Object Lesson


A Neoclassical Mantle

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The work of French Enlightenment architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux survives in bits and pieces. Of all his celebrated projects, many no longer exist, some were never built, and others survive only in a fragmentary form: His celebrated Pavilion de Louveciennes (below), for instance, was pillaged during the French Revolution and completely rebuilt in the 1920s by the perfumer François Coty, who added an additional story and a perfume lab.


On Jan. 27, Sotheby’s auctioned off a particularly handsome fragment of Ledouxiana, a chimneypiece from the Pavilion de Louveciennes. Ledoux designed the building for Louis XV’s last mistress, Madame du Barry, who celebrated its completion in 1771 by inviting the king and a few friends over for dinner. Painter Jean-Michel Moreau the Younger captured the happy occasion for posterity, in a drawing (below) that now resides at the Louvre.

While the pavilion was not large, du Barry obviously had considerable resources at her disposal, which allowed Ledoux to resolve his design to a high level of detail, inside and out. For one room, he had Jean-Honoré Fragonard create a suite of paintings, The Progress of Love, which DuBarry reportedly detested and had replaced with lesser works by neoclassicist Joseph-Marie Vien. The rejected Fragonards (one example, The Meeting, appears below) now have their own room in the Frick Collection in New York.

Ledoux hired celebrated craftsman Pierre Gouthière to execute the pavilion’s interior fittings. His bill still survives for carving the white-marble mantelpiece and casting its decorative ormolu mounts (below). (DuBarry may never have paid up, given that Gouthière was forced into bankruptcy shortly before the French Revolution.) The mantel was removed from the house in 1793 by the revolutionary government, along with DuBarry’s other possessions. Du Barry was beheaded in December of that year.



Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 2:39 AM Thursday, November 14, 2013

    Kind of sad that a professional editor does not know the difference between 'mantle' and 'mantel'...

    Report this as offensive

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About the Blogger

Ned Cramer

thumbnail image Ned Cramer is editor-in-chief of ARCHITECT, and editorial director of ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING, ECO-STRUCTURE, and METALMAG, published by Hanley Wood, a Washington, D.C.-based business media company. Prior to joining Hanley Wood, Cramer served as the first full-time curator of the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), where he organized public programs and exhibitions such as "A Century of Progress: Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair" and "New Federal Architecture: The Face of a Nation." At CAF, projects under Cramer's direction received support from foundations and corporations such as Altria, Boeing, the Driehaus Foundation, the Graham Foundation, and the McCormick-Tribune Foundation. He speaks regularly on architecture, design, and related issues. The Avery Architectural Index lists nearly 100 articles with Cramer's byline, many written in his former capacity as executive editor of Architecture magazine. The recipient of an Arts Administration Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cramer has held positions at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Menil Collection in Houston. Cramer is an alumnus of the Rice University School of Architecture. He was born and raised in St. Louis.