A Grand Console Table
Christian Baulez Former Head Curator, Château de Versailles
Stéphane Molinier Art Historian
Console Table c. 1720–21. Michel II Lange and Pierre Turpin from the design of Jules-Michel Hardouin. Carved gilt wood, marble top (griotte de campan); h. 92 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 2008.6
Based purely on its merits as a work of art, this console was acquired in 2008 to accompany the museum’s great Régence mirror. The rare discovery of its maker and original provenance now make it a masterpiece.
–Stephen Harrison, Curator of Decorative Art and Design
The former hôtel d’Évreux, located on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris, is best known today as the Palais de l’Élysée, having served as the official residence of the president of the French Republic since the collapse of the Second Empire in 1871 (the term hôtel refers to hôtel particulier, a private mansion). It was built in 1718 by the architect Armand-Claude Mollet for Henri-Louis de la Tour d’Auvergne, comte d’Évreux, who was thefourth son of Godefroy-Maurice de la Tour d’Auvergne, duc de Bouillon, and Marie-Anne Mancini, one of Cardinal Mazarin’s nieces. As the youngest son of an important aristocratic family that had recently been made even more illustrious by marshal Turenne and cardinal de Bouillion, thecomte d’Évreux chose a career in the army, and in 1707 ensured himself a comfortable lifestyle by marrying Marie-Anne (daughter of Antoine Crozat, one of the wealthiest men in France). Upon Louis XIV’s death in 1715, the royal court moved back to Paris, and the comte d’Évreux, who was one of the regent’s friends, left the family residence located on the quai Malaquais for a new one of his own, which he built on the right bank of the Seine.
It seems most likely that Jules-Michel Hardouin (1635–1737), a royal architect and superintendent of the king’s buildings, and nephew of the great Jules Hardouin-Mansart, succeeded Molletin overseeing, or completing, the interior decoration of the new hôtel d’Évreux, which was divided among three workshops: that of Michel II Lange, Louis-Jacques Herpin, and Jean-Martin Pelletier. Since the contractual agreements with these artist-decorators were usually private, the identity of the individual responsible for the most sumptuous part of the decoration, the 1720–21 grand salon centered on the garden and much admired for its impressive military trophies, came to light only as the result of a subsequent dispute.
A disagreement over payment for his work at the hôtel d’Évreux pitted Lange against his client, which soon led to the engagement of two expert appraisers who described the decor of the entire grand salon in their evaluations of the work. The first appraisal, made in September 1724, justified Lange’s request for 14,770 French pounds for the sculpture that he executed after drawings by Hardouin, the king’s architect. This appraisal added 1,110 pounds for the console table that had been created specifically to support the pier glass in front of the fireplace, because that crucial feature hadn’t been included in the initial agreement. Both appraisers, Jacques Piretouy and Claude-Nicolas Lepas-Dubuisson, were Parisian citizen experts and members of the king’s jury of architects. Remarkably, the memoabout the console table was attached to the appraisal:
… additionally a large richly carved table was made in the salon, adorned with four S-shaped legs embellished with palm leaves, moldings, interlaced bands, dragons which protrude from the table, hand-worked moldings decorated with gadroons, bands and darts, finials and seeds, and an interlace design extending down to the footboard. The latter is decorated with a molding on which there are children bearing Monseigneur’s military trophies, with palm fronds; the nut is decorated with a helmet, a shield, palm fronds, leaves, finials, seeds and an interlace design. The front shows an ornamental cartouche in which there is a Medusa’s head, palm fronds, bands, all of it resembling a cartouche with flutes, leaves, bands, small stemsthat join the S-shaped legs and give the table its elaborate and magnificent appearance, finely worked to imitate bronze.
Above Interior details from the Palais de l’élysée, in Paris, formerly the hôtel d’Évreux, show the context for which the console table was designed. Photos from J. Vacquier, Les Vieux Hôtels de Paris, Paris F. Contet 1923, tome 2, pl. 18. (Musée National du Château de Versailles, cliché RMN, Gérard Blot)
The comte d’Évreux died in his residence on January 20, 1753, and in the inventory of his home that was begun nine days later, “the arched table with its Italian marble top on the carved and gilded console leg” in the grand salon was appraised at only 200 French pounds. The beneficiary of the comte d’Évreux was his little nephew Godefroy-Charles-Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne, who by then had become Prince of Turenne. The prince ordered the furniture to be sold at auction to pay off the debts of the estate. The results of the auctioneer’s sale seem to have disappeared, and whether the family bought back the console table from the grand salon is unknown. The fact remains that in the 18th century, the table didn’t figure in the inventories of either the hôtel de Bouillon located on the quai Malaquais or the château de Navarre near Évreux, which were the primary family residences. The now-missing section of the table, the cross-strut decorated with two children and their heraldic symbols, was most likely lost during this time.
After 1753, Lange’s console table endured in the secrecy of private collections. It appeared in London at the end of the 19th century in the blue salon of Bute House, the home of the wealthy Henri-Louis Bischofsheim. A century later, it was exhibited in Paris during the 1982 Biennale by Axel Vervoordt, a Belgian antique dealer, who dated it to the time of Louis XIV. The curators of the château de Versailles considered buying it at that time, even without identifying it, because its style and size were similar to the lost console table that had been designed in 1725 and carved in 1730 by Jules Degoullons, Mathieu Legoupil, and Jacques Verberckt for Queen Marie Lecszinska’s bedroom there. Lange’s table for the hôtel d’Évreux was later sold at auction in Paris in 2005, dated to the period 1730–35, and was linked to the studio of the sculptor François Roumier. The table appeared again in Paris the following year during the Biennale staged in the Grand Palais, where it was exhibited by the antique dealer Jacques Perrin. At this juncture it was attributed to the Société pour les Bâtiments du Roi, or “Society for the King’s Buildings” (Jules Degoullons, Mathieu Legoupil, Marin Bellan, and Pierre Taupin).
A closer look at that time might have revealed that the late Jean Coural, who was then Administrateur Général du Mobilier National, had already recognized this table as the Lange console and had discreetly mentioned as early as 1994 that it was probably now in a private collection. It is regrettable that this important piece of knowledge was missed, because Lange’s console cannot be returned now to the salon for which it was originally designed. Nonetheless, it remains one of the rarest and most prestigious examples of French decorative arts from the Regency period. By acquiring this magnificent table even without knowing its provenance, the Cleveland Museum of Art has further proved itself to be a champion of a particularly brilliant era of French artistic achievement.
Translated by Renée Yim and reviewed by Marianne Berardi
A special thanks to Roland Bossard for his contribution to the article.
Cleveland Art, July/August 2011