It’s official: those of us who braved another High Point Market have lived to tell, and what a roller coaster ride it was! I always look forward to the events and book signings in the Currey & Company showroom but I must say the design verve this go-around was just short of a material obsession. I couldn’t resist snapping up a copy of P. Gaye Tapp’s How They Decorated and I enjoyed being able to chat with an author who is as fascinated with design history as I am.
The Decorating Obsession
Those of you who read my blog know I’m a bit of a nut about the House of Bourbon and the salon era during France’s ancient régime. When I opened Tapp’s book to the foreword by Charlotte Moss and read the first two sentences, I knew it was going to be right up my alley. “Madame de Pompadour wanted a place for privacy sans the display and intrigue of Louis XV’s court,” Moss wrote. “It was her private hideaway—a boudoir, a place designed for seclusion, personal pleasure and amusement—that I have always felt was somehow the beginning of a woman’s independence at home.”
David Mynders Smythe, who wrote Madame de Pompadour: Mistress of France, first published in 1953, echoes her premise. In the biography of this trendsetter who remains one of the most infamous women of the French court, Smythe presents Madame’s arrival at Louis XV’s massive compound: “When Madame de Pompadour first saw Versailles she must have been astonished at the vast bulk of the Palace rising from the plain, its endless width sprawled against the western sky.” The chapter is titled “The Golden Cage,” and in setting up her introduction to the building and its customs, he takes his readers on a bit of a walking tour: “Not until the afternoon when she looked at the Palace from the vantage point of Le Nôtre’s peerless gardens, rigid and formal in their classic purity of line, did she become fully aware that she was gazing upon one of the great glories of French architecture, Versailles—the abode of Kings—the most French thing in all France.”
In the chapter that follows, he describes the Little Cabinets, the space the King carved out for himself that preceded his loftier petite apartments. These private quarters were on the north side of the Marble Court, and the interiors held elegant exemplars of the faultless craftsmanship of the eighteenth century. “Here the sun streamed in through the tall windows,” Smythe wrote, “turning the pendants of the chandeliers to drops of fire and imparting an airy lightness…” The author notes how these bright spaces were in striking contrast to the cheerless magnificence of the state apartments that the King had abandoned.
Gold in its Gilded Glory
He describes the boiserie as woodcarvings on which shells, flowers and cupids abound. Gilding proliferates, down to gracefully carved gold frames holding Venetian mirrors that reflected the endless luxury, which was a kingly obsession. Despite the fact that the rooms were meant to be among the most private in the Palace, this wasn’t the case. Smythe relates a conversation between the King and his mistress that proved otherwise: “‘An odd thing just happened to me,’ he said one day, coming into Madame de Pompadour’s rooms. ‘Would you believe that as I went into my bedroom I found myself face to face with a strange man?’” To which the Marquise exclaimed, “My God, Sire!”
This incident prompted the King to design his most private petite apartments, a maze of winding corridors connecting a series of rooms and secret staircases nestled into the mansard roof that looked out onto an inner courtyard called the Cour des Cerfts. Here he kept his treasures and dined only with his closest friends. The décor, which he chose himself, revolved around pale grays and a delicate shade of translucent green called vernis Martin. “The furnishings were costly but of restrained simplicity, fitting for the luxurious hideaway of a very rich man who could indulge every whim,” Smythe writes. These whims certainly included the obsession around surviving.
The Marquise’s apartments at Versailles were nearby. “The shell motif of Verberckt’s woodcarving was simple and elegant,” Smythe adds, “and the mantels, which are still there, were of marble. Long pier glasses, placed on one side of the room, reflected the Beauvais tapestries which ornamented the opposite wall.” Looking at the images, it’s clear the boiserie was indeed exemplary and her furniture graceful, the chairs wide to accommodate the panniered dresses the women of the court wore during her era. Her dressing table set with its mirror, shown swathed in lace above, was deemed a “triumphal piece of furniture” not unlike an altar.
This was a sumptuous example of a “woman’s independence at home,” to quote Moss, the Marquise’s bed sheathed in silks and lace, the alcove enveloping it similarly adorned. But she was, of course, only partially independent, as her presence there was at the mercy of the King. Though it may be easy to imagine her quality of life as being of the finest order, consider the fact that the cosmetics she used, which Smythe accounts in detail, contained poisonous red lead and mercury that burned her skin and caused headaches, which the obsession to be beautiful fostered. Let’s just say those rosy cheeks didn’t represent the continued blush of youth as some might assume!
“In spite of the splendor and comfort with which the Marquise was surrounded, in spite of her triumph, or more likely because of it, the strain told,” Smythe reports. “To walk the tightrope of Versailles, where nearly everyone schemed for her downfall, would have overwhelmed a woman more robust than she.” These hardships have inspired me to take Madame de Pompadour from the golden cage, give her a modern life in which she can relax, and provide her with a few great pieces of furniture harkening back to the gleaming metal each monarchy claimed as its own.
The Continuing Popularity of Gold
Who better to turn to when desiring the glint of gold than Bunny Williams, seen above with her Weslyn sconce? Her new collection launched during Market created serious buzz, so I thought I’d ask the talented designer about her attraction to the material that shown brightly in the interiors of the most famous Queens and Kings (and their mistresses). “I always search out shiny things when I’m browsing flea markets,” she answered. “I think that every room needs a little sparkle! If a room is filled with too much gold furniture though, the pieces will tend to blur together. I prefer to pair something shiny with something matte—an ornate gold mirror over a distressed painted console, for instance.”
And since the team at Currey & Company is so adept at mixing gold with other materials, I asked Aimee Kurzner, a senior designer, to fill us in as to the process they go through when realizing their gold-kissed designs: “The mixing of materials, especially with gold, is part of each designers’ sensibility. It’s also our personal finesse and creativity, which is consistent with the Currey aesthetic and the trends we see in the market.”
Along with the Weslyn sconce, I envision in Madame de Pompadour’s modern digs a few of Currey & Company’s new releases and best sellers below. Don’t you think they’re perfect?
Wrought iron petals fan out gracefully from the circular center of the Folium Mirror, calling to mind a sunflower or an exploding star. The brilliant contemporary gold leaf finish enlivens each frond.
The Garbo Banquette echoes the past but with its own modern sensibilities. Shown here in muslin, the fabric options are plentiful.
Like the “pendants of the chandeliers” in Louis XV’s petite cabinets, light would turn the Vivienne chandelier’s crystals to “drops of fire.” The design, which also has leaf accents in a gold finish that would be perfect for a Madame, is a new bestseller.
A woman of Madame de Pompadour’s stature would certainly be in dire need of the Arden lingerie chest were she making the rounds of parties today. The reverse painted glass panels trimmed in brass make this piece hit all the right style notes for a woman who harbored the obsession she was the most beautiful femme in France!
Summer Market Events
The summer market season is upon us so I thought I’d give you a list of Currey & Company events coming up as the sun climbs higher in the sky to illuminate our interiors with greater intensity. Happy designing everyone!
Dallas Total Home & Gift Market gets underway from June 21-27. We’ll be glinting in WTC Suite 10000!
The Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market will take place from July 11-18, and we’ll have all of our best sellers and new products on display in Building 1, Suite 14F10.
Las Vegas Market will get the party started on July 30 and last through August 3. You can find us in Building C, Suite 398, so do stop by if you’re in town!
Saxon Henry also blogs as The Modern Salonnière.