Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Gift from Marie-Antoinette: An Elegant Traveling Case, c. 1780

Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Isabella reporting,

On Tuesday, Christie's held a sale in Paris entitled Collection Marie-Antoinette, featuring dozens of artworks and other items that were linked in one way or another to the doomed French queen. Not surprisingly, a number of items sold above the estimate, and in a few cases, far, far above. A humble woven basket with a history of having been used by the queen during her last imprisonment at la Conciergerie had a pre-sale estimate of $884-$1,326, but instead sold for $11,736!

According to the engraved brass plaque on the lid, this traveling case was a gift from the queen to Madame Auguie of Lascans sometime between 1773-1786. In French, the case is more elegantly called a necessaire de voyage, and for a lady traveling in the 18thc., it did in fact contain every little necessity for a journey. Wealthy travelers didn't expect many amenities along the way, and planned accordingly - and luxuriously.

This mahogany case is a wonderful example of what to bring. Among the things packed inside the relatively small case (it's about 18" long) are a small teapot, two teacups, and a box for loose tea; a box with perforated lid for hair powder; an oval mirror; a basin for washing; a pair of candlesticks with bases that unscrewed to for packing; a gilt fruit knife; an inkwell, a funnel, and an hourglass, as well as assorted boxes and jars for cosmetics and creams. In addition there's a smaller shagreen-covered case that housed more personal items, such as manicure tools, a comb, and a razor.

Everything has its fitted place within the case, making it easier for a maid to find and repack each item, and to keep it all secure while being jostled in a carriage. Not surprisingly, the case and its components were the work of a small team of the best specialized craftsmen in 18thc. Paris, including Jean-Etienne Langlois, Gabriel Gerbu, Antoine-Gaspard Lorett, Francois Corbett, and Pierre-Claude Mottie.

Christie's description of the case notes that a few things have been lost over time, but it's hard to imagine what else a lady might need. The case was passed down through the family until it was finally sold to a private collector in 1955, and now again today. I would guess that its connection to Marie-Antoinette made it a treasured heirloom, even a relic, which helped it remain so complete today.

If you're curious to see more from the sale, the results have already been posted online here. And if you'd like to compare this case to later traveling cases, here's a blog post featuring one from 1870, and another from 1920.

Above: Traveling case (necessaire de voyage), made in Paris, 1773-1786. Photograph courtesy of Christie's.


Hels said...

Although we tend to think that the royals and the wealthy exploited the working families appallingly, sometimes the royals knew what they were doing. Your travelling case was extremely useful and must have looked very smart.

There is a difference, I think, between needing soap, comb, scissors, creams and tablets Vs a small teapot, two teacups and a tea caddy etc. However if the valet is carrying the case, weight does not matter.

Jemimagold said...

Fascinating! Thank you for sharing.

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