Etienne de Lavallée
Rare set of six neoclassical “Arabesque” panels
Oil on canvas and oil on panel
Height : 179 cm (70 1/2 in.) ; Width of the 6 panels : 177 cm (69 2/3 in.) – Each : 29,5 cm (11 2/3 in.)
By repute made for the “grand salon” of the private mansion of Laurent Grimod de La Reynière (1733-1793), in Boissy d’Anglas Street (Paris 8th).
The panels :
These six panels present a neoclassical decor with arabesques and medallions with antique style scenes. This decor is adorned with figures, vases, valances, animals and plant foliage painted on a white background.
The important acanthus scrolls adorning four of these panels are inhabited by small rodents running on foliage.
Similar acanthuses with rodents depicted on our panels are found on a print of a preparatory drawing made for a part of the decoration of the Hotel Grimod de La Reynière painted by Etienne de Lavallée.
(Engraved plate, composition attributed to the painter Etienne de Lavallée, Collection Maciet, Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.)
A valuable watercolour drawing made in 1782 by the Polish architect Jan Christyan Kamsetzer (1753-1793) during his visit at the Hotel Grimod de La Reynière lets us admire the complete set of wall panels painted by Charles-Louis Clérisseau and Etienne de Lavallée for the “grand salon”. It’s interesting to note that this decor composition alternates similar vertical acanthus scrolls decorated panels between larger panels ornated with centering medallions. This superb set of panels with arabesques and storied medallions constituted then the first neoclassical decor of the time (watercolour preserved at the Drawings Dept., Warsaw University Library, Poland (Inv. Zb.d. 8137 – Royal collection T. 173 n° 249).
The salon of the Hotel Grimod de La Reynière :
Laurent Grimod de La Reynière was a fermier général and a deputy postmaster, and he was a financier under the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI. Enriched during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), he first owned a mansion in Grange-Batelière Street in Paris before acquiring in 1769 a land located Boissy d’Anglas Street to build his new mansion. In June 1779, it was ready to be decorated and the decor of the “grand salon” was entrusted to Charles-Louis Clérisseau et Etienne de Lavallée. They performed there a neoclassical decor with arabesques and historical paintings in medallions alternating vertical scrolls – decor which was the first set of this type. The arabesque style developped later in France in the years 1780-1790.
The Hotel Grimod de La Reynière was bought in 1928 by the United States Government, and was at that date razed to build the new embassy of the United States. The decoration of the hotel is however known from drawings made by Jan Christyan Kamsetzer. The wood pannelings making up the decor of the living room were scattered in the middle of the nineteenth century; a portion was transferred to Ashburnham Place (Sussex), probably at the request of the 4th Earl of Ashburnham, who resided at the hotel Grimod de La Reynière as ambassador. Acquired in 1955 by the National Art Collection Fund on the sale of the Ashburnham estate, these panels were then offered to the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, where they are now preserved (Inv. W.2-1957).
Etienne de Lavallée, called Lavallée-Poussin (1733-1793): first student of Jean-Baptiste Descamp (1714-1791) and Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre (1714-1789), painter of the King, Etienne de Lavallée studied then in 1762 at the Academy of France in Rome. It was during his stay in Italy he began painting landscapes for which he adopted a similar style to that of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) which earned him the nickname “Lavallée-Poussin”. Continuing his life in Rome, he became a member of the Academy of the Arcades before returning to Paris in 1777. He participated then with Charles-Louis Clérisseau in the decoration of the Hotel Grimod de la Reynière for the arabesque decor of the “grand salon”; he also worked with the Gobelins tapestry manufacture to which he delivered tapestries cartoons on the theme of the story of Alexander and the conquest of India. In 1787, he published a Nouvelle collection d’arabesques propres à la décoration des appartements, a collection of 10 books of ornaments that had some success (reissued in 1806). Etienne de Lavallée was finally received at the Royal Academy of Painting at the end of his career in 1789.
Charles-Louis Clérisseau (1721-1820): pupil of the architect Germain Boffrand (1667-1754), Charles-Louis Clérisseau won the Prix de Rome in 1751. He used his training as an architect during his trip in Italy, where he drew many ancient monuments; it was then that he made the acquaintance of Robert Adam (1728-1792), founder in England of the return to antiquity, and with whom he made his Grand Tour. Back in France, Clérisseau participated with Etienne de Lavallée in the interior design of the Hotel Grimod de la Reynière. If he was a painter, he did not abandon architecture and gave plans to Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796) for an antique villa (which was never built); the latter then appointed him architect of the Imperial Court of Russia and member of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. Also between 1785 and 1789, Charles-Louis Clérisseau made a model for the Ambassador of the United States in Paris, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), which inspired the latter to build the Virginia State Capitol.
Wood panels painted by Charles-Louis Clérisseau and Etienne de Lavallée, coming from the “grand salon” of the Hotel Grimod de La Reynière, preserved at the Victoria and Albert’s Museum, London (Inv. W.2-1957).
– Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, Thieme-Becker, Verlag E. A. Seeman, 1907-1953.
– Collection Maciet, N°229/12, Arabesques, France XVIIIe siècle, Artistes G à M, Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.
– Charles-Louis Clérisseau and the Genesis of Neo-Classicism, Thomas J. Mc Cormick, 1990, p. 163-178.
– Le salon de M. de La Reynière nouvellement décoré par M. Clérisseau, in Almanach des artistes, 1777, p. 84-86.
– La décoration de l’hôtel de La Reynière d’après les dessins de l’architecte polonais Kamsetzer, in Bulletin de la société de l’Histoire de l’Art Français, 1937, vol. I, p. 7-16.