This spring season I was pleasantly surprised to find that society doyenne Jayne Wrightsman had closed her London home and decided to sell its contents via Sotheby's New York. She had done this once before in 1984, a celebrated sale after she shuttered her fabled Palm Beach compound. If you are not familiar with Jayne Wrightsman, think of the Wrightsman Galleries of Decorative Art at the Metropolitan Museum. She is truly a woman after my own heart, rising from humble beginnings to reign over the New York art scene from her exclusive perch at 820 Fifth Avenue. Vanity Fair did an extensive bio of her in 2003 which I refuse to butcher here. Moving forward... the most recent Sotheby's sale offered an enticing array of 18th century French high-style, a look which was heavily promoted to socialites since the 1940's by firms such as Maison Jansen whom Jayne employed extensively. When I came to lot 121 I had a moment of deep recognition in the form of a pair of fanciful niches en tabourets (dog bed footstools).
Whimsical? Agreed. Almost comical? Perhaps, but rarities such as these make for an exciting moment and good copy, but I knew I had seen them before. After tearing through my library I found my copy of the Metropolitan Museum's 1966 "Wrightsman Collection Volume I: Furniture." There on page 98 I found what I was seeking...
I had to blink, but despite the fabric change the pairs seem to be one in the same. The proof is in the details. The measurements are identical, as is the construction, and one kennel is stamped E. Nauroy in each instance. But if you compare the wear patterns to the gilding in both images it is clear that the kennels for sale were once part of the Wrightsman Galleries at the Met. Hmmm... so why were they deaccessioned? Who can say for certain. Perhaps Jayne wanted them back at some point or perhaps they were deemed "not quite right." This is purely conjecture, but Sotheby's steered clear of any controversy noting succinctly that they were acquired from Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York, 1962 and that the were reupholstered in 18th century French silk in 1987 by the firm of Mayorcas Ltd., London. Their stint at the Met was omitted completely so we are left to only to guess. They were however guaranteed as being circa 1765 and sold for $86,500 (with premium) against an estimate of $25,000-35,000. It seems that quite a few bidders were convinced of their veracity. But then again they have a delightful appeal and a Wrightsman provenance is nothing to sniff at....
This exercise led me to muse over the fate of the the another rare dog kennel that is still included in the Wrightsman galleries, well at least for now. It is a delightful little domed, gilt-wood and blue velvet upholstered doghouse tucked in front of a window in the Paar room.
The image above is from the 1966 Wrightsman catalogue where this elaborate dog bed that was still fleetingly believed to have been delivered to Marie Antoinette at Versailles in 1787. The piece in fact bears the personal stamp of the queen's Garde Mueble or furniture equerry. The kennel has held pride of place in the Paar room since its donation in the 1960s but it has not been the focus of any recent scholarship. For years I have heard rumors and curatorial opinions that the piece was not quite right or plainly just too good to be true. Well I waited with anticipation to see if the kennel would be included in the updated catalogue of the Wrightsman Galleries which was released late last month. It seems that the little blue "royal" kennel failed to be included. The rest of the important pieces are included especially those with a proven royal provenance. While the Met has not taken a public stance it seems that, by omission, the kennel no longer makes the cut. We'll see how long it manages to stay on view.
Autumn Inspiration September 2018
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