Monday, July 20, 2015

An 18th Century Cabinet intended for Marie Antoinette is mine!

A French Linen Press dating from the 18th century has come into my possession.
It all started with this photo sent via email to me from one of my Chalk Paint 
graduates asking if I might be interested.  She was moving and had to let it go.
It needed restoration of the top crown molding and the bottom, but the rest of it
was in solid shape.  Well I fell in love with the cabinet in all its worn out faded glory.
I had never owned a French cabinet this old, and the older the better in my mind.
I gingerly told Mr. Maison Decor that I had interest in picking up an old French cabinet.
He was not enamored of the idea.  Considering we have 4 cabinets in our dining room at the
present time (overflow from closing my shop) I could kind of see his point.
However, I could see the carved panels and the beauty in this old piece and I just had 
to have it.  After all, Justin and his wife had just moved out into a bigger place,
which meant my son Colin would move out of my old former home office into
their basement apartment, freeing up a large room that could hold this new old cabinet.
 Later that day we found ourselves in a very tight underground garage 
with Mr. Maison Decor's truck. The cabinet was so wide that it wouldn't fit all the
 way in, so he strapped it in, with about two feet hanging off the back tail gate.
 It felt like Christmas morning for me! I was the only one smiling, as all the guys in the house were
 against the acquisition.  (Except Justin who said if I didn't  want the cabinet he did).
While standing in the garage something startling happened. 
While hubby and the seller's husband were securing the linen press, 
the seller started to tell me that there was a bit of a story associated to this piece. 
 That the story goes it is was actually commissioned for Marie Antoinette, by her lover, 
the Count Axel Von Fersen of Sweden. 
It seems he hoped she might live with him if he could free her from prison and so he furnished an entire house for her.  If you look up Count Axel Von Fersen you will see that he was indeed the lover of Marie Antoinette, and he remained in love with her his entire life.  He visited her in Versailles many times, and had a room above hers at her country palace.  There has been much documentation to their relationship.  He tried to help her escape when her life was in danger, and was not successful. 
The seller wrote me this account of the cabinet:
  "My Great Aunt Mary's story (she was born in 1896 and died in 1987) was that she bought it in Maine and one of her favored workmen was charged with refinishing it. They stripped it because they did not recognize that the painted rococo style on the blue ground was the authentic original finish of the cabinet.  She asserted that it was a piece that ended up in Maine because Count Axel Fersen (Swedish, fought with Rochambeau in the American Revolution and devoted cavalier of Marie Antoinette altho most agree that their relationship was chivalric but not sexual) had furnished a house there that he hoped to take her to after he sprang her from her imprisonment in France.  All his plots in that direction came to naught."
The Count and Marie originally met at a masked ball, which is featured in scenes from the movie, Marie Antoinette, by Sophia Coppola.  Marie fell hard.  He was a dashing soldier with ties to the Royal Family of Sweden, but chose to serve in the war, and even traveling to the United States for a year, living in Newport, Rhode Island, fighting with the Americans in the Revolutionary War.  It was a remarkable love affair in history.  So could I possibly be in possession of a French Linen Press that was intended for Marie Antoinette?!  Wouldn't that be totally amazing?  And if it were, how did the cabinet end up in a garage in Lexington Mass, where it would be for sale at a most reasonable price?  
I will try to get some more documentation, but this story for now, is as good as it gets! 
Once we got the cabinet home, we enlisted Colin's help to drag it inside.
There were smiles at the very beginning of the moving stage.
But that would soon change.
This photograph doesn't show the difficulty these two had just getting it inside and up the stairs.
That was as far as the antique linen press would go.  It hit the ceiling and they couldn't get it
to turn the corner. The spacing was too darn tight.  So now it was back down the stairs, and that was
even more scary than trying to bring it up the stairs.  I was crushed with disappointment. Hubby was at his wits end, and Colin was mad too.  Why, oh why, did I need to get this cabinet they wondered aloud in not exactly those words.  Lots of grunting and sweating and words not be repeated were happening in the stairwell as the cabinet was brought back down. 
I could see it crushing my husband with one slip up.
Back outside and onto the dolly it went.  Colin was not a happy camper. 
 He had better things to do, like move his own furniture into his new apartment 
in our basement.  It was 90 degrees and humid.
I wondered what could I do with this huge cabinet now that it sat outside.
My wire garden furniture was all tossed aside as we prepared to position it underneath the tree for the time being.  I suggested maybe I should just salvage the doors and do away with the rest.  No one was speaking to me.  It was not fun times, it seemed no one but me saw the brilliant part of buying old French cabinets.  This piece had giant crown molding and shelves inside, just waiting to be reattached and put into use.  Apparently it was originally painted in a pretty blue color but the seller's Great Aunt Mary had stripped the cabinet, leaving behind the tell tale remains of blue paint.  That made sense to me, as most country French pieces made from pine wood were painted.  It really was a lovely cabinet and I hated to think of just ripping it apart and using the doors.  
But then the dust settled and my husband came back to his kinder gentler self and the next thing I know he set two large landscape timbers on the ground under the tree.  He insisted it not be set right on the ground so it wouldn't get any further damage.  He said it was a great cabinet and he would get one of his excavators over to our house and take out the window of my new work room and hoist it inside!  And just like that it was going to have a happy ending!! I was beyond happy as I set up our wire furniture to face the old French cabinet.  A glass of wine in hand,  I sat there and enjoyed it and thought about Count Axel Von Fersen and his paramour Marie Antoinette.  
It was all so romantic and historic.  Just the kind of thing I liked.
For now we have laid a tarp over it and anchored it to the tree until hoisting day.
I hope you enjoyed the little adventure I had this weekend. 
All's well that ends well, and as for Marie Antoinette, we know that not to be the case.
I hope for myself and this cabinet we will enjoy a better fate.

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