© Lucy Dickens / National Portrait Gallery, London
The noted authority on eighteenth-century French furniture and Sèvres porcelain, Sir Geoffrey de Bellaigue, Surveyor Emeritus of the Queen’s Works of Art died on January 4, 2013.
The pinnacle of Sir Geoffrey’s research and study was the three-volume catalogue, French Porcelain in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, published in 2009. In reviewing it for the Art Newspaper, Aileen Dawson described it as a “sumptuous catalogue which is a pleasure to read and a mine of all sorts of information.”
Shortly after Sir Geoffrey’s birth in France in 1931, his family moved to England. There he attended Wellington and Trinity College, but after a brief stint as a banker he went to Paris to study at the École du Louvre under Pierre Verlet, the leading authority on royal French furniture and decorative arts.
In 1960 Sir Geoffrey was hired to work at Waddesdon Manor, the Rothschild château in Buckinghamshire, and was appointed keeper of the collection in 1962. The following year he joined the royal household as deputy surveyor of the Queen’s Works of Art and then surveyor in 1972. In 1988 he was named director of the Royal Collection. He retained both positions until 1996.
His connection with the royal family dates to 1941 when his Franco-Belgian mother, Marie-Antoinette de Bellaigue, was employed by George VI’s private secretary Sir Alexander Hardinge, subsequently Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, to teach his daughters French. This appointment subsequently led to her tutoring the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in French until 1948.
Sir Geoffrey’s great strength in his research was matching objects to documentation and clarifying histories and provenances. High among his decorative arts interests were the Sèvres porcelain manufactory, eighteenth-century French marquetry, the Anglo-French trade in luxury goods in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and George IV as a voracious collector of French decorative arts.
Among the many notable exhibitions and collection catalogues he prepared were the 1966 exhibition George IV and the Arts of France at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace, about which he contributed an article to The Magazine ANTIQUES; a Sèvres porcelain catalogue in 1987; and an exhibition catalogue on the Prince Regent’s Carlton House in 1991. He was closely involved with the restoration of Windsor Castle after the 1992 fire.
Sir Geoffrey was knighted in 1986 and ten years later was awarded the Grand Cross of the Victorian Order in recognition of his distinguished service to the Queen. In France he was an officer of both the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the Légion d’Honneur.
Cynthia A. Drayton, Assistant Editor, The Magazine ANTIQUES