THE DESIGNERS AND FIRST WEAVING
The first set of L'Histoire du Roi de Chine, consisting of nine or ten subjects, was woven between 1685 and 1705 when Philippe Behagle was the directeur of the Royal Beauvais Tapestry Manufactory. In a memorandum of tapestries made during his directorship Behagle mentions this series: 'Chinoise faict par quatre illustre peintre'. The painters referred to are Guy Vernansal (d. 1729), the flower-painter Jean-Baptiste Belin de Fontenay (d. 1715) and Baptiste (the name used by contemporaries for the flower-painter Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (d. 1699)) and an unidentified fourth painter. A further memorandum by Behagle states that the first set, woven with gold-thread (rarely used by Beauvais) was 'vendu par M. d'Isrode à Monseigneur le duc du Maine'. M. d'Isrode, who later had two further sets made, acted as an intermediary, while the set was actually manufactured for Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, duc du Maine (1670 - 1736).
The success of the series was undoubtedly due to the increased interest in China at the end of the 17th Century. This enthusiasm probably rose out of Louis XIV's glamorous reception for the ambassadors of Siam in 1684 and the publication in the Mercure Galant of a long description of the travels of father Couplet to China in the same year. The young duc de Maine met the Jesuit Couplet and his Chinese convert when they first returned from China in 1684 and was deeply interested in his adventures. The series was finally abandoned at Beauvais in 1732, when the cartoons were so worn that they could no longer serve their purpose.
The set illustrates everyday life of the Chinese Emperors, believed to be Shunzhi (reigned 1644 - 1661) and Kangxi (reigned from 1661 - 1722) and their Empresses. Many of the images are based on Johan Nieuhof's Legatio batavica ad magnum Tartatiae chamum sungteium, modernum sinae imperatorem of 1665 and includes scenes such as the Audience of the Emperor, the Emperor on a Journey, the Emperor Sailing and the Empress Sailing. (Bremer-David, C.: French Tapestries & Textiles in The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 1997, cat. 9, pp. 80 - 97)
A set of six tapestries from this series executed for Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon, comte de Toulouse and duc de Penthièvre (d. 1737), which was woven between 1697 and 1705 is in The J. Paul Getty Museum (Bremer-David, op. cit., cat. 9, pp. 80 - 97, this subject illustrated on p. 88). A tapestry of identical subject was sold anonymously in these Rooms, 14 December 1995, lot 213 (£33,350), while a tapestry depicting the Embarcation of the Prince, originally supplied to François-Louis (d.1732), Count Palatine and Prince Elector, circa 1710, was sold from the collection of Akram Ojjeh, Christie's Monaco, 12 December 1999, lot 21 (FF5,072,500).