An Eye on Art

a blog about beautiful things

An Extraordinary Commode Made for Louis XV of France


Finally, at the end of last month, it made its way back to France after a very long time in exile. The commode was made by ébéniste Antoine-Robert Gaudreaus for King Louis XV. It was delivered in 1744 by art merchant Thomas-Joachim Hébert to the Chateau de Choisy, to be placed in the king’s bed chamber.

At the time this sort of japanese lacquer was extraordinarily rare and expensive. For the making of this piece the royal house gave the cabinet maker a large Japanese screen that had been purchased by Louis XIV. The screen was dismantled and the artisan proceeded to the extremely delicate task of attaching the (flat) panels of the screen to the curved (galbée) forms of the dresser.

It passed from the rooms of Louis XV to those of Madam Elisabeth, then to Queen Marie Antoinette at the Chateau de Saint Cloud. It was finally sold during the revolution. It’s location was unknown until it reappeared in Egypt in the early 20th century. It was purchased by an American collector and then re-sold to an Italian collector in the 1960’s. In 1987 it was purchased by Edmond Safra.

Safra left the piece to the Chateau de Versailles Museum, but the donation did not go smoothly. Italian authorities used (in my opinion maliciously) their cultural heritage laws to try to keep the piece on Italian soil. This despite the piece not being Italian, not made by an Italian artisan, and having only resided in Italy since the 1960’s. Cultural heritage laws are made to protect a country’s own heritage. Not to usurp that of another. The resolution of the affair took three long years and the intervention of various historians, experts and curators who almost unanimously agreed the commode should return to France.

If you like the fusion Asian/European look, search for chinoiserie items. You’ll find pieces in all price ranges; From high end period originals to modern reproductions . 19th century versions generally combine quality and reasonable prices.


5 comments on “An Extraordinary Commode Made for Louis XV of France

  1. appletonavenue
    March 14, 2014

    Beautiful and very interesting. It’s incredible that you know so much about this piece. I look forward to (perhaps) reading about King Henry VII’s bed found recently one day.

  2. metan
    March 14, 2014

    I wonder how thrilled the original cabinet maker was to be given an ‘extraordinarily rare and expensive’ Japanese screen to cut up and bend? No pressure there!

    • aneyeonart
      March 14, 2014

      Can you imagine the terror? On the left side panel I see four seams which means four individual cuts, four individual bends- any of which could have ended in disaster. The bending is done with heat or steam, and I can’t imagine lacquer and heat could be a good combination 🙂

  3. foolsmusings
    March 15, 2014

    Oh sure, boring like a fox….or something like that. 🙂

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This entry was posted on March 13, 2014 by in Antiques and tagged , , , , , , , .


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