At The Frick Next Summer: The French Court à la Turc

Posted in books, exhibitions by Editor on September 20, 2010

Press release (PDF) from The Frick:

Turkish Taste at the Court of Marie-Antoinette
The Frick Collection, New York, 8 June — 11 September 2011

Curated by Charlotte Vignon

Small Console Table with Supporting Figures of Nubians (one of a pair), c.1780, gilded and painted wood and marble slab (NY: The Frick Collection), photo by Michael Bodycomb

By the late eighteenth century, France had long been fascinated by the Ottoman empire. Trade with Turkish territories had gone on for centuries, bringing precious velvets, brocades, carpets, arabesque-decorated leathers, and metalwork to the Continent. In the fall of 1776, a performance of Mustapha and Zeangir, a tragedy in five acts by Sebastien-Roch Chamford that played in Paris, seems to have launched a taste for interiors “à la Turc,” or “in the Turkish style.” Soon after, boudoirs turcs were created in several royal residences, especially in the circle of Marie-Antoinette and the comte d’Artois, Louis XVI’s younger brother. This taste seems to have been confined largely to the royal court and the French aristocracy, and few objects from such rooms survive today. In the summer of 2011, the Frick will present a dossier exhibition on the subject, bringing together several examples that have rarely—or, in some cases never—been on view in New York City.

This exhibition was inspired by a pair of French console-tables at the Frick, whose exceptional quality suggests a royal origin. The tabletops are supported by two Nubian slaves who wear pearl-bedecked turbans; each figure holds a floral garland surrounding a medallion depicting a Sultan. The Turkish iconography is complemented by a frieze of crossed crescents, a symbol of the Ottoman empire. Such objects were not literal copies of Turkish models. Rather, they were created by interior decorators, architects, designers, and craftsmen inspired by an imaginary Ottoman empire, such as that depicted in A Thousand and One Nights and in the aforementioned tragedy Mustapha and Zeangir. Although the objects often featured turbaned figures, camels, palm trees, cornucopias, arabesques, crossed crescents, pearls and jewel-like ornaments, elaborate draperies, and heavy garlands of fruits and flowers, their form and function remained essentially French. Having been made for the royal family or wealthy aristocrats, the objects were usually of the highest quality, and can be attributed to the best artists and craftsmen of the time. Turkish Taste at the Court of Marie-Antoinette is being organized by Charlotte Vignon, the Frick’s Associate Curator of Decorative Arts.

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The exhibition might bring to mind the forthcoming book by Nebahat Avcioglu, Turquerie and the Politics of Representation, 1728-1876 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2011), a description of which is available here»

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