Exhibition | Metropolitan Vanities: The History of the Dressing Table

Posted in catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on December 11, 2013

Press release (3 July 2013) from The Met:

Metropolitan Vanities: The History of the Dressing Table
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 17 December 2013 — 13 April 2014

Curated by Jane Adlin

1976.155.99 003

Martin Carlin, combination table, ca. 1775 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art,1976.155.99a, b)

Metropolitan Vanities: The History of the Dressing Table at The Metropolitan Museum of Art will explore the evolution of the modern dressing table. Few pieces of furniture have revealed more about social customs, leisure-time pursuits, and popular tastes throughout history. The form of the dressing table—or vanity, as we know it today—began to develop in the late 17th century in Europe. The exhibition will consist of outstanding examples of this furniture form and some 50 related objects, paintings, and drawings selected mainly from the Metropolitan’s collection. Ancient Egyptian decorative boxes used to hold cosmetics, classical Greek and Roman scent bottles, medieval mirror cases, 18th-century nécessaires, and innovative contemporary jewelry and accessories will be on display.

In the late 17th century, European high society began commissioning luxurious specialized furniture from craftsmen and furniture makers. The poudreuse in France, and the low boy, Beau Brummel, and shaving table in England served as models for the dressing table. Jean-Henri Riesener’s Mechanical Table (1780–81) is one of the finest examples of this period in the exhibition. This table, in which the top slides back as the drawer slides forward to reveal a toilette mirror flanked by two compartments, was delivered by the cabinetmaker to Queen Marie Antoinette at Versailles in January 1781.

Pietro Antonio Martini, after Jean Michel Moreau the Younger, The Morning Toilet (La Petite Toilette), from Le Monument du Costume, ca. 1777 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art,  33.6.28)

Pietro Antonio Martini, after Jean Michel Moreau the Younger, The Morning Toilet (La Petite Toilette), from Le Monument du Costume, ca. 1777
(New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 33.6.28)

In America the designs for dressing tables were simpler, with the Chippendale style among the most popular. During the 19th century, dressing tables were made in many revivalist styles including the Gothic, Elizabethan, Rococo, Renaissance, and Colonial revivals, to name a few. Eventually, in the later 19th century, the dressing table—like other cabinet furniture—became a matching part of the bedroom suite.

It was not until the early part of the 20th century, during the Art Deco period in both Europe and America, that luxurious dressing tables came to epitomize the modern concept of glamour and luxury. Hollywood films of the 1920s and ’30s, with their fantasy world of penthouses atop Manhattan skyscrapers, were hugely popular during this period and often depicted the femme fatale heroine sitting at her supremely elegant vanity table in the bedroom or dressing room. Norman Bel Geddes’s enamel and chrome-plated steel dressing table (1932) is a model for this streamlined and sophisticated style.

More recently, designs for the dressing table have reflected the diversity of new styles, from the modern molded-plastic valet dressing cabinet of Raymond Loewy (1969) to a postmodernist Plaza dressing table and stool by Michael Graves (1981) and a minimalist dressing table of today by the Korean contemporary designer Choi Byung Hoon (2013).

Metropolitan Vanities: The History of the Dressing Table is organized by Jane Adlin, Associate Curator in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibition is accompanied by a Bulletin published by the Metropolitan Museum and distributed by Yale University Press (volume 71, Fall 2013).

More images are available here (under additional resources).

At Auction | Portrait of François-Henri d’Harcourt by Fragonard

Posted in Art Market by Editor on December 11, 2013

From Bonhams:

fragonardA major work by the 18th-century French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Portrait of François-Henri d’Harcourt, sold for £17,106,500 this evening (5 December) setting a world record price for the artist at auction [Bonhams, Auction 21413, Lot 85]. The previous record was £5,300,000 for a painting sold in London in 1999. It is also the highest price for an Old Master Painting sold at auction anywhere in the world this year. The painting was the leading work in the sale of paintings and sculpture from the renowned collection of the German philanthropist, the late Dr Gustav Rau which raised more than £19 million. The proceeds will be used to benefit the Foundation of the German Committee for UNICEF—for the children of the world.

Bonhams Director of Old Master Paintings, Andrew McKenzie, said, “The portrait of François-Henri d’Harcourt is one of the paintings on which Fragonard’s reputation as an artistic genius rests. It is impossible to overstate its cultural and artistic significance. Handling this great painting for sale was a huge privilege and a landmark in the history of the art market.” . . .

One of Fragonard’s famous fifteen fantasy portraits, The Portrait of François-Henri d’Harcourt was the most significant of the artist’s works to have appeared on the market for many years. Only two other fantasy portraits remain in private hands making this painting rarer than portraits by Frans Hals, Joshua Reynolds or even Rembrandt.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806) was a master of genre painting and a leading exponent of the Rococo style of which The Swing in the Wallace Collection in London is probably the best known example. In great demand as a portraitist in the dying days of the Ancien Régime, Fragonard fell on hard times after the French Revolution, and although he continued to live in France, he died in obscurity and poverty. Fragonard’s fantasy portraits—often depicting friends and acquaintances—were painted quickly with bold, fluid brush work which anticipated the Impressionists in bravura and technique. This style was referred to by some contemporaries as the artist’s, “swordplay of the brush.” The portrait of François-Henri d’Harcourt is unusual among Fragonard’s fantasy portraits because the subject is identified. Many of the other portraits are personifications of the arts rather than representations of named individuals.

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