ARTICLES: "Madame de Pompadour and the arts"

On the occasion of the exhibition "Madame de Pompadour and the arts", hold in Versailles, the apartment the mistress occupied on the second floor of the castle central body has been re-opened. Restored and re-furnished thanks to donations, legacies or patronage, it gives shelter to tables, pieces of furniture and artistic objects of high quality. Although the reconstruction has been based on an inventory, it evokes the original decoration and, more generally, the elegant and refined taste in vogue at the court of Louis XV.

During the exhibition "Madame de Pompadour and the arts" (until May 19th), the apartment can be visited only with guided tours. Information and booking at 0130837788. This apartment has been restored thanks to the patronage of Verel de Belval, Zwarovski and Houles, through the intervention of the Friends of Versailles Association.

Versailles castle is so splendid that its directors have resigned themselves, against their will but too easily, to limiting the public re-opening of the apartments that, anywhere else in the world, would assure their own reputation and survival.

This is the special case of the first apartment belonged to the Marquise of Pompadour and located in the northern attic of the castle's central body, the countess Du Barry's, settled in the internal suites of the King Louis XV himself, and the Princesses', placed n the northern round-floor of the central body. We must admit that their furniture used to include some masterpieces, not longer present, and that a limited audience for safety's sake can visit the apartments themselves.

Once more the Association of Versailles Friends has taken care of the re-furnishing of the marquise's apartments, attracting donations, legacies or patronage. Thus we could exhibit, successively or jointly, some parts of Miss Meissoner's legacy in 1943, some donations from the Porché family and doctor Marcel Durand in 1952 and 1962, Mrs Bouchaud's legacies in 1969 and Mr and Mrs Derval's in 1987. The most remarkable and matching pieces have always been exhibited, while the decoration itself was restored according to the last law programme in 1985.

Decisive progress was obtained in 1986 thanks to the legacies of H.R.M. the Duchess of Windsor, who, like the Marquise the Pompadour, was able to reign over a king's heart. The Duchess wasn't a real collector, but, as an elegant woman (one of the most admired in her time), she used to live in very refined residences, whose furniture and decoration was inspired to the French 18th century and supervised by Stéphane Boudin, from the Jansen house. The furniture included in the Windsor legacy was distributed: the pieces dating back to the 1750s were placed in the Marquise de Pompadour's apartments, those belonging to the 1770s in the countess Du Barry's rooms.

Several seats, often in pairs, were covered in twos with different silks, according to ancient decorators' aesthetic taste. Together with the seats of previous donations, they all have been recovered uniformly, in order to regain the atmosphere of the complete suites, typical of the 18th century. All the silks have been offered, on the Versailles Friends' instigation, from the Verel de Belval house and the braids from Huoles house.

Furniture sources

There isn't an inventory for the first apartment the marquise lived in from 1745 to 1751. In Versailles the mistress was not provided for furniture by the Garde-Meuble of the throne, whose official deliveries were intended for the other royal residences with the exception of the castle.

Thus we know in detail her furniture in the castles of Trianon, Marly, Choisy, La Muette, Compiègne, Fontainebleau, Saint-Hubert, but not the one in Versailles. Our sources about Versailles are just the journal of the merchant haberdasher Lazare Duvaux and, in fine, the inventory compiled after her death in 1764. In this date and since 1751 she had been occupying another apartment in Versailles, in the northern ground floor of the castle's central body, where Toulouse and Penthièvre had preceded her. For want of more precise documents, the prevailing concept in the decorative evocation of the first apartment has been based on the Versailles inventories compiled by minor members of the royal family, such as the Condé, the Orléans or the Penthièvre, whose personal furniture included some beautiful, often very rich but old-fashioned, pieces belonging to the Garde-Meuble of the throne.

So in the second anteroom you will find a console, two torches and two gold-plated bronzes that date back to the reign of Louis XIV and thus contemporary to the most beautiful fittings. The few indication we have about her personal taste have permitted choosing, for the silks, some lampas with a green shade for the bedroom and the drawing room, some lampas with a pink shade for the internal room.

The museum resources in Far-Eastern porcelains, coming from the distraint of goods from emigrants in 1783, have been matched with the porcelains of Saxony, several and various in the Windsor legacy.

Their quality contributes a lot to the elegance of the places that is so different from that of the other, much more official, apartments in the castle. The marquise had already bought a lot of Saxon porcelains before the factory of Vincennes-Sèvres won its competition.

In any case, a certain nobility is still present in the apartment, thanks to the historical collections of the museum, with a beautiful gallery of painted or sculptured portraits that the almost-closure of the apartments of the countess Du Barry and the Princesses have allowed gathering here.

The antechambers: the family and the taste of the mistress

An enlargement of the entry corridor serves as first antechamber, furnished in a very simple way like a waiting room with benches, stools and leather chairs, but where a portrait of the lady of the house dominates. It was painted in 1838 by Charles Steuben by order of Louis-Philippe and it copies the big pastel by Maurice Quentin de la Tour realized in 1755 and now at the Louvre.

The second antechamber, which served as dining room, is also a pictures gallery. The duchess of Châteauroux at daybreak, painted by Jean Marc Nattier, still evokes a recent past in the occupation of the apartment and the king's heart (donation of Mrs Georges Menier in 1971). Nevertheless it introduces to the first portrait of a twenty-seven years old marquise in the manner of Diane, by the same Nattier (Testard donation in 1847).

Above the two cupboards that frame the entrance door there are two portraits by Louis Tocqué: her uncle Lenormant de Tournehem (her supposed father), painted in 1750, and her sole brother, become marquis of Marigny, represented in 1755.

On the console, a small red leather box with the coat of arms of Marie Leszczynska (Windsor legacy) reminds that the marquise was also one of the ladies-in-waiting of the queen and that the sovereign used to appreciate her respectful discretion in this task. On the left of the fireplace, a small bookcase stamped Mignon (donation of the Versailles Friends Association) allows introducing several pieces of work with the coat of arms of the marquise, most of them included in the sale catalogue of her books in 1765, which illustrate her taste for history and good literature. Several titles are enlightened donations from the Association of Versailles Friends, such as the Mémoires pour l'historie du Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu (3 volumes in-folio) or the Histoire générale de l'Allemagne (11 volumes in quarto) that carries the ex-libris of the Crécy castle, engraved by the marquise herself, or yet the Guerres civiles des Lacédémoniens (2 volumes in 12) coming from the library of Godart de Beauchamps, that the marquise had bought as a whole. Two works are ancient deposits of the National Library: the Dialogue sur les droits de la Reine très chrétienne or the Journal de l'expédition de Monsieur de La Feuillade. A very recent donation from Mr Lorenzo Crivellin has allowed adding a more literary complement with Chriserionte de Gaule, a precious novel by Biard de Sonan imitating the cycle of Amadis and appeared in 1626. In order to remind of the various intellectual curiosities of the mistress and her encyclopaedic ambitions, we can see a globe and an armillary sphere, respectively made by Guillaume de 1'Isle and67uty Jean Pigeon (César de Haucke legacy, 1966).

Besides the above-mentioned old-fashioned furniture, the second antechambers presents a nice fireplace frame that matches very valuable arms and fires, bought for Versailles in 1835. The four chairs of Nicolas Quinibert Foliot, acquired by the State in 1987, are directly related to the marquise, since their belts still carry the stamps of Bellevue castle, marked after it had been sold to the King. We find them again in the inventories of 1763, 1786 and 1794 in the library of the castle.

The bedroom

It's the matching of the available chairs that has justified their placement in this room, as well as in the others. For this room we have selected two chairs that were previously lacquered in cream and gold colours (Windsor legacy), whose paint revealed a green shade. Once they had been restored in their original green and gold state, they could be matched with two Louis XV armchairs, realized as a set for Arturo Lopez Willshaw. They were separated from the authentic furniture he left in 1963 and stored. The same green and gold contrast was chosen to make them match with a bed, attributed to Louis Delanois (Durand donation) and badly scratched. The fireplace screen is stamped Bachelier (Niel donation, 1960).

In the same bedroom you can observe several pieces of furniture and objects in red European enamel that match with the chest of drawers, stamped Leonard Boudin (Windsor legacy): a little toilet mirror and a wig box (Durand donation), a wall clock (Windsor legacy). This pendulum has a movement of Viger à Paris, contained in a box stamped Baltazar Lieutaud, and is placed on a console by Antoine Foullet.

The most impressive piece of furniture is a rich Burgundian style transformation table, which takes its inspiration from Jean François Oeben's German style models Windsor legacy). Less problematic and very original with its double hinge opening, this table is stamped Étienne Joseph Cuvellier, the prince of Grimberghen's cabinet-maker (Durand donation). As in the whole apartment, the candlesticks in gilded copper were acquired by Louis-Philippe for the several apartments of the palace.

They include some girandoles with cocks in Chinese porcelain and some Meissen candlesticks coming from the Windsor legacy.

Only the two pots-pourris in Saxon porcelain decorating the fireplace have partially known origin, as they were found in the Hotel des Menus Plaisirs in 1793. They serve as a frame for a marble bust of Louis XV, which was confiscated in 1793 from the earl of Angiviller, Marigny's successor to the direction of the Royal Buildings. Opposite, on the chest of drawers, the marquise is still present in the form of a terracotta group, Love embracing Friendship, a reduction of the marble statue made by Jean Baptiste Pigalle for Bellevue castle in 1758.

The big hall

The Beloved still reigns in this reception room in the form of a terracotta medallion by Jacques Nicolas Roettiers (Cadiot legacy, 1965) and of a pedestrian statue as a Roman emperor, a reduction in terracotta of the marble by Jean Baptiste Pigal1e, commissioned for Bellevue castle in 1750. Also the queen is present thanks to her portrait by Jean Baptiste Van Loo (long-term deposit of the Royal Palace of Warsaw in 2000).

Love is the protagonist with The Arrival of the Courier, a pastoral by François Boucher (Derval legacy) that dominates in the alcove between two Louis XV styled torches over two more recent fleur-de-lis girandoles (Windsor legacy).

The main furniture is organized around a sofa and four armchairs à la reine, decorated à chassis and stamped Bauve (Porché donation). To complete the set, you can observe two Windsor seats, two armchairs à la reine stamped Tilliard and two cabriolets by Pothier. The latter are placed around a Burgundian style table, stamped Migeon (Windsor legacy). In front of the fireplace in marble of Antin, the screen comes from the ancient collections of the countess Niel and shows a beautiful tapestry by Beauvais, put later in a Louis XV style frame with the marquise's coat of arms. The three porcelain pale green vases belonged to the ancient collections of the Throne and were probably confiscated from the emigrants, the two swans in Meissen porcelain come from the legacy of the Duchess of Massa in 1965.

The inner room

Here three cabriolet armchairs have found their place, two of them (one stamped Tilliard) have been repainted in greenish grey, so that they can match with the main colours of the third one, maybe southern, painted in natural shades and thought to be covered à lacet (all of this from the Windsor legacy).

On the fireplace you can observe an elephant-pendulum with a movement of Jean Bapiste Baillon, numbered 1908, whose box was signed and dated on the back by the enameller Mertinière in 1742 (Windsor legacy).

Unlike the candlesticks, the torches and the flowers vases (all from Windsor legacy), the bottle of perfume in Meissen porcelain comes from the Derval legacy. This latter object is placed on a console that is a proof of the State's efforts to give a contribution to the re-furnishing but from a more historical point of view: supposed to come from Bellevue castle, this console actually carries on its border the marquise's coat of arms. It was acquired in 1860 at the collector Richard Penard y Fernandez's sale and here it reaches the small table-screen in mahogany with a stamp of Versailles, which was bought by the museum in 1950. A wool-winder, whose bronzes are marked with the crowned C (commandant Paul-Louis Weiller's donation, 1963), could find a collocation on a small inlaid table, bought by the State in 1992: it had been delivered by Antoine Gaudreau in 1746 for the Princesses Adelaide and Henriette in 1746.

The most Pompadour piece of furniture in the inner room is surely the inclined desk stamped Carel (bought for the museum in 1992). It had been delivered by the Garde-Meuble of the Throne in August 1748 for the marquise's bedroom in La Muette castle. The two candlesticks in Chinese light-blue porcelain hung over it are part of the earl Anne Jules de Noailles's legacy (a great lover of porcelains, whose ancestors had occupied this apartment after the departure of the marquise of Pompadour).

Of the two paintings you can observe in this room, one is the portrait of the marquise's brother, the young Abel François Poisson (already titled Vandière but not yet Marigny), painted by Jean-François De Troy in 1750. The other is an allegory representing Diana and Callisto, Painted by Noel Halle in 1754 for the apartments of Luigi XV and his mistress at the Grand Trianon (donation of Versailles Friends in 1989).

A new future for the marquise

It is no longer usual for a national museum-castle to carry out the re-decoration of a private apartment with the support of no inventories and without knowing anything about the original furniture, just basing every effort on plausibility in order to obtain a pretty expressionist result.

To tell the truth, Louis-Philippe had already tried this in the large apartments of the king and the queen, when the means of his age weren't able anymore, or not yet, to achieve real historical precision. Nowadays we have both documentary and financial means to re-furnish exactly the same places, except the marquise de Pompadour's apartments in Versailles. Many surely complain about the lack of historical furniture in this apartment, decorated with was available, but we are sure that, once it has been put under the floodlight, it will attract again visitors and collectors interested in strengthening the real marquise's presence. For our part, we would like to show a real bedside footrest, indispensable since when the three mattresses have given to the couch its exact highness, and an ivory crucifix in a nice rocaille frame, whose absence astonishes.

With a nice embroidery frame we could evoke the manual activity of a well-educated lady and, with a good harpsichord, her love for music: these objects would remind the visitor of the accessories appearing in the famous portrays of the marquise by Boucher and Drouais. A further step will be to decorate with the same spirit the apartment suite and its services to evoke the domestic needs and the role played by Mrs Du Hausset, the housekeeper, famous for the Memoires named after her.

As they are now, however, the main rooms present a significant and harmonious view, whose elements of quality are delicately highlighted by a donation of Zwarovsky house, adjusted by Martine Klotz.

So we must thank for past, present and future generosity, the firms that have contributed to enhance the showed objects, as well as the laboratories of the Versailles Museum and the General Direction of the French Museums, the carpenters, the cabinet-makers, the painters, the decorators and the upholsterers that have guaranteed their whole restoration and presentation.

By Christian Baulez, chief curator of the national museum of Versailles and Trianon castles.