From the Exhibition:

Salvaging the Past: Georges Hoentschel and French Decorative Arts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Focusing on a remarkable but little-known collection that entered the Metropolitan Museum as a gift of J. Pierpont Morgan in the early twentieth century, Salvaging the Past features more than two hundred objects of primarily medieval art and French eighteenth-century paneling, furniture, metalwork, textiles, paintings, and sculpture, as well as late nineteenth-century art pottery, most of which have rarely been viewed since the 1950s. The fourth in a series of collaborations between The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the BGC, the exhibition provides the first comprehensive examination of Georges Hoentschel—a significant figure in the history of collecting—and illuminates an understudied and critical chapter of the Metropolitan’s history.

Many of the pieces in the Hoentschel collection are orphans, fragments that lack a secure provenance and a firm attribution, notwithstanding their high quality. Although many are surely destined to remain anonymous, discoveries are the inevitable result of the recent cataloguing and publication of the long-dormant collection. In 2007 French art historians researching the home of one of the most illustrious men of Louis XV’s court, the duc Étienne-François de Choiseul (1719–1785), uncovered a drawing of the duc’s study that had descended in the Choiseul family.1 The drawing revealed—quite miraculously—that a suite of six anonymous overdoor panels in the Hoentschel collection, along with an elaborately carved door, had once formed part of the interior scheme at the château de Chanteloup, the country home the duc had purchased in 1761.2 This discovery was extraordinary because few renderings of eighteenth-century interiors can be connected with objects that survive into the present, and because almost all components of the room can be identified today in private and public collections. The duc de Choiseul was a distinguished statesman and an exceptionally well-placed courtier who lavished vast sums on the decoration of Chanteloup. He was also ambassador to the Vatican between 1753 and 1757, and the Hoentschel panels, now firmly attributed, are able to speak in the manner in which they were originally intended—that is, as a statement of one man’s learning, diplomatic career, and relatively early embrace of neoclassicism.

One overdoor from the suite depicting Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508–1580) was included in the exhibition, but five more boiserie overdoors survive in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection.3 Composed of deeply carved panels with central medallions representing the most esteemed neoclassical architects and artists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the group represents the culmination of Choiseul’s successful ambassadorship to the Vatican, as well as a judicious combination of late rococo exuberance and overt neoclassical solemnity. At the center of each panel, large bust-length medallions of Palladio, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), Giacomo Vignola (1507–1573), Annibale Carracci (1560–1609), Pietro da Cortona (1596/7–1669), and Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) are carved in low relief.4 Crowned by pendulous gilded festoons of flowers, the portraits are also surrounded by two branches of laurel that appear to rest on the panels’ lower edge, tied at the center with an elaborate bow.

Today best known for its garden pavilion in the shape of a pagoda, the château de Chanteloup was one of the most magnificent country houses of its time, as evidenced by the views of its expansive grounds on a painted box in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection.5 Situated relatively far from Paris in the province of Touraine, the château was purchased by Choiseul in February 1761, when he was still the principal governmental minister to Louis XV and held the favor of the king’s influential former mistress, Madame de Pompadour (1721–1764), his close friend.6 After the signing of the treaty of Paris in 1763 (ending the Seven Years’ War) and the death of Pompadour the following year, Choiseul fell into disfavor with the succeeding maîtresse-en-titre, Madame du Barry, and was exiled to Chanteloup in 1770. In the words of English traveler Arthur Young, who visited the château after Choiseul’s death, “Chanteloup would neither have been built nor decorated, nor furnished, if the duke had not been exiled,” as it was only after his banishment that he seriously took up the furnishing of this glorified country home.7

Called a “petit cabinet de travail” by another English visitor, Mrs. Cradock, in 1785, the chamber in which these panels were installed was dominated by four magnificent canvases depicting fantastic views of Roman sculpture, paintings, and architecture that Choiseul had commissioned from the artist Giovanni Paolo Panini between 1756 and 1757; these were dispersed after the duke’s death in 1785 and are now in various collections.8 A roll-top secrétaire, possibly by Jean-François Oeben, was flanked by two windows, and a bureau plat (of which only the cartonnier was represented in the drawing) stood across the room, on which Choiseul could have read the books that filled the cases below the guilloche chair rail.9

Christian Baulez has proposed that Choiseul’s architect Louis-Denis Le Camus directed the execution of these panels by the sculptor Jean-François-Antoine Boulanger and the painter-gilder Jean-Gilles Ramier; all of them were known to have worked for the duc around the time that the room is thought to have been constructed.10 The portraits of Bernini and Cortona derive from the work of the medallist François Chéron (1635–1698), but the sources for the other portraits remains unidentified.11 Overall, the panels strongly recall the decorative vignettes incorporating profile medallions of famous artists designed by Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre and engraved by Claude-Henri Watelet for the latter’s L’Art de peindre, poëme, published in 1760.12 Remarkably, in additional to these six overdoors, the original door for this room, featuring a central cartouche with an allegory of spring, survives in the Hoentschel collection.13 The door was probably carved after a design by Henri Salembier (1752–1820) or, as Baulez suggests, Charles-Louis Clérisseau (1721–1820).

In 1968, during the original installation of the Wrightsman Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum, four of the panels (Bernini, Vignola, Carracci, and Cortona) were sent to the fashionable Paris firm Jansen to be altered and reframed to decorate the new Louis XVI gallery. Ultimately, only two of the original pieces, Bernini and Vignola, were displayed in the galleries (where they remain); the Carracci and Cortona medallions were copied and installed in newly carved boiseries that exceeded the dimensions of the original panels in order to better fit the room. These panels represent not only the continued possibility of new discoveries and attributions within the Hoentschel collection but also the relatively recent adaptation of Hoentschel pieces for display.

William DeGregorio received his master’s degree from the BGC in 2012 and was part of group of BGC students who researched and wrote about objects formerly in the collection of Georges Hoentschel for the exhibition and publication Salvaging the Past: Georges Hoentschel and French Decorative Arts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1.See Véronique Moreau, “Le Cabinet du duc de Choiseul à Chanteloup,” in Chanteloup: Un moment de grâce autour du duc de Choiseul, ed. Véronique Moreau (Tours: Musée des beaux-arts, 2007), 230–32.

2.There were originally probably nine panels, as Christian Baulez cites a document recording that the citizens Plancher and Clavier reserved “neuf frises conçues autour des neuf médaillons représentant différents auteurs” in vendémiaire of an III (1795) from the house. See “Les boiseries du cabinet intérieur du duc de Choiseul à Chanteloup: Essai d’attribution,” in Chanteloup: Un moment de grâce autour du duc de Choiseul, 235, for more information.

3.The accession numbers of the other panels are accession numbers 07.225.464a, b, c, d, and f. See

4.All are identified by name within the medallions. The text that identifies the portrait of Palladio was altered before entering the museum. Originally, the architect’s name was spelled phonetically for French pronunciation, “Palladiaux,” and evidence of these extra letters can be seen on the paint surface today.

5.Accession number 1976.155.22; see This box was probably painted by Louis-Nicolas Blarenberghe (1716–1794) about 1749, when the estate still belonged to the marquis Louis d’Armentières.

6.Véronique Moreau, “Choiseul: Un moment de grâce pour Chanteloup,” in Chanteloup: Un moment de grâce autour du duc de Choiseul, ed. Véronique Moreau (Tours: Musée des beaux-arts, 2007), 21.

7.Arthur Young, Travels in France by Arthur Young During the Years 1787, 1788, 1789 (London: George Bell and Sons, 1890), 77.

8.The four original canvases are now in the Boston Athenæum (Interior of St. Peter’s, Rome; see; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Picture Gallery with Views of Modern Rome, 1975.805; see; the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (Interior of an Imaginary Picture Gallery with Views of Ancient Rome, inv. 3315; see; and the collection of the Duke of Sutherland at Mertoun House, Melrose, Scotland (View of St. Peter’s Square). Copies of two of these views are now in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection as well (52.63.1–2); see For more information, see Edgar Peters Bowron, “Interior of an Imaginary Picture Gallery with Views of Ancient Rome” and “Interior of an Imaginary Picture Gallery with Views of Modern Rome,” in Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Edgar Peters Bowron and Joseph J. Rishel (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2000), 425–27; and Hina Hirayama, “Interior of St. Peter’s, Rome,” in Acquired Tastes: 200 Years of Collecting for the Boston Athenæum, ed. Stanley Ellis Cushing and David D. Dearinger (Boston: The Boston Athenæum, 2006), 197.

9.This bureau is identifiable as one now at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours (inv. 794-2-2; see, attributed to Simon Oeben (ca. 1722–1786; master in 1769). For more information on the furnishings of this room, see Moreau, “Le Cabinet du duc de Choiseul à Chanteloup,” 230–32.

10.Baulez, “Les boiseries du cabinet intérieur du duc de Choiseul à Chanteloup,” 238.

11.Josèphe Jacquiot, La Médaille au temps de Louis XIV, exh. cat. (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1970), 119–20.

12.See Claude-Henri Watelet, L’art de peindre, poëme: avec des réflexions sur les différentes parties de la peinture (Paris: H.L. Guerin & L.F. Delatour, 1760), 97, for the image of Correggio, which most strongly recalls the Chanteloup panels.

13.The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 07.225.465; see