The Palace of St. Cloud belongs to the Duke of Orleans, is situated on the declivity of a mountain washed by the Seine. . . . The view from the house is delightful. — Harry Peckham, A Tour through Holland . . .and Part of France
Louis XVI purchased the country residence of the duc d’Orléans a few miles west of Paris for Marie-Antoinette in 1785. Being in need of renovation, the palace was enlarged and altered for the queen, and many pieces of furniture were commissioned from Jean-Baptiste-Claude Sené. A member of an important dynasty of Parisian chairmakers, Sené had been appointed menuisier to the Crown in 1784.
A detailed 1788 description of this set, which also included four matching armchairs and a stool, indicates that the pieces were intended for one of Marie-Antoinette’s private rooms at Saint-Cloud, her Cabinet Particulier. The frame of the daybed, originally longer but shortened at a later date, is embellished with carving of ivy on the seat rail and garlands of roses along the crest rail. Ionic capitals surmount the short legs, and most remarkable of all are the Egyptian female half-figures on tapering supports that decorate the front stiles. Even though in his bill Sené called them simply caryatids, these figures clearly express the queen’s taste for ornament derived from ancient Egyptian art, well before Napoléon’s North African campaign made it fashionable. Similar ornament is found on the bergère (a comfortable armchair upholstered between the arms and the seat ), which, in addition, has a medallion on top with Marie-Antoinette’s initials framed by myrtle branches and roses. The matching screen, however, displays classical female figures on its feet and top rail. Unfortunately, the identity of the sculptor is not known, but Louis-François Chatard is documented as having painted and gilded the wooden surfaces.
The 1789 inventory of Saint-Cloud records the entire suite in the queen’s Cabinet de Toilette, or dressing room. Listed by its show covers, as was customary for seat furniture, the set is described as being upholstered in white cotton twill, embroidered with a small floral ornament in silk. Known to have worked on needlepoint projects all her life, Marie-Antoinette did the embroidery herself, which she executed in satin stitch. Modern replicas of the queen’s handiwork, including her interlaced monogram on the panel of the fire screen, grace the frames of the furniture today. The colorful floral embroidery on the light cotton ground conveys a sense of summer, the season Marie-Antoinette preferred to spend at Saint-Cloud.
Epigraph. Peckham 1788, p. 199.
Marie Antoinette, Queen of France , Cabinet de Toilette, Palace of Saint-Cloud, France (by 1788) ; Marquis de Casaux (until 1923; sale, Hôtel Drout, Paris, December 21, 1923, No. A) ; George and Florence Blumenthal (from 1923) ; Ann Payne Blumenthal (until 1941; to MMA)