Eight pictorial panels illustrating the story of Achilles, painted in oil on canvas on a white ground, with fourteen pilaster panels painted with acanthus scrolls. From the Salon of Hôtel Grimod de la Reynière, Paris. Designed and painted by Charles-Louis Clérisseau, 1770s, the chimney-board made later.
A set of eight panels and fourteen pilaster panels, of canvas on stretchers, with painted decoration, the main panels telling the story of Achilles' early life. The pilaster panels appear identical, with a scrolling acanthus frond growing from a plant at the bottom of the pilaster, with eight scrolls above of equal size, the acanthus painted in brown against a cream ground with dashes of gold, giving the appearance of mosaic. The narrative panels are of similar height but two are slightly wider than the others. Each is painted with a framework of arabesques, flanking and enclosing three panels: close to the base a horizontal rectangular panel painted in cameo; a central oval panel painted in polychrome with a major incident from the story of Achilles; and upper circular panel painted to suggest a single figure in bas-relief. The subjects of the main panels, following the story of Achilles are: 1. Thetis dips Achilles in the Styx 2. Thetis is informed by Calchas that Achilles will die in the Trojan War 3. Achilles in maiden's dress presented by Minerva to Lycomedes 4. Achilles playing the lyre to Deidameia, daughter of Lycomedes and her sister 5. Achilles and the daughters of Lycomedes receiving the gifts of Ulysses 6. Achilles feasting with Briseis 7. Briseis led away from Achilles by Agamemnon's heralds 8. Iris giving arms to Achilles. [Painted panel] Central panel painted with Achilles dipped in the river Styx by Thetis [Painted panel] Central panel painted with Thetis informed by Calchas that Achilles will die in the Trojan war [Painted panel] Central panel painted with Achilles in maiden's dress presented by Minerva to Lycomedes [Painted panel] Central panel painted with Achilles playing the lyre to Deidameia and her sister [Painted panel] Central panel painted with Achilles and the daughters of Lycomodes receiving the gifts of Ulysses [Painted panel] Central panel painted with Achilles feasting with Briseis [Painted panel] Central panel painted with Briseis led away from Achilles by Agamemnon's attendants [Painted panel] Central panel painted with Iris bringing arms to Achilles
These panels originally decorated a salon in the Parisian house built for the wealthy fermier general Laurent Grimod de la Reynière. It was the first scheme in France to use the motifs of classical and Renaissance grotesques, which were to become a popular form of decoration in the 1780s and 1790s - arabesques, urns, tripods and distorted figures. The designer of the scheme, Charles-Louis Clérisseau, had been a student in Rome, before working there for the Scottish architect Robert Adam, who commissioned him to record sites, in particular the ruins of the Emperior Diocletian at Spalato (now Split, in Croatia), although Clérisseau got little recognition for this work. This scheme, however, was widely influential, in particular on designers such as Jean-Demosthène Dugourc in the late 1780s and 1790s. He even advised Thomas Jefferson on decorations for the State Capitol in Virginia between 1785 and 1789.
Almost certainly these panels originally formed the main decoration of the Salon in the Hôtel Grimod de la Reynière in the Place Louis XV (now Place de la Concorde), Paris, built in 1769 for Laurent Grimod de la Reynière, a rich fermier général. The design for the decoration of the Salon was by Charles-Louis Clérisseau (1721-1820). He probably painted the decorative wall panels, while the oval ceiling panel and the two overdoors were the work of Etienne de Lavallée-Poussin (ca. 1733-93)). In 1777, in the Almanach des Artistes the salon was described as 'newly decorated'. It was recorded as 38 'pieds' long and 28 'pieds' in width and height. The coved ceiling rose another 8 'pieds' above the cornice. It also recorded that Clérisseau had had to work with an architectural order already established by the architect, only able to change the surface decoration. The chimneypiece was of marble with gilt-bronze mounts, matching four candelabra in the corners of the room, on stands of similar marble, the candelabra and mounts said to have been supplied by Duplessis, 'fameux ciseleur de Paris'. The design of the ceiling was said to be perfectly in harmony with that of the walls. Clérisseau was praised for avoiding gilding in his wall decorations and praised for the richness of the painted decoration which reflected so successfully in the mirrors set on the walls opposite the windows. In 1782, the house was recorded in seven drawings and plans by the German-born architect Jana Christjana Kamsetzer, who was in Paris for several months studying the newest decorative fashions in order to design the summer palace at Lazienki for his patron, King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatiwoski. In 1787 a guide to Paris also records the room, with history paintings by 'M. de la Vallée, surnommé le Chevalier Poussin'. After the death of the original owner, the Hôtel passed to his son, Alexandre-Balthazar Grimod de la Reynière (1758-1838), a journalist, lawyer and celebrated gourmet, who owned it until 1819. During the occupation of Paris it was the official residence of the Duke of Wellington as Commander in Chief. In 1828 it became the Russian Embassy and, in 1842, the Turkish. Later it passed through the tenancies of a number of clubs, until in 1928 it was acquired by the US government, who demolished it and erected an embassy on the site. We do not know when the panels left the house and came to Ashburnham Place, near Battle, Sussex but they were probably acquired by Bertram, 4th Earl of Ashburnham (1797-1878), either in 1842, when it creased to be the Russian embassy or in the 1850s, when it ceased to be the Turkish Embassy. The panels hung in the large drawing-room of Ashburnham Place, with four of the narrative panels shown on the wall opposite the window and two flanking each to the two doors in the short walls. The panels were set without a dado, starting just above a deep skirting board. This arrangement would be what one might inspect from a mid-nineteenth century installation in the house. They remained at Ashburnham until 1955, when they were acquired in the sale of the contents of the house by the National Art-Collections Fund and presented to the Museum. Historical significance: These were the earliest designs to revive the use of grotesques in France. It is not surprising that during the time they were at Ashburnham, they were considered as works by James 'Athenian' Stuart (1713-88) and compared to his decorative painted panels in the innovative 'Painted Room' at Spencer House, London, which date from 1759. There are however differences in the design and execution, these panels being much lighter and gayer. The overall design and the painting of the decorative areas must be the work of Clérisseau, although the paintings of the scenes from the life of Achilles may well be by Lavallée.
Given by The Art Fund
Location: In Storage