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Document Details :
Title: Twee koninklijke ameublementen in tapisserie de Beauvais in het paleis te Brussel
Subtitle: Aansluiting bij de Franse keizerlijke traditie
Author(s): MERTENS, Wim
Journal: Tijdschrift voor Interieurgeschiedenis en Design
Volume: 32 Issue: Date: 2003
Two Royal Suites of Furniture in Tapisserie de Beauvais in the Palace in Brussels: a link with the French Imperial Tradition
The Royal Palace in Brussels has two suites of seat furniture covered with tapestry woven in the first half of the 19th century. One suite furnishes the Large and Small White Salons on the first floor of the right wing of the palace facing the park. The other suite stands in the Princes’ Gallery, on the ground level in the left wing housing the cabinet of Prince Philip.
The first suite was a marriage gift from the French King Louis-Philippe to his daughter Louise-Marie who married Leopold I of Belgium. The furniture was delivered to the Palace in three steps. On the 15thof November 1833 a first crate left Paris for Brussels, followed by a second one on the 18th of the next month. The last crate arrived in Brussels a few years later, in June 1836.
There are two fauteuils de representation (large armchairs), twenty-two stools, twelve regular armchairs, eighteen chairs, two settees, a screen and a fire-screen. All the frames are gilded and in Empire-style.
Except for one settee and six armchairs that arrived in 1836, the woodwork was a recuperation of frames already existing in the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne. The two large armchairs were originally upholstered with woven tapestry, while the other pieces had coverings in damask, brocaded satin and gros de Tours. Before being stocked in the Garde-Meuble they furnished the palaces at Rambouillet, Tuileries, Saint-Cloud and the Grand Trianon at Versailles. All, except the pieces of 1836, were made by François Honoré George Jacob Desmalter.
The tapestries can be divided in two groups. One group has a bucket of flowers as a central motif surrounded with scrolling acanthus leafs. The other group shows rosettes or stylised acanthus in a roundel of flowers, laurel leafs and garlands of fruit and flowers.
The designs of the cartoons for the first group were made by Louis-Jacques de la Hamayde de Saint-Ange and can be dated 1814-1815. The set was originally woven in the workshop of Beauvais in the years 1814-1818 for the Salon de Nobles in the private apartments of the duchess d’Angoulême at the Tuileries. The coverings of the first group of the Brussels suite are a reweave of these cartoons dated in the years 1818-1824 and 1835. Except for the ones especially woven for Louise-Marie in 1835, the others were woven without a special commission to keep the weavers at work. This practice was largely promoted by Napoleon since he connected the workshops of the Gobelins and Beauvais to the Liste Civile in 1804, a policy taken over by the Restoration kings. Over the years the storage rooms of the Garde-Meuble built up an impressive reserve of unused woven tapestry coverings. Some of them were used to upholster the suite for Queen Louise-Marie.
The artist who made the design for the second group is unknown, but there are reasons to believe that Louis-Jacques La Hamayde Saint-Ange also provided the designs for this group. The workshop of Beauvais was founded in 1663 by Colbert.
Initially only wall-hangings were woven but by the end of the 17th century there was a small production of furniture-coverings, usually decorated with large flowers. The designs, depicting fables after Jean de la Fontaine and made by Jean-Baptiste Oudry in the 1730s, provided new stimulation to the production of furniture-tapestries. François Boucher, Jean-Baptiste Le Prince, Jean-Baptiste Huet and Casanova provided Beauvais with other successful cartoons.
The French Revolution was disastrous for the Beauvais workshop. Only after Napoleon’s rescue plan for the French luxury-goods workshops could the tapestry workshop take up the thread again.
The second suite of furniture at the palace in Brussels was a special commission by Queen Louise-Marie. The order book of the workshop preserved at the Beauvais workshop, today housed in Paris together with the Gobelins workshop, mentions the commission in 1844.
There are four armchairs, six chairs and a settee. Compositions of fruit and flowers fill a central medallion on a white ground, surrounded with a second background in brown-red. The borders show garlands of fruit and flowers. The frames are gilded and in mixed Neo-Classical and Empire-style. The upholstery is made of horsehair and springs.
Like the designs of the first ensemble, the designs of this suite were originally made for another purpose. Jean-Demosthène Dugoure designed the covers in 1824 for the Salle des Ambassadeurs at the Tuileries. Some details were changed, such as the French lilies in the corners which were replaced by acanthus leafs in the Brussels suite, and red was chosen instead of green for the background.
At the end of 1846 the tapestries were finished and brought to the Garde-Meublein Paris. However, neither the archives in Paris nor those in the Royal Palace in Brussels can provide any information on the delivery of the coverings to Brussels. The first clue is found in an inventory of the palace furniture at the beginning of 1866, compiled after the death of King Leopold I in December 1865. At that time the complete set stood in a small room in the private apartments of the king. Earlier inventories of 1848 and 1855 do not mention the suite, nor can it be traced in the royal palace in Laeken. It appears that the tapestries were not mounted before the mid 1850s, which means that the queen never saw the furniture completed, having died in 1850. She possibly never even saw the tapestries, for there were problems with the borders formulated by Louis-Philippe and Marie-Amélie which could have delayed their sending to Brussels.
Unlike the first set, the second was not upholstered in France, but in Brussels by an upholsterer named Warin who originally came from Paris. A small oval metal plate carrying his name can be found at the border of the seats at the back. When he came first to Brussels around 1835 he worked together with another French upholsterer, Sorel. Their association came to an end somewhere between 1851 and 1859. Given the fact that only Warin’s name is on the plate, the mounting of the tapestries must date from after the termination of their collaboration. Warin did not make the wooden frames of the suite. They were probably produced in the workshops of the Brussels furniture-makers Wallaert or Snyers-Rang who did several commissions for the Belgian court.
It seems probable that the furniture was upholstered for the new King Leopold II when he took over his father’s private apartments. However, it also seems possible that the tapestries were mounted a few years earlier when Leopold, still the duke of Brabant and married to Maria Hendrika of Habsburg, moved to his apartments in the left wing of the palace in 1857. In any case, it is clear that the suite was upholstered somewhere between 1855 and 1866.
In 1909, upon the death of Leopold II, the suite furnished the study-cabinet of Queen Maria Hendrika. At a certain point in the 20th century the furniture was moved to the gallery where it stands today.
Louise-Marie had likely intended to use the suite in her private apartments. Her early death and the remarks of her parents disrupted the normal procedure. In the end they were used in the private apartments by her son and his wife.
Unlike the French imperial and royal palaces of the 19th century, the palace in Brussels only had two suites of furniture covered with Beauvais tapestry. The abundant use of tapestry coverings in the French palaces was a rather new phenomenon due to the favourable policy of Napoleon and the French Restoration kings regarding the tapestry workshops. Louis XIV only had one set of woven tapestry coverings; he clearly preferred knotted carpets of the Savonnerie workshops to cover the stools in the antechambers. Also during the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI woven tapestry coverings were not greatly used in a royal context. The French kings did place several commissions for woven tapestry coverings but they were mostly used as diplomatic gifts. Like their 18th-century predecessors, the two suites in Brussels were thoroughgoing ambassadors of the French decorative arts.