In eighteenth-century France, furniture and porcelain epitomized the elegance and refinement of the age and were among the most important works of art created for the court and for aristocratic families. Henry Clay Frick acquired outstanding examples of both furniture and porcelain, much of it with royal or prestigious provenances from ancien-régime France.
The secretaire and commode in this room were made for Marie Antoinette by Jean-Henri Riesener, a German cabinetmaker living in France. The table at the center of the room was made for the Duchess of Mazarin, and the pair of candelabra above it for the Duke of Aumont. Both are outstanding examples of gilded bronze decorations by the virtuoso gilder Pierre Gouthière.
In eighteenth-century homes, groups of porcelain known as garnitures—usually composed of three objects—were displayed on furniture. Here, at Frick Madison, sets of Sèvres porcelain are exhibited on shelves above furniture to evoke the relationship between furniture and porcelain while separating them from each another and focusing on them as independent objects.
By the end of the French Revolution, both Riesener and Gouthière had met with unfortunate fates. Riesener was in financial ruin from his inability to sell hoarded furniture he had acquired at low prices—tastes had changed and much of his clientele had died or left the country. He stopped working in 1801 and died in penury. A number of Gouthière’s clients did not pay the enormous fees they owed him, and even before the revolution, the gilder was forced to file for bankruptcy. In 1794, he was arrested but set free because he was old and infirm. And at that point, he stopped working.