartels are laid out in perfect symmetrical order. It is rather surprising to find such details in 1755, as they are more typical of the 1720s. However, such symmetrical layout marks a turning point when ornamentation broke free and rebelled against the whimsical fantasies of Rocaille, as the Rococo style was known in France. The symmetrical  classical Rocaille style was developed in circa 1753 as a compromise between the Rocaille and Classical styles. Its most important exponent was the architect Constant d'Ivry (1698-1777) who was then working on the interiors of the Palais Royal in Paris.

Armchairs typical of Nicolas Heurtaut's output

In these armchairs, Heurtaut, who played an important part in taming the excesses of the Rocaille style, uses a number of details which are a regular feature of his furniture. The shells at the centre of the seat and the back and at the top corners of the legs are also found on other chairs bearing his mark. Two other details that he often used are the small heart-shaped cartel at the base of the strut across the back and the flat strip running through the middle of the mouldings.

Bibliography

B. Pallot, D. Alcouffe, A. Dion-Tenenbaum, A. Lefébure, Le Mobilier du musée du Louvre, t. 2, Paris, Faton, 1993, pp. 80-83

Technical description

  • Stamped with the mark of Nicolas HEURTAUT

    Suite of four fauteuils à la reine (flat-back armchairs)

    C. 1755-59

    Paris

  • Carved and gilded beech

    H. 95 cm; W. 62 cm; D. 60 cm

  • Provenance: Martial Beaupoil de Sainte-Aulaire collection, Bishop of Poitiers in 1759
    Acquired in 1975

    OA 10594, OA 10595, OA 10596, OA 10597

  • Decorative Arts

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Additional information about the work

Stamped with the carpenter's name, Nicolas Heurtaut