The Getty Museum’s collection of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French decorative arts enjoys international renown for its exceptional quality and the prestigious provenance of many of its objects. Nourishing a sincere passion for French decorative arts, the museum’s founder, J. Paul Getty, collected actively in this area from the late 1930s to his death in 1976. Gillian Wilson, whom Mr. Getty hired as the Museum’s decorative arts curator in 1971, actively advised him in this endeavor, carrying his vision forward as she expanded and enriched the collection until her retirement in 2003.
This publication continues a distinguished series of books presenting the Getty’s decorative arts holdings, which began with the 1977 summary catalogue of the collection (with two updated editions in 1993 and 2001). Several subsequent publications explored specific categories: Vincennes and Sèvres porcelain in 1991, clocks in 1996, tapestries and textiles in 1997, mounted Asian porcelain in 1999, and the magisterial French Furniture and Gilt Bronzes, Baroque and Régence: Catalogue of the J. Paul Getty Museum Collection by Gillian Wilson in 2008. The present publication on Rococo ébénisterie furniture (dating from the mid-1730s to about 1760) serves as a companion to the latter volume. Reflecting the increasing importance of digital access, it is the first catalogue of the Getty decorative arts collection to be published online, with a parallel print-on-demand option. We hope that this format will reach a broader audience and, through its enhanced features, facilitate exploration of these wonderful works of art.
The catalogue entries provide a thorough analysis of all twenty-eight pieces of Rococo ébénisterie furniture at the Getty, including their history of collecting across three centuries, from the patrons who bought or commissioned the works to their acquisition by Mr. Getty or the Museum; changing patterns of taste for refined materials such as Japanese lacquer or a preference for a certain shape or ornamental style; and the evolution in techniques of manufacture and the attempts of imitators to copy them. The introductory essays explore the formation of the ébénisterie collection as well as the technical study of the lacquer panels and gilt bronze mounts that are integral parts of most of the objects. A number of surprising, and often hidden, aspects of these intricately crafted objects have been revealed through this work, from complex lock systems to secret compartments and carefully matched patterns of wood grain—testaments all to the extraordinary sophistication and skill of their makers.
Sadly, French Rococo Ébénisterie in the J. Paul Getty Museum is a watershed publication also for being the last—and unexpectedly posthumous—that will appear by curator emerita Gillian Wilson. Gillian, who devoted nearly her entire career to the Getty Museum, was the driving force not only in the growth of the collection but also in conceiving its display, first at the Getty Villa in Malibu, inaugurated in 1974, and then at the Getty Center in Brentwood, for its opening in 1997. Throughout her career, Gillian studied the collections assiduously, publishing the European clocks and the mounted Asian porcelain, and overseeing the publications by other Getty curators of the Vincennes and Sèvres porcelain, and the tapestries and textiles. After her retirement in 2003, Gillian continued her research unabated, producing both French Furniture and Gilt Bronzes for the Baroque and Régence periods (2008) and finally this volume. Though these publications are the last to appear in print, furniture was Gillian’s first love and abiding passion.
I extend special thanks to Anne-Lise Desmas, the Getty’s senior curator of sculpture and decorative arts, for seeing the manuscript through to publication, and to all the Getty colleagues who ensured that work on this project continued while Gillian’s health was declining and after her passing in November 2019. It is our honor to dedicate this volume to her memory.
- Timothy PottsDirectorJ. Paul Getty Museum