P. Devinoy, Le Siège en France du Moyen Age à Nos Jours, Paris, 1948, figs. 81- 82.
P. Verlet and P. Devinoy, Le Siège Louis XV, Paris, 1958, cat. 99.
P. Verlet, French Royal Furniture, London, 1963, p. 161, cat. 29.
F.J.B. Watson, The Wrightsman Collection, New York, 1966, vol. I, p. 72, cat. 50.
M. Jarry, Le Siège Français, Fribourg, 1973, figs. 74 - 76.
P. Verlet, Le Mobilier Royal Français, Paris, 1994, vol. III, cat. 29.
B.G.B. Pallot, L'Art du Siège au XVIIIe Siècle en France, Paris, 1987, p. 264.
C. Ossut, Le Siège et sa Garniture, Paris, 1994, p. 24.
D. Meyer, The Furniture of Versailles, Dijon, 2002, vol. I, p. 30, cat. 1.
These magnificently carved pliants or folding stools, richly ornamented with lush foliage, treillages and flower-filled entrelacs are part of a large set almost certainly delivered to the garde meuble de la Couronne circa 1735 - 1740 for use in one of the State Apartments.
Folding stools of this type were employed almost exclusively for use in the Royal court, and their use was stricty regulated by the hierarchical dictates of court etiquette, whereby courtiers were required to be seated on stools in the presence of the King or Queen, who alone was permitted a chair with arms, emblematic of the power of the throne, a symbolic link which went back at least to the Middle Ages. Thus the inventory of Louis XIV's mobilier listed no fewer than 1,323 stools at Versailles, and the tradition extended right to the end of monarchical rule in France, as even Marie Antoinette, so keen to decorate her private apartments in the latest fashions, furnished her Grand Appartement with pliants and tabourets. The richness of the decoration of the set of pliants of which these formed a part would certainly indicate their use in one of the Royal State Apartments.
The large size of these sets might explain the minor variations in carving between these two pliants and other examples that are known, and also the fact that one is carved of beechwood and one in walnut - it is certainly possible that large orders from the crown could have been contracted out to more than one menuisier. The examples offered here are regilt without any traces of an earlier layers of decoration - however it is interesting to note that other examples of the model cited below either entirely lack their gilding, or are only partially gilded, implying that certain examples from the set survived into the 20th Century only in poor condition and had possibly lost any traces of their original decoration.
Nine examples of the model are now in Louis XIV's Bedchamber at the Château de Versailles, all acquired since 1951, along with two early copies and a modern copy made in 1978 (see Meyer op. cit., p. 30).
The following examples are recorded, although it is difficult to trace which might be duplicates of examples from earlier sales:
-a pair from the collection of Mme de Polès, sold Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 22 - 24 June 1927, lot 219
-a pair in the Grellou collection (a dealer active in the early 20th Century), illustrated in Devinoy op. cit., figs. 81 - 84, and probably the pair acquired by Versailles in 1951
-a pair from the collection of Lady Baron, white-painted and parcel-gilt, sold Sotheby's, London, 17 April 1964, lot 58
-A pair in the Wrightsman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, each marked with Versailles brand (possibly spurious)
-A single example in poor condition, formerly in the Goerges Hoentschel collection, now in the Metropolitan Musem of Art, New York
-A pair from the collection of Winston Guest, sold Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 2 December 1967, lot 130, marked with a Versailles brand (possibly spurious), possibly the pair acquired by Versailles in 1969
-A pair from the collection of Antenor Patiño, sold Palais Galliéra, Paris, 6 June 1975, lot 96, acquired by Versailles
-A single example, lacking gilding and instead with brown and beige decoration, from the collection of Marietta Tree, sold Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 8 - 9 October 1976, lot 351, probably one of three acquired by Versailles in 1976
The sophistication and technical assuredness of the carving on these superb pliants point to one of the most important menuisiers of the period. Pallot and Verlet (op. cit.) both suggest Nicolas Quinibert Foliot (maître in 1729) or Jean-Baptiste I Tilliard (maître in 1717) as possibilities, both of whom worked extensively for the Crown. Verlet also refers to the important mobilier in the richest rococo vein of the mature Louis XV style supplied at Versailles to the Chambre de la Reine in 1737 and the Chambre du Roi in 1739, of which tantalizingly little is now known, as a possible provenance for this superb suite of pliants.