Marie Antoinette's Turkish Treasures at The Frick

On a balmy Tuesday afternoon, Lesley Blume and I swaggered over to The Frick to have a private tour of the newest exhibit, Turkish Taste at the Court of Marie-Antoinette.
Exoticism and my favorite Queen all in one exhibit? S’il vous plait!

We met our favorite flapper Heidi Rosenau in the vestibule of the museum (wearing a very nautical 1930’s look) and she escorted us to the tiny room where the treasures are being shown. At first I was disappointed that it wasn’t a full floor of objects but once we began discussing each of the six objects my head was already swimming in a Turkish bath of beauty.

Heidi gave us the rundown of each piece and later, my new neighbor Charlotte Vignon, who is Associate Curator of Decorative Arts at The Frick provided much of the background of the curious and short-lived trend.

France had a love affair with anything exotic and when in 1721 Mehmed Efendi visited Louis XV the royal court was sent into an Arab frenzy. But it was when Marie Antoinette became Queen in 1774 that the trend really took off.

Boudoirs Turcs became all the rage with royals and were always small, personal rooms for close friends (opposed to state rooms), which were mirrored and full of the highest quality furniture and objects. Although the Queen had one created at Versailles and Fontainebleau, the one at the latter is the only one still in existence. It is not open to the public because of it’s size and location but Charlotte being who she is got access and showed us pictures of this amazing little chamber which I hope one day will be open to the plebes like me!

Sadly, the Turkish trend fizzled when Marie Antoinette and the Ancien Regime were carted off to the guillotine. But lucky for us there are a few pieces that survived that can transport us back to those decadent, debaucherous days.

Below are images from the show and my notes on each. Hop on your magic carpet and check out this magical little nook of delicious, dreamy works of art. On view till September 11th.

Pair of Firedogs with a Seated Dromedary
from Marie-Antoinette’s Turkish boudoir at the Château de Fontainebleau, 1777

These dandified dromedaries were all the rage in the Queens court.
Crafted by good ole Pierre Gouthière, the greatest bronze-maker, chaser, and gilder of his time I can only imagine a little fire roaring behind them as M.A. giggled over court gossip. I wasn’t really aware there are camels in Turkey but on further investigation they do indeed reside there and they are known for their wrestling!

Attributed to Jean-Siméon Rousseau de la Rottière (1747–1820) and Jules-Hugues Rousseau (1743–1806)
Pair of Panels from the comte d’Artois’s Turkish Room at Versailles, 1781

In truth I can’t give M.A. all the credit for the Turkish delights. The comte d’Artois, Louis the XVI younger brother actually started the trend around the same time and created his own room in Versailles. These panels come from that room which he used as a library. There are six in existence and the rest are in Paris. The cherubs in turbans give me the major creeps but Lesley and I both gasped at the beauty and the sensuality of the interlocking mermaids on the bottom of the panels.

Pair of Small Console Tables, c. 1780 Gilded and painted beech and walnut with marble tabletop

Although the early history of these tables is unknown their exceptional quality suggest they were once in royal hands. These are the inspiration for the exhibit since they are in the Frick collection.
From mermaids to Blackamoor mermen, Lesley and I nearly had to go outside for some fresh air we got so excited. The crossed crescents at the tops of the tables also evoke the Turkish trend.
Charlotte explained that the Blackamoors and central garlands are all carved out of one solid piece of wood. Impressive. The tables are displayed one at eye level and one, as it would stand on the floor. Charlotte told us they did that so we could see the detail of the tables up close but also when you look down at the lower table one of the mermen is staring directly back at you. We went gaga over his silver earrings and his turban, which was originally gilded in platinum.

To make these tables even more divine, Mr. Frick bought them on suggestion from the legendary Elsie de Wolfe. Cant you imagine her saying, “Henwy those Toikish toibles with toibins are a must!”