PRINCELY TREA­SURES

Com­mit­ted to pro­mot­ing Euro­pean cul­ture and his­tory, whether it is horol­ogy or the dec­o­ra­tive arts, Breguet has made it pos­si­ble for the new dis­play of 18th-cen­tury French dec­o­ra­tive arts in the Lou­vre Mu­seum in Paris to see the light of day, with the reo

Plaza Watch International - - The Big Picture - WORDS Y-JEAN MUN - DEL­SALLE

It was the golden age of the French dec­o­ra­tive arts, a time when every­body who was any­body had one wish: to make their way to the City of Light to make their for­tune. The French cap­i­tal was the epi­cen­tre of cre­ativ­ity and savoir-faire in ev­ery sphere of art in the 18th cen­tury (what has been called “a mo­ment of grace in French art”), when all of the best artists and de­sign­ers from around France, Italy, Ger­many and the Nether­lands flocked to Paris to work. By the mid­dle of the cen­tury, when the French court had shifted per­ma­nently to Ver­sailles, royal man­u­fac­to­ries and ate­liers were based in the Lou­vre Mu­seum, which to­day houses one of the most prized col­lec­tions of French dec­o­ra­tive arts. Largely from the 18th cen­tury it ranges from fur­ni­ture, ta­pes­tries, wood­work and paint­ings to ceram­ics, clocks and sil­ver­ware, most orig­i­nally com­mis­sioned for royal or princely res­i­dences. Th­ese price­less pieces are tes­ti­mony to the blos­som- ing of ideas and in­ven­tive­ness that char­ac­terised the Age of En­light­en­ment, and Breguet played a lead role in en­sur­ing that the more than 2,000 trea­sures of French art and de­sign are pre­served for the en­rich­ment of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. The company backed a com­plete re­vamp of the Lou­vre’s Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI rooms, pre­sent­ing in 2,200sqm of ex­hi­bi­tion space th­ese mas­ter­pieces by the artists and crafts­men from that by­gone era pre­vi­ously hid­den away in mu­seum store­rooms.

Nayla Hayek, Chair­woman of the Board of Direc­tors of the Swatch Group, gave a mov­ing speech to 300 VIP guests dur­ing a gala din­ner held un­der the mu­seum’s glass pyra­mid to cel­e­brate the gal­leries’ re­launch. The daugh­ter of the late Ni­co­las G. Hayek, founder and for­mer Chair­man of the Swatch Group, who in 2009 ini­ti­ated the brand’s spon­sor­ship of sev­eral mil­lion

euros of the Lou­vre’s €26 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion of 18th-cen­tury dec­o­ra­tive art gal­leries (the mu­seum’s first ma­jor project en­tirely funded by pri­vate donors), but didn’t live to see its com­ple­tion, Nayla noted how proud her fa­ther would have been. Ni­co­las G. Hayek once said, “Pre­serv­ing world cul­tural her­itage is an in­vest­ment for all of us, for our chil­dren and for our grand­chil­dren. It is our duty to do so, as much for the fu­ture as for the past. We are re­spon­si­ble for car­ing for and pre­serv­ing the beauty of Europe.” He be­lieved that Breguet was an in­te­gral part of Euro­pean cul­tural her­itage, view­ing watch­mak­ing as a com­bi­na­tion of sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and the dec­o­ra­tive arts.

The links be­tween Breguet and the Lou­vre are nu­mer­ous: founder Abra­ham-Louis Breguet had ex­hib­ited his time­pieces at the sec­ond Ex­hi­bi­tion of In­dus­trial Prod­ucts held at the Lou­vre; Vi­vant Denon, the Lou­vre’s first pa­tron, ac­quired a Breguet minute re­peater and a bis­cuit porce­lain clock in 1810 and 1811 re­spec­tively; the mu­seum owns a fine col­lec­tion of Breguet cre­ations like the No. 1391 sub­scrip­tion pocket watch and the No. 2585 half-quar­ter re­peat­ing watch in a gold hunter case with a sil­ver-plated back en­graved with a map of nine Ital­ian ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gions; and, in 2009, the mu­seum held the ex­hi­bi­tion Breguet at the Lou­vre: An Apogee of Euro­pean Watch­mak­ing.

Ex­quis­ite Hand-Crafts­man­ship

Fur­ni­ture- mak­ing reached its peak dur­ing France’s An­cien Régime. In the 18th cen­tury, for the first time in his­tory, an ex­cep­tional desk and an ex­cep­tional paint­ing could be con­sid­ered equals in terms of artistry and price. An ex­ten­sive col­lab­o­ra­tive project be­tween col­lec­tor and ar­ti­san, each be­spoke piece of fur­ni­ture called for the skills of least five master crafts­men – each a mem­ber of a trade guild awarded the ex­clu­sive right to prac­tice a métier in a given city and its sur­round­ings, en­joy­ing royal pro­tec­tion. They in­cluded a cab­i­net­maker, mar­quetry artist, bronze caster, sil­ver­smith, chaser, gilder, painter, clock­maker, lock­smith and mar­ble, leather or fab­ric worker.

Mikaël Krae­mer, fifth-gen­er­a­tion an­ti­quar­ian of the pres­ti­gious Paris-based, fam­ily-run Krae­mer Gallery, which houses the world’s largest pri­vate­ly­owned col­lec­tion of mu­seum-qual­ity 18th-cen­tury French fur­ni­ture and ob­jets d’art, says, “Be­fore the time of King Louis XIV, there was no cre­ativ­ity in fur­ni­ture. It was plain wooden fur­ni­ture that was only use­ful – there were no carv­ings or or­na­men­ta­tion. But Louis XIV un­der­stood the pres­tige of the art world, so through his high pro­file and power, he con­vinced the best artists from around Europe to come to Paris to work for him. Then at the end of the 18th cen­tury, we had, more or less at the same time, the French Revo­lu­tion and the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion, so no more pieces were hand­made. Fur­ni­ture in the 19th cen­tury after Louis XVI was in­dus­tri­ally made and there was no more artistry; they were copies of works made in the 18th cen­tury. That made a real dif­fer­ence be­tween 17th- and 18th­cen­tury art and 19th- and 20th-cen­tury art.”

The master cab­i­net­mak­ers of the time fur­nished the court, royal house­holds, châteaux of the no­bil­ity and beau­ti­ful res­i­dences of rich fi­nanciers. Think King Louis XIV, Queen MarieAn­toinette, the Mar­quis de Marigny, Madame de Pom­padour, Madame de Mailly, Comte d’Ar­tois and Lazare Du­vaux – France’s elite who com­peted with each other to have the most beau­ti­ful mod­ern pieces of art. They were of­ten in their 20s when they pur­chased th­ese pieces, as the life ex­pectancy then was about 50 years old. It was a time of rel­a­tive peace with no wars or crises, and this hap­pi­ness was re­flected in the fur­ni­ture’s artis­tic cre­ativ­ity.

A Jour­ney through the 18th Cen­tury

The Lou­vre’s 18th-cen­tury gal­leries adopt a chrono­log­i­cal ap­proach, tak­ing vis­i­tors through a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion of the ma­jor stylis­tic pe­ri­ods, from the flam­boy­ant Louis XIV aes­thetic and the Re­gency style to the elab­o­rate but light­hearted ro­coco art, fol­lowed by a re­turn to the an­tique taste and neo­clas­si­cism with its pure, ge­o­met­ri­cal proportions, straight lines and re­fined colours. I wit­nessed master works on dis­play by the great­est ar­ti­sans of their day, whose work­shops served not only the French court, but also its Euro­pean coun­ter­parts, thus con­tribut­ing to the spread of French cul­ture: cab­i­net­mak­ers Charles Cressent, Jean-Henri Riesener, Jean-Bap­tiste-Claude Séné and Bernard II van Risen­burgh; sil­ver- and gold­smiths Thomas Ger­main, Jac­ques Roët­tiers and Robert-Joseph Au­guste; and painters and dec­o­ra­tors Charles Le­brun and Charles-An­toine Coypel.

The mu­seum’s col­lec­tion has grown from do­na­tions from bene­fac­tors like Comte Isaac de Ca­mondo, Baronne Salomon de Roth­schild, Basile de Sch­licht­ing, René Grog and MarieLouise Grog-Car­ven, J. Paul Getty, the Duchess of Wind­sor and the Krae­mer fam­ily. A top-qual­ity, per­fectly-pro­por­tioned Louis XVI gar­den with dol­phins vase with a blue back­ground in Sèvres porce­lain made for the son of the king, painted by Pierre Joseph Ros­set l’Ainé and gilded by Jean-Pierre Boulanger, caught my eye.

In a neo­clas­si­cal space at the heart of the new gal­leries, a cupola fresco de­pict­ing mytho­log­i­cal sub­jects painted in 1774 by An­toine-François Cal­let and Pierre-Hy­acinthe Deleuze for Louis Joseph de Bour­bon, Prince de Condé, which was fully re­stored, re­assem­bled and in­stalled, drew my at­ten­tion. Another ex­cep­tional piece was An­dréCharles Boulle’s ar­moire for the royal fur­ni­ture de­pos­i­tory in oak, soft­wood, ebony ve­neer, mar­quetry of tor­toise­shell, brass, pewter and stained horn, and gilt-bronze mounts. Thus, to­day at the Lou­vre, vis­i­tors need no longer be de­prived of one of the world’s finest col­lec­tions of 18th-cen­tury French dec­o­ra­tive fur­nish­ings and ob­jets d’art – all thanks to Breguet.

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