Angola donates two important 18th century sculptures to France

Restitutions, this time the path is reversed: in fact, Angola is donating to France two important 18th-century sculptural groups once in royal residences. They will be placed one at Versailles and one at Trianon.

A singular story is that of the two 18th-century sculptures thatAngola donated to France: the case is peculiar because usually, when one hears about restitutions, the works leave France and are returned elsewhere, to their places of origin, whereas this time they take the reverse route. Although it is not really a restitution in the strict sense, since the steps were all legitimate. These are two sculptural groups, Zephyrus, Flora and Love executed by Philippe Bertrand (Paris, 1663 - 1724), René Frémin (Paris, 1672 - 1744) and Jacques Bousseau (Chavagnes-en-Paillers, 1681 - Madrid, 1740), and an Abundance by Lambert Sigisbert Adam (Nancy, 1700 - 1759), all important French sculptors of the 18th century. The works will find a home at the Château de Versalles where they are being presented Feb. 5 to June 5 in an exhibition entitled Chefs-d’oeuvre retrouvées, curated by Lionel Arsac, heritage conservator at the Château de Versailles, who is responsible for the sculptures. The works were returned after research into the various steps they took, although in reality, as will be seen, they never moved from France, although they became the property of Angola.

The group with Zephyr, Flora and Love was commissioned by Louis XIV for the gardens of the Grand Trianon, and dates from the last years of the Sun King’s reign. Begun in 1713 by Philippe Bertrand and René Frémin then completed by Jacques Bousseau in 1726, this group anticipates the gallant and light themes that began to become apparent in France in the last period of Louis XIV’s reign and would later find development and diffusion with his successor. This group was intended for the groves of Trianon used almost exclusively for the king’s use and adorned with numerous sculptures. The arrival at Versailles of this group thus makes it possible to give concrete form to one of the last dreams of Louis XIV, who saw only the preparatory version of this sculpture exhibited in his gardens.

In contrast, theAbundance, executed by Lambert Sigisbert Adam between 1753 and 1758, was commissioned by Louis XV for his residence at Choisy. The king distributed several commissions to many artists who were tasked with making sculptures for his residence, but few sculptures were actually finished at Choisy.Abundance, an allegory of prosperity rediscovered under the auspices of the peacemaking king, was particularly intended for the "Peace Forest," imagined by Charles-Antoine Coypel, the king’s first painter: it was a place that was supposed to celebrate the second Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), which ended the War of the Austrian Succession. The imagined Peace Forest was supposed to be decorated with five marble sculptures, but of this ensemble only the statue of Abundance was completed.

The entry of these two masterpieces into the collections of the National Museum of the Palaces of Versailles and Trianon was made possible by a donation from the Republic of Angola, where the works ended up in the 19th century. TheAbundance was in fact placed in 1773 in the gardens of the Château de Menars, which Abel-François Poisson, Marquis de Marigny, inherited from his sister, the Marquise de Pompadour. Director of the King’s Buildings from 1751 to 1773, Marigny benefited from the generosity of Louis XV, from whom he also obtained the gift of several sculptures kept in the royal storehouses, including Zephyr, Flora and Love el 1769. Marigny’s collection was dispersed in 1881, following a sale involving the brothers Alphonse and Edmond de Rothschild, who won some of the most valuable works. Thus, Zephyr, Flora and Love andAbundance joined the collections that Alphonse de Rothschild, a lover of 18th-century French art, had arranged in his Paris hotel on the rue de Saint-Florentin. Several archival documents, including an album of unpublished photographs, make it possible to recall the fate of these two sculptures, which were looted during the Nazi occupation of France. Returned to the family after the war, the works were placed in the garden of the Hotel Ephrussi de Rothschild in Paris, which in 1979 became home to the Angolan Embassy in France.

Forgotten for more than four decades, the two sculptures were finally identified in 2018 their identification in 2018 led to retracing their prestigious past. Given the historical and artistic value of the two works kept in the gardens of the Angolan Embassy Residence in Paris and given the efforts that the Palace of Versailles has made to reconstitute its artistic heritage, the Republic of Angola decided to donate them to France, and now the two works become part of the collections of the National Museum of the Palaces of Versailles and Trianon.

The exhibition presenting the two sculptures will seek to place Zephyr, Flora and Love andAbundance in their context of creation and inspiration. The exhibition also intends to shed light on their singular fate, from the time of their commission to their entry into national collections today. This presentation also aims to enable the audience to understand one of the aspects of the work of the curators at the Palace of Versailles: the research and identification of the works. Several paintings depicting the god of the west wind and the nymph of spring will also show the predilection for this subject at Trianon, Louis XIV’s private residence. In addition, a series of works will intend to shed light on the genesis of the sculptural group, which was strongly inspired by the large canvas that Louis de Boullogne executed in 1701 for the gallery of Fontainebleau. Unpublished works and documents will make it possible to evoke Choisy, a residence so beloved by Louis XV, as well as the castle of Menars, a jewel on the banks of the Loire. After the exhibition that will be dedicated to them, the groups will be placed in the permanent tour route, one in the castle, the other in the Grand Trianon.

Pictured are the two sculptures.

Angola donates two important 18th century sculptures to France
Angola donates two important 18th century sculptures to France

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