The Tapestry Covers
The subjects depicted on the tapestry covers of this suite are based on the fables of Jean La Fontaine (1621-1695), which were in turn based on Aesop's and Oriental fables. First published in 1668. La Fontaine's fables enjoyed enduring popularity and a second extended version was published in 1678-79, with a third addition in 1792-94.
The Royal Beauvais Tapestry Manufactory first wove La Fontaine's fables in 1736 after a design by Jean Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755), who had been employed by the manufactory since 1726 and took over its directorship in 1734. Contractually he was bound to deliver six cartoons for tapestries every three years, but Oudry's style dominated Beauvais so strongly during this period that the workshop ceased all reweavings of older subjects, and Voltaire even called the workshop the kingdom of Oudry. The fables were such a successful tapestry design that the main series was copied no less than sixteen times by 1777, and since the subjects could easily be reduced in size, numerous weavings for chair covers were undertaken. Changes in taste entailed a much more frequent weaving of chair, canap and fire-screen covers to match the overall appearance of rooms that were often clad in tapestries (J. Badin, La Manufacture de Tapisseries de Beauvais, Paris, 1909, p. 59 and D. Heinz, Europische Tapisseriekunst des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts, Vienna, 1995, pp. 266-268).
A suite of four George III walnut armchairs with very closely related tapestry covers, including an identical plain landscape panel as well as an identical scene of a hawk attacking a dark blue supine, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Irwin Untermyer Collection, New York (E. Appleton Standen, European Post-Medieval Tapestries and Related Hangings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985, II, pp. 503-506. cat. 77).
A suite of ten identically carved fauteuils and a canap from the collection of Mme d'Yvon, covered in Saint-Cyr needlework depicting Aesop's Fables and sold at Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 30 May - 4 June 1892, lot 675, was sold again from the collection of Franois Coty at the chteau de Puy d'Artigny and the Pavillon Du Barry Louveciennes, Galerie Jean Charpentier, Paris, 1 December 1936, lot 78, before entering the collection M. Seligmann. Four fauteuils from that suite were sold anonymously at Ader Picard Tajan, Paris, 17 March 1988, lot 58. One fauteuil, from a set that includes at least two fauteuils and one canap, probably from the same suite, is in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, and illustrated in M. Jarry, Le Sige Franais, Fribourg, 1973, p. 101, fig. 84. Another suite of seat-furniture depicting La Fontaine's fables and comprising six fauteuils, six chairs and one canap was offered anonymously Ader Picard Tajan, Paris, 5 December 1989, lot 33.