7003 THE BIBLIOTHÈQUE FROM THE HÔTEL GAULIN, DIJON, ATTRIBUTED TO JÉRÔME MARLET French. Circa 1775. Measurements: Height: 12’ 8″ (3.85m) Length: 22’ 3″ (6.78m) Width: 13’ 1″ (3.99m)  


Of parcel-gilt and original white painted decoration. Comprising two bookcase cabinets of breakfront outline, the two double doors with carved paneling and overdoors in frames, the pair of single doors similarly carved with overdoors, a swag carved trumeau flanked by carved pilasters, a rectangular trumeau with dado panel, painted and parcel-gilt volute and rosette carved ceiling cornice, a white marble breakfront fire surround with fluted pilaster supports. Some minor restoration and replacements. For display purposes the room is at present fitted with modern matching French windows and their reveals.

Hôtel Gaulin, Dijon.
Acquired in 1922 by J. Pierpont Morgan Jr.
Presented by J.P. Morgan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1923.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, c.1950.
M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco.

Deshairs, Léon. Dijon: Architecture Et Decoration Aux Dix-Septième Et Dix-Huitième Siècles. Paris: Librairie des Arts décoratifs, 1909, pp 86-97.
Ricci, Seymour. Louis XVI Furniture. London: W. Heinemann, 1920, pp 29-30.

Additional Literature:
Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, XVIII, New York, 1923, pp 267-72.
H. Vial, A. Marcel & A. Girodie, Les Artistes Décoratifs du Bois, II, Paris 1922.
Bruno Pons, French Period Rooms, 1650-1800, Dijon, 1995, pp 117-118.

This panelled library, elegantly furnished with vase-capped bookcases and painted white with gilt enrichments, was conceived in the 1770s Louis XVI “Antique” or “Grecian” fashion for the Gonthier d’Anvillars family’s hôtel particulier in Dijon. The house, which today stands on the Rue Pasteur, was acquired in 1845 by Auguste Gaulin, the conseiller général in Dijon, but had originally been built for the Gonthier d’Auvillars family in the 1730s.<sup)1 The Gonthiers were a branch of the Auvillars line, an ancient noble family who were prominent in the civic life of Dijon from the 16th century.

Commissioned by Pierre-René-Marie Gonthier d’Auvillars (d.1796) and installed between 1770 and 1780,2 the library is attributed to Jérôme Marlet (d.1810), leading Dijon architect and ‘sculpteur sur bois.’ Marlet, the son of the sculptor Edmé Marlet, rose to become the town’s foremost ornemaniste, and is today regarded as the finest exponent of neoclassical design to have worked in Dijon. His reputation was such that his work in Dijon was said to equal that of Rousseau the Younger at Versailles.3

Marlet’s most prolific years were 1760-1789.  During this period he is known to have worked on a number of projects in Dijon, including the houses of Febvret de Sainte-Mesmin, Rougé, Bordet and Jean Bouhier. Marlet also worked on Autun Cathedral (1765), the new stalls at la Sainte-Chapelle in Dijon (1778) and the new rooms in the Palais des Etats in Bourgogne (begun in 1782). Later in his career Marlet was appointed to the prestigious position of Conservateur de Musée in Dijon, which he held until his death in 1811.4

In 1923, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s bulletin declared the library, ”the richest of the [rooms] in the matter of decoration.” The imposing bookcases were likened to those of the Bibliotheque du Roi at Versailles, “the carving on the doors and framing members [being] particularly delightful in design and execution.”5 The bookcases are also unusual in the context of a French room in that they adopt the English breakfront form, while the placement of a magnificent suite of carved vases united by swags on top of each bookcase is a unique decorative device apparently without precedent in either England or France.

Perhaps the most authentic evocation of the tastes and lifestyles of the 18th-century French nobility is to be observed in  compeletly preserved boiseries from the time. However, boiseries in unaltered form and retaining their original gilded and painted surfaces are exceptionally rare, and the Gaulin bibliothèque is one of the very few survivals that meet this standard.

Furthermore, the room is no ordinary boiserie, being arguably one of the most original and erudite exercises in early neoclassical European design. The profusion of carved and gilded motifs reflects the relentless desire of the neoclassical world to explore and understand the arts and sciences. As such, the room would have been a symbol of its aristocratic owner, as a man completely in tune with the passion for knowledge and beauty that dominated the decorative arts of the 18th century.

The carved and gilt decoration of the library is representative of the intellectual pursuits it was designed to house. The sculpted motifs of the four over-doors are emblematic of Architecture, Painting, Music and Mathematics, and the theme of Music is repeated on the paneled doors of the bookcases, which contain eight different ensembles of musical instruments.  The vase garnitures on top of the bookcases evoke Roman columbarium chambers and are garlanded with flowers, as are the adjoining triumphal bas-relief trophies. The latter recall the ancient poets’ concept of The Arts and Sciences flourishing in a Golden Age ruled over by Apollo, in his guise as leader of the Mt. Parnassus Muses of Artistic Inspiration.

The door entablatures comprise bracket-supported and echinus-enriched cornices enclosing more bas-relief trophies, and these are framed amongst scrolled and flowered acanthus and sunk in tablets that are banded by triumphal palm-leaves. The trophies include ribbon-tied horns, compasses, rulers, pens etc. that suspend from flowered bosses. The main door panels, framed by ribbon-twisted reeds, display bas-reliefs of hyacinth (recalling Apollo’s love) and jasmine stems, suspended beneath garlands that loop from rings and flowered bosses. The doors’ base trophies are framed by pearled reeds, and comprise the flower-crowned torch of Knowledge wreathed by festive ivy branches. The similarly decorated side doors have ivy-wreathed base trophies evoking ‘Abundance through Trade and Commerce’. Here Mercury’s winged and serpent-guarded caduceus is conjoined with antique-fluted cornucopiae of fruit and flowers.

Apollo’s sacred sunflowers wreath its wall cornice, which is supported by acanthus-wrapped brackets and further embellished with echinus, pearled and antique-fluted moldings. Beribboned garlands suspend from flowered bosses nailed above the over-door tablets and also crown the overmantel mirror, which is flanked by flower-festooned Corinthian pilasters. One overdoor tablet features Apollonian sun rays that radiate from Immortality’s starred diadem to illuminate a Corinthian capital, which symbolises the “Cardinal Art of Architecture” and rests on an antique-fluted plinth flowered with myrtle branches. The adjoining overdoor has a similarly-rayed trophy, which celebrates the “Cardinal Arts of Painting and Sculpture” with the artist’s palette and stick laid beside a bust and modelling tools, accompanied by a drawing book and paper-scroll. Another overdoor trophy depicts the “Cardinal Art of Music” and comprises the poet’s laurel crown entwining a lyre and trumpet. A fourth overdoor decorated with an armillary sphere evokes the Sciences.

A related overdoor tablet celebrating the Arts, and illuminated with rays issuing from a starred diadem, was featured in Hugues Taraval’s, Recueil d’ornements de Gilles-Paul Cauvet, Paris, 1777, which was dedicated to the brother of Louis XVI. Related rayed trophies of the Sciences and Art of Architecture were featured as overdoors designed in the late 1770s for a room from the hôtel Mègret de Sèrilly, Paris now displayed at The Breakers, Newport.

The doors of the bookcases are glazed, while the doors of their cabinet sections below display trophies of musical instruments that are framed by myrtle branches and ribbon-tied to pearled bosses. Those on the bookcase to the right of the fireplace comprise an oboe and harp, a hunting horn, a guitar and music-score, and a pipe and rustic pipes. Pastoral Music is celebrated by the trophies on the opposite side, which include crossed trumpets or wind instruments combined with a triangle, a tambourine, panpipes, and castanets. Each bookcase has a massive garland of flowers draped across its garniture of five vases or Grecian urns, which, in turn, are decked with flowers and foliage.

The chimneypiece, original to the room, is also notable. Its idiosyncratic detailing bears the hallmarks of an architect experimenting with the new-found neoclassical idiom. Its exceptionally bold system of deeply carved and widely spaced flutes, evoking a Roman columbarium, combined with an unexpected blank area above the jambs, recall such early neoclassical architects as A.L. Pettitot and Étienne-Louis Boullée. Unusually, the chimney is signed with the carver’s initials A.G.

The library was first acquired from its original home in the Hôtel Gaulin, Dijon, by J.P. Morgan Jr., one of the most celebrated collectors of the 20th century. Morgan inherited the greatest art collection of its day when his father died in 1913. Morgan’s father had wanted to bequeath the collection in its entirety to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but a lack of space denied the museum its prize. Yet Morgan Jr. was equally generous with his wealth.  He used his massive fortune to add to his father’s collection and, as this room demonstrates, continued his father’s habit of bequeathing some of his finest pieces to the Metropolitan (figure 1). The great museums of America were particularly keen to be able to recreate the ornate splendor of the Louis XVI era to give period settings for their collections of important French furniture.

The salon from the Hôtel Gaulin, once en suite to this bibliothèque, which had also belonged to the Metropolitan Museum, was sold by Carlton Hobbs to the Museum of Dijon, where it rests today, only a short distance from its original home.

1 Fyot, Eugène. Dijon. Son Passé Évoqué Par Ses Rues: Par Eugène Fyot. Dijon: Impr. Darantière ; Louis Damidot, éditeur, 1930. Print. 334-335.
2 Deshairs, Léon. Dijon: Architecture Et Decoration Aux Dix-Septième Et Dix-Huitième Siècles. Paris: Librairie des Arts décoratifs, 1909. Print.
3 Ibid. V.
4 Vial, H, A. Marcel & A. Girodie, Les Artistes Décoratifs du Bois, II, Paris 1922. 13.
5 Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, XVIII, New York, 1923.

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