Marie-Antoinette — A life in 7 objects

The rise and fall of the controversial French queen told in a selection of objects from our Collection Marie-Antoinette sale in Paris on 3 November


When one wedding won’t wash


German or Austrian school, after 1774. Marie-Antoinette shop sign, inscribed, oil on metal, arched angles, double sided, with its original suspension. Estimate: €10,000-15,000. This work is offered in the Collection Marie-Antoinette sale on 3 November at Christie’s Paris.

On 19 April 1770, Marie-Antoinette left Vienna, travelling to France to meet her future husband in a train of 132 people, spread between 57 carriages driven by 376 horses — ordered by her future father-in-law Louis XV and the French ambassador.

Two days before, a proxy wedding had been held for Marie-Antoinette in Austria — the King himself remaining in Versailles. A second marriage was held in Versailles on 16 May 1770, in the presence of King Louis XV and the entire French court.

From balls to babies


Stipple engraving, circa 1795, French school of the 18th century, framed. Portrait of Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, Madame, fille du roi, née à Versailles, le 19 décembre 1778. Estimate: €500-700. This work is offered in the Collection Marie-Antoinette sale on 3 November at Christie’s Paris.

More interested in hunting than his wife’s good looks, King Louis XVI waited seven years to consummate his marriage — his apathy only dissipating after a frank tête à tête with the Queen’s brother, the Emperor Joseph II.

Bored and neglected, the young Queen had become increasingly frivolous, filling her evenings with extravagant balls and parlour games — her behaviour prompting the concerned Emperor’s intervention.

Eight years after she had first married Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette gave birth to her first child, Marie Thérèse Charlotte (depicted above) — this first born being unfit to take the French crown due to being a girl.

Budgeting excess

This book — which bears the signature of Marie-Antoinette — outlines the budget for the royal household’s multiple kitchens, and includes an inventory of the animal stables, candle stores, pastry and fruit stocks, and supplies of wax and wood.

In total, Marie-Antoinette’s proposed budget ran to £678,802 pounds, nine floors and seven deniers.

Gilt tripping


Two Louis XVI ormolu three-branch wall-lights, the first one Louis XVI period, circa 1788, the other one later. Estimate: €60,000-100,000. This lot is offered in the Collection Marie-Antoinette sale on 3 November at Christie’s Paris.

Though her accommodation at Versailles was incontestably spectacular, Marie Antoinette soon became bored of the demands of palace life — growing to resent lavish meals and elaborate dressing ceremonies.

In 1782, the Queen received permission to build her own private apartments into which she could retreat, commissioning Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843) — the official gilder — to refurbish them.

The artistic director of the prestigious Sèvres Pottery, Thomire is thought to have produced these wall lights for the bathrooms of Marie Antoinette’s private apartments, their dolphin motif a reference, not only to the bathing theme, but the royal dauphin.

The flight to Varennes


Travelling case given by Queen Marie-Antoinette. By Jean-Etienne Langlois, Gabriel Gerbu, Antoine-Gaspard Loret, Francois Corbie and Pierre-Claude Mottie, Paris, 1773-1786. Estimate: €40,000-60,000. This lot is offered in the Collection Marie-Antoinette sale on 3 November at Christie’s Paris.

In 1789, an angry mob of thousands had marched to Versailles to demand that the Royals relocate to Paris, where they had lived — threatened and under house arrest — ever since.

The King and Queen constantly sought ways to escape and, on the night of 20-21 June 1791, made an attempt to flee the city. Their plan was excellent, and certainly would have succeeded were it not for the royals themselves: Louis was recognised when he peered through a carriage window, and Marie-Antoinette’s insistence upon a large travelling case had raised suspicions back at Tuileries.

Madame Campan, Marie-Antoinette’s chamber maid, later testified against the Queen: ‘on the 21 May she claimed that she was making preparations for a departure from Tuileries… that her Majesty was too attached to this object to go without it, and that it would be useful when travelling.’

Amongst Marie-Antoinette’s travel essentials were a teapot and tea box, a hot chocolate pot, a gilt fruit knife, a small stove, an ink well, mirror and manicure set.

A glimpse of life pre-execution


A Louis XVI basketwork basket, circa 1790. Estimate: €800-1,200. This piece is offered in the Collection Marie-Antoinette sale on 3 November at Christie’s Paris.

During the night of 2 August 1793, Marie-Antoinette was transferred from Paris’s Temple prison to la Conciergerie, the central jail that became the final destination for hundreds of prisoners during the French Revolution.

At this point, the former Queen had already been stripped of her crown, palaces and titles. Her husband, King Louis XVI, had been condemned to death by guillotine, and — on 13 July — she had been forcibly separated from her son, the young King Louis XVII.

Antoinette’s dungeon at la Conciergerie was dark, humid and sparsely furnished — her every move surveyed by two armed guards. This wicker basket was amongst her limited possessions, and was given to her by a young servant, Rosalie Lamorlière, who provides the only surviving account of Marie-Antoinette’s final hours:

‘A number of watchmen were in front of her door and outside. Several officers and administrators were inside her bedroom, where they spoke amongst themselves in low tones. The day began to break. Rather than imprison the queen in the windowed office of the clerk of court, she was locked in a dungeon…. It was hot, and I noticed there were drops of sweat running down the princess’s face. She mopped her brow two or three times with a handkerchief. Her eyes contemplated with astonishment, the horrible bareness of this room’.

Antoinette the artist?

Before directing the redesign of Versailles, Marie-Antoinette exercised her creative muscle in a more conventional manner. A written statement on the reverse of this watercolour states it was produced ‘by the unfortunate queen Marie-Antoinette who was decapitated on 16 October 1793’.

The pastoral scene depicts a small church, pond and hay wagon, a rider in the foreground seeking refreshment at a local tavern.

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