Frick favorites with Charlotte Vignon

Editorial Staff

We were delighted to learn that the Frick Collection recently appointed Charlotte Vignon to its first curatorship dedicated to the museum’s distinguished decorative art holdings. Vignon, who will complete her PhD dissertation at the Sorbonne this fall, previously held fellowships at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art, and is currently the Andrew W. Mellon curatorial fellow at the Frick. Her expertise in European decorative art and in the history of collecting will surely advance the study and interpretation of Henry Clay Frick’s extensive and diverse collection. Below, Vignon shares with us a selection of personal favorites from the Frick Collection:

Blue marble side table with neoclassical mounts, designed by François-Joseph Belanger and Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin, with metalwork by Pierre Gouthière, Paris, 1781.

This is one of the very few pieces of eighteenth-century furniture made entirely in hard stone, a blue-gray marble known as bleu turquin in French.  The table, beautifully enriched with jewel-like gilt bronze mounts, was the collaborative work of two of the greatest artists working in Paris in the 1770s and 1780s: the architect François-Joseph Belanger, who designed it, and the great ciseleur-doreur Pierre Gouthière, who cast, gilded, and chased the bronzes.  It was made to match a chimneypiece and two pedestals in bleu turquin marble in the grand salon of Louise-Jeanne de Durfort, duchesse de Mazarin (1735-1781) for her residence on the Quai Malaquais in Paris.  The duchess, however, died before the table was finished, so it was never installed in the interior for which it was originally intended.

Commode with pictorial marquetry, made by Roger Lacroix under the direction of Gilles Joubert, Paris, 1769.
This commode, stamped on all four sides by Lacriox, is one of the few royal pieces that found their way into the Frick Collection. It was made in 1769 for the bedroom of Madame Victoire, daughter of Louis XV, in the royal château of Compiègne, in a period when craftsmen and designers were searching for a new style of interior decoration. Extravagant rocaille forms and ornaments, in vogue since 1735, were slowly being replaced by more restrained ones inspired by antique architecture. This commode bears elements of both: some gilt bronzes are designed after classical motifs, but the overall form of the commode and the large apron mount in the center of the piece belong to the earlier rococo style. 

Barometer clock; movement by Isaac Thuret and his son Jacques; case attributed to André-Charles Boulle, Paris, c. 1690-1700.
This is an example from the great collection of clocks at the Frick. It is also the result of a collaborative effort between great talents: the mechanism was made by Isaac Thuret (1630-1706) and his son, Jacques Thuret (1669-1738), both clockmakers to Louis XIV; and the case was made by the king’s celebrated cabinetmaker André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732). It is possible that this clock was made for the king himself or for the royal court.  It entered the holdings of the Frick in 1999 with a group of clocks and watches in a bequest from the noted collector W. Kelly Edey and is one of the only objects to have been added to the gallery called the “Living Hall,” since the death of Henry Clay Frick. Yet it seems to have always been here, so wonderful is the correspondence between its form and decoration and the Boulle and Boulle-inspired furniture long occupying this room.

 Pair of deep blue Chinese porcelain jars with French gilt-bronze mounts, 1700–49.
These jars offer a wonderful illustration of the taste for oriental art in mid-eighteenth- century Paris. They are not simply beautiful Chinese porcelain jars; but they have been adapted to the French taste with the addition of richly gilt bronzes in the rocaille style, following the fashionable trend invented by the French marchands merciers, the merchants of luxury goods of the time. 

Maiolica dish with The Judgment of Paris after Raphael, Fontana workshop, Urbino, c. 1565.
This piece is the most recent addition to the collection of decorative arts of the Frick; a gift from Dianne Dwyer Modestini in memory of her husband, Mario Modestini. The dish was probably made in the renowned workshop of Orazio Fontana in Urbino, Italy, about 1565. The decorative and colorful grotesques that surround the istoriato scene painted in the center were a specialty of Orazio Fontana, to whom the best pieces are usually attributed. This dish illustrates the technical and artistic excellence reached in the Fontana workshop in the third quarter of the sixteenth century, and is a welcome addition to the museum’s holdings, which previously did not include an example of maiolica. 

[Vignon has organized an exhibition featuring this object as its centerpiece, Exuberant Grotesques: Renaissance Maiolica From the Fontana Workshop, which will be on view from September 15, 2009, to January 17, 2010.]

Draw-top center table with columnar supports and masks, French, late 16th century.
This table came to the Frick Collection in 1916, when Mr. Frick purchased several important pieces of renaissance French furniture from the art dealer Joseph Duveen. It is related to a small group of tables, including one in the collection of the Musée du Louvre, that characteristically incorporate architectural elements such as consoles, columns, balusters, and arcades in their design. It is still unclear whether the model originated in France or Italy, as artistic exchanges between the two countries were frequent at the time. But this particular piece seems to have been inspired by prints by the French architect, designer, and engraver Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau (1510-1584).

All photographs by Michael Bodycomb, courtesy of the Frick Collection.