Frick Collection Summer Presentation Explores Turkish Taste at the Court of Marie-Antoinette

The Frick Collection Summer Presentation Explores Turkish Taste at the Court of Marie-Antoinette. exhibition on view June 7 through September 11, 2011.


Small Console Table with Supporting Figures of Nubians (detail of one of a pair), c.1780, France, gilded and painted wood and marble slab, 34 1/8 x 34 ¾ x 9 ½ inches, The Frick Collection, New York; photo: 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 turque, or “in the Turkish style.” Soon after, boudoirs turcs were created in several royal residences, especially by those in the circle of Marie-Antoinette and the comte d’Artois, Louis XVI’s younger brother. This taste was confined largely to the royal court and the French aristocracy, and few objects from such rooms survive today.

The Frick presents 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. They are joined by four objects of confirmed royal provenance, characteristic of the Turkish taste popular at the court of Marie-Antoinette: two painted panels from The Metropolitan Museum of Art and two gilded bronze firedogs from the Musée du Louvre, Paris. Rather than being literal copies of Turkish models, such items were created by interior decorators, architects, designers, and craftsmen inspired by an imaginary Ottoman empire. 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, they 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 organized by Charlotte Vignon, the Frick’s Associate Curator of Decorative Arts. The exhibition is made possible by Koç Holding.

Lower image: French, eighteenth century, Small Console Table with Supporting Figures of Nubians (one of a pair), c.1780, gilded and painted wood and marble tabletop, 34 1/8 x 34 3/4 inches, The Frick Collection, New York; photo: Michael Bodycomb

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