THE COLLECTION
Wall light
  • Date: c. 1788
  • Medium: Gilt-bronze and brass bolts
  • Object size: 93.5 x 39 x 28.7 cm
  • Inv: F376
  • Location: Study
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Description
Provenance
Further Reading
  • These wall lights form part of a set of four in the Wallace Collection (F374-7). They are of a sophisticated neo-classical design in the arabesque style that was fashionable in Paris in the 1780s. In 1785 Louis XVI bought the château of Saint-Cloud, a large country house on the banks of the Seine, for his wife, who believed that the fresher air would be beneficial to her children. It became Marie-Antoinette’s favourite new project and with the help of her architect, Richard Mique, she set about renovating it in the latest arabesque style. In addition to textiles, chairs and cabinet furniture, gilt-bronze wall-lights were commissioned for her, including two pairs for her bedroom. These are likely to be the lights in the Wallace Collection.
    Each has three branches radiating out from above a central satyr’s mask. Above is a vase, mounted with two lions’ heads and filled with flowers and fruit, and a thyrsus (the staff of Bacchus, the god of wine), entwined with olive foliage, while below the mask is a trophy of musical instruments and ivy. The candle branches end in eagles’ heads.
    The wall-lights were commissioned by the Royal Wardrobe at the end of the 1787 from Feloix, and they were then sent to Claude Galle (1759-1815) for gilding. An interesting feature of this commission is that the same model, or something very similar, had been approved by the king’s aunt, Madame Adélaïde, for her bedroom at Versailles. Feloix made three pairs for her, which were gilded by Jean-François Briquet (master, 1785); a fourth was destined for storage, presumably so that the model could be readily copied again. This was not an unknown occurrence and illustrates how even the royal family could not always depend on new models of gilt-bronze items. The cost of modelling and casting new designs made this uneconomical and during the 1780s keeping costs under control became a major concern for the Royal Wardrobe.
    The inventory of Saint-Cloud taken in 1788 shows that the wall-lights for Marie-Antoinette were originally even more richly mounted, with chains linking the lions’ heads to the eagles’ heads and beaks. The Wallace Collection wall-lights show signs that they too may have had this extra decoration, suggesting that they are the set delivered for Marie-Antoinette’s use.