11163 A PAIR OF LARGE FAUTEUIL À LA REINE BY CLAUDE SENÉ, RETAINING THEIR ORIGINAL NEEDLEWORK COVERINGS Paris. Circa 1750. Measurements: Height: 40″ (101.6 cm) Width: 30″ (76.2 cm) Depth: 25″ (63.5 cm)
Of beechwood. The curved backs with carved frame raised on carved supports above a shaped seat rail, with serpentine frame centered by a shield-shaped cartouche, the curving arm rests with scrolling handles on carved uprights, the whole raised on four cabriole legs. Each upholstered with floral and foliate needlework coverings.
Each chair struck with the signature of Claude Sené:
G ∗ SEИE
These superbly drawn chairs were executed by the famous Parisian menuisier Claude Sené (1724-1792), father of Jean-Baptiste Claude Sené, and are marked with his stamp. Claude I, as he is known, began his career in the workshop of his father, Jean Sené, in the Quartier de la Villeneuve and was received maître on July 20, 1743. He married Marie-Jeanne Saint-Georges and partnered with her brother, Jean Étienne Saint-Georges, another menuisier who had just taken over the workshop of his father in 1747 on the rue de Cléry under the banner of the “Grand Saint-Georges.” Although partners in business, the two men worked independently of each other and signed their own works individually. Sené used a rather large stamp in which his first initial resembled the letter “G” and the letter “N” of his last name was reversed (figure 1). The two men worked together until Claude retired in 1780, and went to live with his son Jean-Baptiste. Claude Sené’s pieces appear in the collections of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, the Musée Carnavalet, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He counted among his important patrons Marie Antoinette; a kennel he made for her is today in the Metropolitan Museum (figure 2).
The greater part of Claude I’s oeuvre was executed in the Louis XV style, although he did work in the Transitional and Louis XVI styles toward the end of his career. His chairs à la reine, like the present examples, are characterized by elegant, slender and delicately carved cabriole forms. Two strongly related chairs by Sené (each of a pair) were sold in the French art trade in the 1970s and are illustrated in Le Mobilier Français Du XVIIIe Siècle by Pierre Kjellberg (1989) (figure 3), while a third example, dating from circa 1750, can be found in the collection of the Musée Carnavalet, Paris (figure 4).
Early in his career, probably until circa 1753,1 Sené entrusted the carving of his chairs to the brilliant and much celebrated Nicolas Heurtaut (1720-1771), who also worked on rue de Cléry.2 Heurtaut came from a family of carvers and joiners, and was made master in carving at the early age of twenty-two by the Académie de Saint-Luc. He married into a family of joiners and later received a joiner’s certificate, “making him the only 18th century Parisian menuisier to belong to both the chairmakers’ and carvers’ guilds.”3
In furniture making, joiners were responsible for “the rough work, such as cutting up the wood, assembling the parts, and preparing wood in quantity for the carver to do the carving in his workshop.”4 In order to set up one’s own shop as a joiner, one first had to become a master craftsman. The first step on the road to such a career was to secure an apprenticeship, usually around the age of 13, which lasted approximately six years while a youngster learned the trade. This was followed by a journeymanship, where the young craftsman, now fully educated in the trade, would spend the next several years gaining experience. Finally, the craftsman became a candidate for the degree of master and was received as such only upon completion of a masterpiece and payment of a fee. He was added to the register of the Guild of Joiners and Cabinetmakers, called the Tables of Community, as a master joiner and was required to register his stamp with the Châtelet de Paris, which was compulsorily used to mark his work, before opening his own shop.
In 1705 the Carver’s guild established the Académie de Saint-Luc, where students were required to attend courses in geometry, architecture, perspective, drawing, and anatomy. Like the joiners, carvers participated in apprenticeships and journeymanships, however, every carver also attended master classes at the academy and learned to draw,5 an opportunity not given to the joiners.
The majority of 18th century chair joiners lived in the Bonne-Nouvelle neighborhood of Paris; the most acclaimed resided on the rue de Cléry. As mentioned above, Claude I entrusted the carving of his chairs to Heurtaut, with whom he was in constant communication. “There is no doubt that Nicolas Heurtaut particularly dedicated himself to the carving of chairs.”6 It is known that Heurtaut worked with Sené’s brother-in-law Jean-Etienne Saint-Georges, and that Claude I’s father Jean was one of Heurtaut’s creditors; “it is very likely that the Senés and the Heurtauts were used to working together”7 and based on the date of the present chairs, possible that he was responsible for their carving.
Similar models of these chairs can be found with the stamps of other chair makers, such as Nicolas Tillard and his son Jean-Baptiste, menuisier ordinaire du Roi and a master joiner who held various high-ranking positions within the guild. Both Tillards had their chairs carved by Heurtaut. A related example to the present chairs, by Jean-Baptiste Tillard circa 1755-60, employs similarly slender arms and legs, as well as a “heart” or shield shaped cartouche on the center of the seat rail (figure 5). Although this motif is more often associated with Tillard, the proximity of joiners to one another and close professional relationships between all of these craftsmen would certainly have led to one influencing the designs of another. For example, the same shield motif appears on an armchair à la reine stamped by Heurtaut circa 1760-65 in the Partridge collection.8
The present chairs are a reflection of the shift in Parisian social conventions in the 18th century, which “became largely dominated by witty and intelligent women, the newly self-appointed arbiters of taste, who encouraged the development of a more intimate and sociable society.”9 To facilitate this, chairs became lower and lighter in form, making them easily movable for personal conversation. Furthermore, the seats scrolled outward and armrests moved backward, making more room at the front of the seat to accommodate the ladies’ elaborate dresses.
The chairs are further enhanced by their interesting needlework upholstery. The designs, comprised of bold, colorful and exotic flora and vegetal elements, vary on each chair. The upholstery of seating furniture in the 18th century was a highly important component of interior design, with the visual effect of a chair equally dependent on fabric and the frames, along with other textiles used in a room, and patrons would pay as much or more for the upholstery of seating furniture as they would for the carved frames.10
‘The design of the upholstery has its roots in what are referred to “bizarre silks” of the late 17th and early 18th century, which “were so fantastic as to be virtually indescribable.”11 Giant blooms and serrated flowers reflected exotic elements borrowed from Eastern art, such as textiles from China, India, and Turkey. The ‘bizarre’ patterns evolved into a more naturalistic style as the century proceeded. “By far the most spectacular change that was to take place in silk-design during the whole of the eighteenth century occurred just after 1730 when an entirely new style was evolved consisting of great heavy flowers and fruit depicted in a completely naturalistic manner.”12
The technique of contour-shading was introduced by the Lyonnais designers, whereby several shades of a color were placed side by side to give a more three-dimensional illusion; this is applied to the large leaves on the present chairs, for example. The designs were rich and complicated to weave, and thus an expensive luxury material. Jean Revel, who trained as a painter but worked in the Lyon silk industry, was particularly notable for employing this style of shading for such “ponderous fruits and flowers.”13
Before this style faded completely, in favor of a return to smaller and increasingly symmetrical designs, a more fantastic trend occurred within which textile designers “began to draw extraordinary floral compositions with strange, heavy, curling, growths of an incongruity.”14 Two examples of this fanciful vegetation, similar to the present chairs’ upholstery, can be seen in figure 6; a circa 1733 French silk textile and a circa 1739 design for a woven silk from Anna Maria Garthwaite’s “French patterns” for Spitalfields, London, are both today in the Victoria & Albert museum.
- Pallot, Bill G. B. The Art of the Chair in Eighteenth-Century France. Paris: ACR-Gismondi, 1989. 315.
- Ibid., 804
- Ibid., 11.
- Ibid., 18.
- Ibid., 32.
- Ibid., 235.
- Ibid., 238.
- Illustrated in Pallot’s The Art of the Chair in Eighteenth-Century France (1989), p. 205.
- Cummings, James. The Art of the Master Joiner: French Chairs of the Eighteenth Century ; an Exhibition and Sale, 8 October-1 November 1997. NY: Chinese Porcelain Co, 1997. 10.
- Cooke, Edward S. Upholstery in America & Europe: From the Seventeenth Century to World War I. New York: Norton, 1987. 121.
- Thornton, Peter. Baroque and Rococo Silks. New York: Taplinger Pub. Co, 1965. 95.
- Ibid., 116.
- Ibid., 120.
- Ibid., 125.