Our painting is an intriguing combination of a chinoiserie with a singerie dating from the reign of King Louis XV. It testifies of the fascination for an exotic idealized China that is combined with a monkey scene in which the animals are dressed and behave like humans.
It must have served as a dessus-de-porte and it must therefore have been part of a large decorative scheme of a salon.
Unfortunately I was not able to find an attribution for this painting. It stands close to Christophe Huet, who specialized in both chinoiseries and singeries.
Chinoiserie was the product of the European fascination with China. The idealized image of China was first disseminated in France by abundant accounts written by Jesuit missionaries in China and compiled by their colleagues in Europe. Later followed a bulk of import of Chinese objects, followed by exotic theatre plays and intelectual writings about the well-governed country and Confucian philosophy holding elements corresponding closely to the ideas of Enlightenment.
Extending from the second half of seventeenth century to the second half of the eighteenth century, it was based on European invention and imagination and reflected in European interior design, decorative art, architecture, painting and special events and occasions. The fashion started during the reign of Louis XIV and was at its height, from the 1740s to the 1760s.
The artistic prdouction of Chinese subjects in France in the 18th century should be seen in a context pervaded by a favorable French conception of China , which turned almost into an obsession. In these pastiches, mixing Western and Eastern elements, artists created an idealised, highly artificial representation of China: many elements were inspired rather loosely by original Chinese objects and their decoration, with little regard for the original designs and meanings. The result: a well-fantasized exotism within an Oriental pastoral setting.
Antoine Watteau painted already at the start of the 18th century (circa 1708/1716) a set of decorative paintings for a small room at the Château de la Muette. These are known today from a set of 30 prints published in 1731 and again in 1734. Only two of the original paintings are still known today. They surfaced at a Sotheby’s sale in April 2015 in New York.
One of the engravers of the Watteau paintings was François Boucher; he engraved 12 subjects. He must have been strongly impressed by Watteau’s compositions for in the 1740s he himself created several chinoiseries: a set of engravings and drawings made between 1738 and 1745, followed by a ten-piece set of sketches, today at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Besançon, for a tapestry series that was to be produced at the Beauvais factory entitled La Tenture Chinoise. Only six of these were actually translated into tapestries, though they were very popular. At least ten sets of six tapestries were woven in Beauvais. In 1765 King Louis XV had even presented one set to the Chinese emperor Qianlong, who hung it in one of the pavilions of his summer palace. The same designs were also copied at the tapestry manufacture of Aubusson.
Singeries are monkey scenes in which the animals are dressed and behave like humans. These genre scene paintings usually hold a mild form of satire. The monkeys mimic the leisure activities of the nobility; they drink, hunt, dance, play musical instruments or cards.
The fashion started in France under Louis XIV with the decorator and designer Jean Berain (1640 – 1711). Singeries became very popular during the reign of the French king Louis XV.
Christophe Huet combined in his paintings on canvas and in his decorative schemes in palaces in and around Paris chinoiseries with singeries.
About Christophe Huet
Pontoise 1700 – 1759 Paris
Rococo painter of singeries and of chinoiseries: paintings with monkeys, often dressed and behaving as men, and paintings with exotic, Chinese figures.
Son of a goldsmith, whose first name was also Christophe. Therefore he should in fact be called Christophe II Huet.
His nephew, Jean-Baptiste Huet (1745 – 1811), painted pastoral genre scenes and animals.
It is not known whom Christophe Huet studied painting with, possibly one of the two great French animal painters: Alexandre-François Desportes (1661 – 1743) or Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686 – 1755).
He collaborated in 1733 with the old decorator Claude III Audran in the paintings of the famous Salon Doré, since then destroyed, in the Castle of Anet. Audran (1658 – 1734) had been the master of Antoine Watteau (1684 – 1721) in 1708/1709. In 1804 the largest part of the castle was destroyed. Today the castle is best known for its grand Renaissance fountain sculpture of Diana and the stag, now at the Louvre. Contemporary guidebooks tell us that the Salon was decorated in the grotesque genre with classical gods mingling with monkeys, zephyrs, birds, men and dragonflies.
Huet joined the Academy of Saint Luc in Paris in 1734.
The Grande Singerie at the Castle of Chantilly (N of Paris) is today attributed to Christophe Huet. Since the date of 1737 was discovered on a block of stone that a monkey-sculptor is working on, the complete decoration could no longer be attributed to one of the three other great French Rococo painters of Singeries: Watteau died in 1721 (at the age of 36) and Audran in 1734 (aged 75); the third early Rococo specialist of Singeries, Claude Gillot (1673 – 1722), who by the way had also been one of the masters of Watteau, passed away in 1722 at the age of 49.
At the same Castle of Chantilly Christophe Huet also painted the Petite Singerie, downstairs on the ground floor.
On the ground floor of the classical Château de Champs-sur-Marne (E of Paris) Huet painted in the 1740s two salons with chinoiseries:
- the Chinese Salon, where he mingled chinoiseries and singeries in subjects inspired by gardening, hunting, fishing, games and love;
- the adjoining cabinet, painted only in blue tonalities inspired by Ming and Qing porcelain.
In 1749/1750 Huet painted the “cabinet des singes” at the magnificent Hôtel de Rohan in the quartier du Marais in Paris. Today it forms, together with the Hôtel de Soubise, the National French Archives. The panelling and the entrance door are painted with Chinese figures playing European games. The set is considered one of the highlights of decoration under King Louis XV.
The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC has a set of six Singeries that originally decorated a salon in the Castle of La Norville. These paintings are not dated.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because one has here the unique opportunity of buying a French canvas, dating from the middle of the 18th century, combining the subjects of an exotic chinoiserie with a witty singerie.
As our painting originally must have served as a dessus-de-porte, it might therefore have been part of a decorative scheme of a salon in a French castle, palace or grand mansion. Most or such designs are either still in place or have been transferred to museums. So again, you have here a rare opportunity of acquiring such a painting.