Joseph Fleuriau d’Armenonville, Garde des Sceaux of King Louis XV
From the noblesse de robe, Joseph Fleuriau d’Armenonville (1661-1728) replaced Colbert as Contrôleur des Finances in 1683 and from then onwards he progressed to more important positions such as, Intendant des Finances, then member of the Conseil des Finances. Whilst he was out of favour during the reign of King Louis XIV, he nevertheless managed to gain the trust of the Régent and Louis XV, becoming Secrétaire d’Etat aux Affaires Etrangères and Secrétaire d’État de la Marine until 1722, the year of his nomination to the Garde des Sceaux. To celebrate his promotion, the Secrétaires du Roi decided to offer him a series of six tapestries, already woven six times previously: the series l’Histoire de l’Empereur de Chine. The beneficiary of this series of tapestries is recognised by the monograms within a cartouche at each corner, and further enhanced by the coat-of arms of the recently nominated Garde des Sceaux, with the inclusion of the surrounding Orders of Saint-Esprit and Saint-Michel.
The series l’Histoire de l’Empereur de Chine
The series l’Histoire de l’Empereur de Chine or première suite chinoise - a second one produced after a design by François Boucher in 1730, is an early example of the late 17th and early 18th century decorative art interpretation of a fantasized exotism known as Chinoiserie. The series also had a political influence, showcasing the close ties between France and the Far East, especially China during the Kangxi era. Furthermore, in 1684 and 1686, Louis XIV received the Ambassador of Siam. The interest in China and her neighbours was further stimulated by accounts of travels, engravings, imported objects and commodities.
The Duc du Maine, legitimized son of King Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan, was the initiator of the first series, which was composed of nine tapestries, made of wool, silk, silver and gold thread. Between 1684 and 1690, the manufacture de Beauvais, then directed by Philippe Béhagle (1641-1705) wove the series after the designs of Jean-Baptiste Blain de Fontenay, Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer and Guy-Louis Vernansal. Re-produced over a period of forty years, these tapestries presented many variations, but the most important to mention are: l’Embarquement de l’Impératrice, l’Empereur en voyage, les Astronomes, l’Audience de l’Empereur (or du prince), le Thé de l’Impératrice, la Récolte des Ananas, le Retour de la chasse, and our piece, la Collation. The second weaving was produced for the Comte de Toulouse, the Duc du Maine’s brother, for his castle in Rambouillet which he bought from Fleuriau d’Armenonville (it was partly exhibited in the château de Compiègne and at the Getty Museum of Los Angeles). Today, the different versions are mainly exhibited in important institutions, amongst others the Musée du Petit Palais, the Musée du Louvre, the château de Compiègne, the Musée de Tessé in Le Mans, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Getty Museum and the Residenz in Munich. The series offered to Fleuriau d’Armenonville is now dispersed. In the inventory written after his death on November 27th, 1728, the series was mentioned as comprising: « six pièces de tapisserie de Beauvais, représentant des chinois contenant 17 aunes sur 3 aunes de haut, doublée en plein toutes aux armes dudit Garde des Sceaux et fleurdelisée dans les bordures (…) 4000 livres » with the annotation « à l’égard des tapisseries du Sceau (…) de six pièces de la Manufacture de Beauvais représentant des chinois 7a de cours par 3 aunes de haut et de quatre portières de pareille tapisserie chacune de une aune de large par trois a ½ de haut donné à Mon dit Seigneur par la Compagnie des Secrétaires du Roy non prisé comme de droit à M de Morville ». By descent, the tapestries belonged to his granddaughter, the Marquise de La Rochefoucauld-Surgères at rue Saint-Dominique in 1760 and 1769. Five of the six pieces are known and were sold at Galerie Charpentier, Paris, on 12 March 1937, lot A-E. L’Astronome, initially exhibited at the Musée du Louvre was presented for sale at Galerie Charpentier on 12 March 1937, lot C; then in the sale of Pierre Bergé et associés, Paris, 17 June 2015, lot 277). La Récolte des ananas was sold after 1937 (lot E) in the Collection Akram Ojjeh, Christie’s Monaco, 11 December 1999, lot 61; then sold Sotheby’s New York, 23 May 2003, lot 91; and then Christie’s New York, 21 June 2012, lot 1150. Since the sale of 12 March 1937 (lots A and B), both L’Empereur en voyage and l’Audience de l’Empereur are in private collections.
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