A Louis XV Commode Donated to Versailles

Antoine-Robert Gaudreaus (c. 1682-1746)
Commode with two
drawers without crossbar
and with lateral
corners ending in
leaves, marble top, Japanese lacquered
panels and vernis parisien- 85 x 182 x 73 cm
Versailles, Musée national du château et des Trianon
Photo : Château de Versailles

25/2/14 - Acquisition - Versailles, Musée national du château et des Trianon - A royal commode recently joined the collections at the Château de Versailles, donated by the Fondation Edmond J. Safra. Intended for Louis XV’s bedroom at the Château de Choisy, it was completed in 1744 by Antoine Robert Gaudreaus, cabinet maker at the Garde Meuble de la Couronne from 1726 until his death in 1746.
The commode was moved under the reign of Louis XVI from Choisy to Saint Cloud, placed first in the bedroom of Madame Elisabeth then Marie Antoinette’s before disappearing at auction during the Revolution ; it resurfaced in an Egyptian private collection in the 20th century and arrived in Italy in the 60’s after which it was finally acquired by Edmond J. Safra. The commode’s various owners made several requests over time to have the export ban lifted by the Italian authorities but were repeatedly rejected due to its heritage value. The Fondation Safra even filed an appeal before the TAR (Tribunale Ammnistrativo Regionale), however it was the Scientific and Technical Committee itself which facilitated the process in 2009 by accepting the revision of the ban. The decision elicited strong protests notably from associations such as Italia Nostra and art historians like Salvatore Settis. The question set off a debate : does the artist’s nationality rather than its intrinsic value justify the fact that an art work is a national asset ? This is not what is defined by Italian law. Furthermore, lifting an export ban on one work, then opens the door for others. After various ups and downs, reported by the Italian media - for example the website Patrimoniosos and also La Repubblica - the Fondation Safra attempted to calm the uproar by stating it did not wish to sell the work but instead donate it to the Château de Versailles, finally achieving its goal.

This commode [1] with two drawers has Japanese lacquer panels. As seen in the exhibition "Les secrets de la laque française" currently showing at the Musée des Arts décoratifs [2] (and which we will soon review on this site), Japanese lacquer was rare at that time. The one on the commode comes from a screen with six panels held in Louis XIV’s collection which the Garde Meuble provided to the dealer (marchand mercier) Thomas Joachim Hébert, one of the few who knew how to transfer the panels to curved furniture. We know that Gaudreus produced the Louis XV commode with these panels as well as using them for two corner pieces for the queen’s apartment and a large desk for the king’s study.
The gilt bronze pieces outline three cartridges on the front, the one furthest out is made up of reed leaves, the one further in blends leaves and rushes while the third one, at the bottom, displays an acanthus leaf. Long strips decorate the feet. Among the bronzes, Japanese black lacquered areas with multicolored and gilt décor display flowers and fruit. The commode also bears zones with vernis de Paris imitating lacquer for which Hébert worked notably with Martin.

The commode now stands in the bedroom of Madame Victoire. Its addition at Versailles, confirming the museum’s policy of refurnishing the château, is very fitting as the cabinet maker had produced another commode in 1739 for the bedroom of Louis XV at Versailles (today in the Wallace Collection). Moreover, the château holds a médaillier "in the shape of a commode", delivered for the king’s interior cabinet at Versailles in 1738. Very few of Gaudreaus’ works are known today ; he did not stamp his furniture and often used outside help : a second commode in the Wallace Collection has been attributed to him, as is another one at the Residence in Munich and his name has been evoked as well for the double commode acquired by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 2006.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mardi 25 février 2014


[1] It was studied by Jean Nérée Ronfort in, "Le mobilier royale à l’époque de Louis XV, 1744, Choisy, la commode du roi", L’Estampille/L’Objet d’art, n°218, October 1988.

[2] "Les secrets de la laque française : le vernis Martin", Paris, Musée des Arts décoratifs, from 13 February to 8 June 2014.

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