The lure of provenance

• Louis XIV (r. 1610–1643) owned the jeweled rock crystal pot for flowers that came from the Salon d’Apollon at the Château de Versailles.

• King Louis-Philippe (r. 1830–1848) commissioned the large painting by Baron Antoine-Jean Gros (1771–1835) David Playing the Harp for King Saul in l822 for his gallery of contemporary art in the Palais Royal.

• The Qianlong emperor is represented by the bronze heads of a rat and a rabbit (Fig. 8) that decorated the Calm Sea Hall, which the emperor commissioned between l756 and l759 from the Jesuit priest Giuseppe Castiglione for the Old Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Yuan). The rat and the rabbit were later owned by José Maria Sert (1874/1876–1945), the early twentieth-century muralist and husband of pianist Misia Sert (1872–1950), that supreme taste broker.

• Ernest August, Duke of Cumberland and king of Hanover (r. 1837–1851), Queen Victoria’s extremely wicked uncle, owned the magnificent set of silver-gilt Hanoverian cups (see Fig. 4), table fountain, and nef (Fig. 11).

• Many of the wonderful pieces of silver were owned by several generations of the Rothschilds.

• Other bibelots and silver came from the distinguished Sir Harold Augustus Wernher Collection.

• The fresh and beautifully observed Thomas Gainsborough portrait of the castrato Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci (Fig. 5), famous for being employed to sing the mad son of Charles III(r. 1759–1788) of Spain to sleep, was owned by John Braham (c. 1774–1856), a famous tenor.

• The exquisitely delicate likeness by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres entitled Portrait de la Comtesse de La Rue (Fig. 2), the first he painted of a woman, belonged to Martine Marie Pol, comtesse de Béhague (1870–1939), a noted early twentieth-century collector.

• The drawing by Jacques-Louis David (1740–1825) of an unknown man, for many years erroneously thought to be a self-portrait, came from one of the most famous collections of the nineteenth century, that of the brothers Edmond de (1822–1896) and Jules de Goncourt (1830–1870).

• Yeshwant Rao Holkar Bahadur (1905–1956), the maharajah of Indore, famed for his elegance and taste, commissioned major art deco pieces for his palace of Manik Bagh from whence come the two elegant minimalist aluminium lamps by Eckart Muthesius.

• By far the most interesting art deco pieces came from the famous collection formed by Jacques Doucet, a leading Paris couturier at the turn of the last century. Doucet sold his eighteenth-century collection in 1912 and donated his famous library to the Université de Paris in the 1920s and became a patron of modern art and furniture design. Saint Laurent and Bergé were at the famous Doucet sale of 1972 and bought a pair of leopard skin covered stools commissioned by Doucet from Gustave Miklos, among other important pieces (see Fig. 9).

• Suzanne Talbot, another famous couturier, owned the fantastical Dragon chair designed by Eileen Gray (see Figs. 1, 7).

• Hubert de Givenchy formed a superb collection of Limoges and Venetian enamels that Saint Laurent and Bergé bought in its entirety.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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