The Frick Collection presented the first exhibition on Pierre Gouthière (1732–1813), the great French bronze chaser and gilder who worked for Louis XV and Louis XVI. The exhibition shed new light on the artist’s production, life, and workshop through the presentation of twenty-two objects from public and private collections. Attributed with certainty to Gouthière, these works include clocks, vases, firedogs, wall lights, and mounts for Chinese porcelain and hardstone vases. The exhibition is organized by Charlotte Vignon, Curator of Decorative Arts, The Frick Collection. Based on new art historical and technical research, the exhibition and catalogue promise to transform our understanding of one of the greatest artists of eighteenth-century France.
Pierre Gouthière became a master ciseleur-doreur (chaser-gilder) in 1758, during the reign of Louis XV. Little is known of his early years, but by 1765 he was gilding a number of pieces in both bronze and silver for François-Thomas Germain, the sculpteur-orfèvre du roi (sculptor-goldsmith to the king). In 1767 Gouthière began to work for the Menus-Plaisirs du Roi, an institution responsible for providing the king’s personal effects as well as organizing his entertainment, thus starting a long career at the service of the French court. His works were so admired by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette that in addition to commissioning objects directly, they also acquired masterpieces at the auction organized in December 1782 after the death of the Duke of Aumont, an avid admirer of Gouthière’s production. The exhibition will bring the finest works, which are now in private and public collections in Europe and the United States, to New York for the first time. Besides Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Gouthière’s clientele included the Count of Artois, the Countess Du Barry, the Duke of Duras, the Duchess of Mazarin, Princess Kinsky, the Marquis of Marigny, and the King of Poland. He collaborated with some of the period’s most highly regarded sculptors, including Louis-Simon Boizot. Unfortunately, Gouthière’s wasteful expenditures and a series of financial setbacks ― including the huge uncollectable sum owed to him by Madame Du Barry and the death in the early 1780s of two of his most important clients, the Duke of Aumont and Duchess of Mazarin ― forced him to declare bankruptcy in 1787. A remarkable blue marble and gilt-bronze table commissioned for the latter ― now a well-known highlight of the Frick’s decorative arts holdings ― inspired this exhibition and fresh study of Gouthière’s oeuvre.
Soon after his death in 1813, Gouthière was lauded by collectors, critics, and art dealers as one of the most important eighteenth-century French artists, a fame that has not faded in subsequent centuries. One consequence of the artist’s reputation among the most important French and British collectors was the appearance of copies and overly generous attributions to Gouthière. Indeed, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, French decorative arts pieces of great quality (and not only those featuring gilt bronze) were falsely attributed to Gouthière, and many of these attributions remain today.
The exhibition of only those works that can be attributed to Gouthière with certainty will create a new corpus that will help establish further attributions. As part of the project, conservators undertook a technical study of Gouthière’s bronze and gilding techniques. The data provides both the basis for a much-needed reevaluation of the attribution and chronology of Gouthière’s oeuvre and elucidates his workshop practices.
To accompany the exhibition, the first English-language monograph on Gouthière was published by The Frick Collection in association with D Giles, Ltd. It is the first comprehensive study of his work since 1986. The catalogue was written by the exhibition curator, Charlotte Vignon, as well as Christian Baulez, longtime Curator at Versailles and now Conservateur Général Honoraire du Patrimoine, with contributions by Anne Forray-Carlier (Musée des Arts Décoratifs), Joseph Godla (The Frick Collection), Helen Jacobsen (The Wallace Collection), Luisa Penalva (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon), Emmanuel Sarméo (Château de Versailles), and Anna Saratowicz (Royal Castle, Warsaw). Included are essays on Gouthière’s life and work, a reevaluation of his style in the context of the development of Neoclassicism, and an exploration of his relationship with François-Joseph Bélanger, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, Louis-Simon Boizot, and other great architects and sculptors of the period. A section of the catalogue is also devoted to the results of the technical study. A French-language edition of the publication is also available.