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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  1. What a piece!! And a story as well. Even if it isn't true, it is an amazing piece of furniture... but as romantics we sure do want to believe the tale don't we?
    Hoping you get in inside soon and can work on it... It will be even more beautiful I am sure.
    Hugs, Gee

  2. I love the story within the story! The cabinet is beautiful, your hubby & son are keepers. Looking forward to seeing this cabinet painted and treated to a still longer life. Amazing discovery! Thank you for sharing today. Blessings to you and a toast with a bottle of fine wine...........Marcy Ray

  3. yes Amy, I know the situation well, and have lived it a few times myself. we feel so bad to have them go thru all the pain and frustration, but gee, I think this one's worth it. Here's hoping the next part of it's journey is "cuss-free"! Can't wait to see what you do with this amazing French beauty!

  4. I love the story of this chest....can't wait to see what you do with is lovely....

  5. That is one of the coolest stories I've ever heard about a piece of furniture, Amy! Wow. What an amazing cabinet! I can empathize with you about the work of getting it into the space you had envisioned it. There have been some not-so-delicate words thrown around here at times, too. lol But all, by golly.....when we see the vision, we gals just KNOW it can be done one way or another, right? lol Can hardly wait to see it all settled in. But don't forget to take pics of it getting there! lol

    xoxo laurie

  6. Wow, that was worth the read and I'm sure the adventure for you on your end! I have been to Versailles and toured the Petit Trianon of Marie Antoinette. What an experience! And for that old French cabinet to have been intended for her from her suitor who tried to free her from exile? How different history would have been had he succeeded! It's all almost too much to even fathom, congrats on that piece with such a rich history! Can't wait to see the way you use it and where it ends up. I know all too well the moans, groans, words and demeanor of the men who just can't understand a- n -o -t -h -e -r cabinet or French chair or side table etc. But, we just have to have them! I get it! Lol

    Cathy :-)

  7. Great story. I suggest you make a replica out of cardboard and practice getting it into the house with that.

  8. And did you not offer the laborers a glass of vino? And a chair? Or were they so tired they just dropped where they stood...?LOL

    Nice story and I hope you can find further info. It's a long shot, but the Bath Marine Museum in Bath Maine might have something about this Count. There could be shipping records. Fascinating topic for a working researcher, but I'm too far away(and too old) to give it a go.

    Its worth mentioning, maybe, that my late sweetie used to say that every item you want to sell needs a story to go with it. If you were willing to be dis-illusioned you might want to check that there really was a great aunt mary. Guess I'd rather not know, actually.
    A practical question: Did you have a particular reason for not removing the doors before this toil and struggle? MIght have made it a wee but easier. But is there some feature of the hinges or other impediment we might be interested in?

    My next question is: It's just gone 6 am and why am I up on the computer so early when I have a shopping expedition planned to my preferred thrifts 2 counties away from here. All that driving on too little sleep......

  9. I am so glad that someone who values it will have it. Thanks for saving it. (One note - it wasn't Mum who stripped it, it was Aunt Mary's little man.....)

  10. Wow, that is huge! I have been in your shoes and heard those words as I "enlisted" my hubby to move stuff for me! Enjoy the view and the wine.

  11. what a delightful story, Amy. I'm glad that your hubby came up with a solution to the problem, and you will have your gorgeous cabinet exactly where you envisioned it to be. I'm sure it will be even more beautiful once you've finished with it. If you ever move, you will have to disassemble it!! lol.

  12. What a tale -- yours and Marie's! Your husband is the best to actually get a window removed and move the piece up that way. You have to be extra nice to him. ;>)

  13. Wow....what a beauty.....and I have found some gorgeous cabinets in France but they were huge...I cannot wait to see what you do with this beauty!

  14. Oh, dear! We've all been through some version of that adventure!! Best of luck!! xo Leslie

  15. Love the back story. How lucky you are to have a hubby who will cook down and figure out a way.

  16. Great story. I missed out on a great deal on a cabinet because of the size of it. Too large and tall for my ceilings. Could you find a home for it on the first floor. I could see it in a kitchen filled with linens and whatnots with the doors standing opened.

  17. That's a beautiful piece! I can relate to struggling to bring large furniture in and out of a house. Our house has a lot of stairs and a sharp turn at the top of the stairs so it's no easy task. When my oldest son moved out last month, it was one of those "hold your breath" moments watching it happen! Can't wait to see what you do with that piece.

  18. What a wonderful story and what a wonderful cabinet I know you will make it beautiful once again

  19. What an amazing piece. Been there done that with pieces that just could not turn a corner or make it into its space. This armoire looks amazing in the yard as well.

    Amy I have to tell you, this very thing happened to a friend of mine with a Hutch top that would not fit the height but the bottom part was what she wanted most, so the massive hutch stayed out I. The yard and her husband mounted it to the ground with cement pilings and turned the hutch into a chicken coop, with a chicken run and all for them to be able to get inside, there way laying boxes made for the top and the doors were latched shut and easy opening for egg retrival.
    Not empling that you turn it into a chicken coop, but just showing a vision of what a friend had to do to her miss fortunate fit.

    It's a wonderful piece


  20. Love the story and love the cabinet too! Cannot wait to see how it evolves Amy!!!


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