When Louis XIV ascended the throne in 1661, he and his chief minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, decided that a refurbishment of the Louvre was necessary to make a statement to the world glorifying the King and the French state. Part of their redecoration schemes included the creation of a series of carpets of a scale and splendor unprecedented in French carpet weaving to adorn the Louvre’s galerie d’Apollon and the Grande Galerie. In 1689 the last carpet woven for the Grande Galerie came off the loom and then for twenty years, the records became almost silent except for works of upholstery. In 1708, duc d’Antin took charge of the factory and new models were prepared and in 1710 the first carpets since 1689 were woven for the King and were taken to Versailles.
Although the Savonnerie workshops are most renowned for the magnificent carpets produced during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV, the factory also produced other forms of furnishing fabrics in the woven-pile technique. These objects included upholstery for furniture, panels for fire-screens, panels for room screens and, in at least one instance, coverings for a small casket (see Verlet, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor: Savonnerie, Fribourg, 1982, p. 86). It must be noted, however, that these other products are extremely rare, even within the already rare group of 17th and 18th century Savonnerie carpets, as the Savonnerie’s production was mainly devoted to the weaving of carpets.
Folding screens or paravents were originally intended to keep out the cold or to protect from the heat of a fire primarily in ante-rooms and dining rooms. However, low screens of similar size to this example, were used in private rooms and were usually decorated to match the furniture of the rooms. The Savonnerie began weaving panels for screens in 1707 and they immediately became popular and frequently woven. Many were given away to Kings and Princes but a great number were sold, including a great number to Madame de Pompadour. According to Verlet, the records of the factory show that the Chaillot workshop produced 750 individual screen panels between 1707 and 1791. Although this number sounds enormous, it should be taken into account that most screens are six-paneled and some double-sided, so in reality, about 100 screens total were woven during the 18th century.
The model for the screen offered here, depicting themes from Aesop’s Fables, was woven from 1711 onwards. The Savonnerie records are meticulous and it was recorded that from this series, 132 panels, or 22 six-paneled screens, were woven between 1711 and 1720, with the most in 1712 (Verlet, op. cit., p. 401). Although a new design was ultimately dictated by the King, it was not unusual for a design to be a collaboration between two artists, each with different strengths. In the case of this screen, Claude Audran III was responsible for the overall composition and François Desportes for the panels representing Aesop’s Fables.
The scenes depicted are most likely based on the 1666 edition of Aesop’s Fable illustrated by the English painter and illustrator Francis Barlow (c. 1626-1704). Other screens from the same Aesop’s Fable series were formerly in the Hubert Stern (Verlet, op. cit., fig. 67) and von Pannewitz collections. As is typical of the type, there is some color discrepancy from screen to screen, possibly from sun fading or more likely from variations to the original dye lots that became more apparent over time. Despite the color variations, this screen is in remarkable and presumably original condition making it one of the more important examples of an early 18th century Savonnerie complete screen or paravents remaining today.