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Museum Home Education Search Lesson Plans All Curricula Looking at Decorative Arts: Lessons and Ideas for Discussion Lesson Plans Looking at French Decorative Arts: Makers of Nothing, Sellers of Everything
Looking at French Decorative Arts: Makers of Nothing, Sellers of Everything

Grades/Level: Middle School (6–8)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: Single Class Lesson
One class period
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

Lesson Overview

Students will imagine that they are an 18th-century marchand-mercier, or salesman, and will write a persuasive letter to sell a French bed, the Lit à la Polonaise, along with other bedroom furnishings, for a client.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:
• compare the role of a marchand-mercier to that of his modern-day business counterpart.
• write a persuasive letter selling the Lit à la Polonaise to a client.
• create multiple-paragraph expository compositions.


• Image of the Bed (Lit à la Polonaise)
• Paper
• Pens

Lesson Steps

1. Using the information below, explain to students the role of the marchand-mercier in the creation of decorative arts in France in the 1700s.

Marchands-merciers were French dealer-decorators who employed artists to provide designs for furniture and decorative arts objects and then engaged various craftsmen to execute them for sale in shops. Marchands-merciers also arranged for the cleaning, repair, and alteration of objects for their customers. Marchands-merciers were known as "makers of nothing, sellers of everything."

Guild rules forbade these dealers from manufacturing anything themselves, so instead they became trendsetters, inventing specialized furniture forms, such as the Writing and Toilette Table, to tempt their wealthy clients. Marchands-merciers were also responsible for introducing many new fashions into France, including Japanese lacquer panels, which were cut out of imported Japanese boxes or screens and then fitted into French-designed furniture. Later, marchands-merciers developed the idea of fitting decorated porcelain plaques onto furniture.

2. Discuss the role of a marchand-mercier using the following questions:
• What jobs today can you think of that are like the position of the marchand-mercier of the 1700s?
• What would a marchand-mercier have to do to persuade clients to buy their merchandise?

3. Have the students write a three-paragraph persuasive letter to sell the Neoclassical-style Lit à la Polonaise. Remember that a marchand-mercier would sell not only a single object but also all of the furniture and items to decorate a whole room. The students' job is to write a letter convincing a client to buy the Lit à la Polonaise along with the furnishings for a whole room. Before students begin their writing, have a class discussion using the following questions:

• Since one of the functions of a bedroom in 18th-century France was to receive guests, where will you place the bed in relation to the room?
• What other furniture will accompany the bed?
• What colors will you use in the room?
• Will you change the colors of the bed? What colors would best suit your client?
• What are some inventive ideas to help sway your client to buy the bed and other furnishings?

4. Have students begin by brainstorming a list of adjectives that they might use to describe the object. Have them incorporate those adjectives into their persuasive letter. Students can also search this Web site to learn more about other objects to include in their sales pitch.


Students will be assessed based on the completion of the assignment, their use of three paragraphs, and their inclusion of some of the adjectives created for the bed. Students will also be assessed on their ability to write persuasively to "sell" the bed and other furnishings.


Have the students pretend that they are trying to sell their object at an auction today.
• What will they need to know about the piece in order to sell it?
• How will they present the object?
• What will they say about it?
• Have the students present their object in a mock auction in the class.

Conservation: Decorative Arts Watch a video about the conservation project to bring this bed back to life. (5:17)

View another lesson about the Lit à la Polonaise: "Dream Bed," created by Lara Cohen, Teacher, Pio Pico Span School, Los Angeles Unified School District

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 7
4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
Responding to, Analyzing, and Making Judgments About Works in the Visual Arts
Derive Meaning
4.2 Analyze the form (how a work of art looks) and content (what a work of art communicates) of works of art.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
Understanding the Historical Contributions and Cultural Dimensions of the Visual Arts

Diversity of the Visual Arts
3.2 Compare and contrast works of art from various periods, styles, and cultures and explain how those works reflect the society in which they were made.

Language Arts Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 7
1.0 Writing Strategies
1.2 Create multiple-paragraph expository compositions:
a. Engage the interest of the reader and state a clear purpose.
b. Develop the topic with supporting details and precise verbs, nouns, and adjectives to paint a visual image in the mind of the reader.
c. Conclude with a detailed summary linked to the purpose of the composition.

Research and Technology
1.4 Use organizational features of electronic text (e.g., bulletin boards, databases, keyword searches, e-mail addresses) to locate information.

Evaluation and Revision
1.6 Revise writing to improve the organization and consistency of ideas within and between paragraphs.

2.0 Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.5 Write persuasive compositions:
a. State a clear position on a proposition or proposal.
b. Support the position with organized and relevant evidence.
c. Anticipate and address reader concerns and counterarguments.

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