Finally–my first buying trip as part of the French Metro team! I patiently waited my turn when Harrison, Renee, and Terry traveled to France last summer and this January was my time! We arrived in Paris on January 9th and I got to spend three weeks traveling all through Normandy and the Loire Valley in search of unique antiques to fill our shop!
My first thought (after antiques, of course!) was about… food. I had to have snails and foie gras, two essentials when traveling in France!
We even got to celebrate Terry’s birthday at one of our favorite restaurants!
Then, it was off to the hunt!
We found several pieces including a great razorback to bring back for our hog fans!
Louis XVI Marquetry Game Table
Set of Six Louis XVI Chairs
Pair of Art Deco Nightstands
Large Artisan-made Birdcage
Hand Carved Oak Vitrine c. 1880
Large Iron Key Sign
Louis Philippe Secretary
Painted Louis XVI Settee
Pair of 18th Century Stucco Friezes
Mid-Century Brass and Glass Bar Cart
In between shopping, we were able to visit the cathedral in Chartres..
As well as the city of Rouen with its famous clock, the Gros Horloge.
At last, we ended the trip with a visit to my brother Alexander’s new house in Blois!
The landmark stairwell Denis Papin in Blois changes its steps multiple times a year.
Shipping issues around the world have hit French Metro as well, but our spirits are up. Our container from our January buying trip is finally here! We will be closed Monday, June 6th through Friday, June 10th while we unpack and will reopen our doors on Saturday, June 11th. Hope to see you then!
Ten weeks? Yes...making up for lost time. French Metro Antiques spent the summer in France and what a glorious summer it was! Terry, Harrison, and I arrived in Paris on June 9th, the first day France reopened to Americans with proof of vaccination. White cards in hand, we were in! Harrison immediately hopped on a train for a ten day vacation in Brittany, while Terry and I picked up our rental car and headed out.
The first ten days were non-stop work--antiques, antiques, antiques--and reconnecting with our French colleagues…
”Ah vous etes la? Superbe!. Vous allez bien? Et la famille?"
All our friends were so surprised and so happy to see us, and the feeling was mutual. Transatlantic friendships over the past twenty years cultivated through a passion for antiques are unbreakable, even by a pandemic.
We quickly got into the rhythm. Shop, eat, shop, eat, shop, eat!
With ten weeks ahead of us, Terry and I adopted a new pace. Time to work but also time to take in France at a more leisurely pace.
Harrison soon rejoined us for another ten days of work. And we headed south to hit the professional markets for antique dealers.
Three weeks of work behind us, and it was time for a real vacation. Terry and I took off to spend three weeks in the Loire Valley, lodged in a fifteenth century manor house in the city of Blois.
Castle visits, garden walks, and sparkling Loire white wines...
Next, a week on the Atlantic in the city of Biarritz near the Spanish border. Amazing views from our apartment, and the best food market in all of France!
Our park bench right in front of our apartment in Biarritz.
A day in Saint Jean de Luz led us to a dear friend of one of Renee's former French students who was overseeing a group of artists creating giant puppets for the Ravel festival of music.
Plus we found a very special eighteenth century copper piece nearby for French Metro!
Next, a week in the Tarn, a new region for us where we were home based in Albi.
A complete fluke was meeting by chance our son Elliot’s friend, Tom, in a café in Toulouse fifteen minutes before he was getting married. Years earlier, Tom had come to Fayetteville for Elliot’s wedding. So surprised at the serendipitous encounter, we were ecstatic to witness our first French wedding at the Toulouse City Hall.
Next stop was La Rochelle where we were lodged on a large sailboat in the port.
And finally a week in Honfleur in Normandy on the English Channel.
Renee and her French high school pen pal, Claudine, celebrated 50 years of friendship. Two fifteen year old girls still keeping in touch!
And last, a visit with dear friends near Rouen where it was pure tourism and catching up.
I have traveled to France over fifty times in my lifetime, and this was my longest stay since my studies in Dijon in college. So what was the best thing about this trip? Working and playing in the culture I love so much with my best friend.
When it comes to fine “meubles de luxe” or luxury furniture, there are few cabinet makers that truly stand out. However, a number of exceptional “Ebenistes” in the nineteenth century stand above the rest for their remarkable skill and versatility in styles, none more than Paul Sormani! Born in Venice in 1817, Sormani would eventually move to Paris in 1847 and become the preeminent Napoleon III period cabinet maker. He was noted for his specialized furniture reproductions in the styles of the Louis XIV, Louis the XV, and Louis XVI eras of the previous centuries, appealing to eighteenth century nostalgics.
Detail on a Paul Sormani Vitrine
Sormani won numerous medals and exhibited in Paris six times and once in London. The catalogue for the 1867 Universal Exposition described his work as one with “une qualité d’exécution de tout premier ordre” or as one with having “a quality of execution of the first order.” Though his work emulated that of bygone craftsmen, his skill far surpassed those that had come before. The nineteenth century saw a reintroduction of many former styles in furniture that were predominant under the kings of the old regime.
Gilt-bronze mounted mahogany and fruit wood table. Sold at Sotheby's for $100,000 in 2014.
Sormani wanted his work to recall the ancient traditional knowledge of artisans past with an emphasis on attention to detail, inventiveness, excellence, and a taste for beauty and luxury. Sormani fashioned works of art that came in many forms, from jewelry boxes, writing desks, and commodes to mirrors, and many smaller precious objects. His works included exotic inlays and veneers in rare woods, finely chiseled gilded bronze decorations, as well as Boulle style pieces inlaid with tortoise shell.
Under the patronage of the Empress Eugenie, wife of Emperor Napoleon III, Sormani became immensely popular with the discerning European aristocracy, going on to decorate the palaces of the French Imperial family. Sormani was a global sensation after the 1862 Universal Exhibition in London, and the esteem that followed the name Sormani would continue after his death in 1877. Owning a signed Sormani piece became a status symbol. Leaving his business to his wife, Ursula-Marie-Philippine Bouvaist, and son, Paul-Charles after his death, the furniture firm he created continued his quality and style to perfection. Pieces created after this time were then signed Veuve Sormani or Veuve Sormani et Fils (the widow Sormani and sons). The firm thrived for more than ninety years, closing in 1934 after the death of Paul Charles.
Game box signed Veuve Sormani & Fils available at French Metro Antiques
Signed lock plate and mother-of-pearl gambling chips.
When it comes to antiques, the meuble de maitrise is unique. Translated in English as Mastery Furniture, these pieces were not done by the masters. Instead, the meuble de maitrise was a scale model created by the cabinet maker's apprentice in order to prove his skills to the master. Often introduced as a challenge for the apprentice after they had completed a tour of France to observe different techniques, the meuble de maitrise was a means to show off one's acquired skills.
On the left a Louis Philippe miniature chest and on the right a Louis XVI miniature chest with a bottle for comparison to show size.
Though not a masterpiece in the strict sense of the term, these miniature pieces of furniture often masterfully displayed the intricacies of technique, complexity of materials, as well as the hard earned patience of the apprentice. Also unlike a master's work these pieces were rarely signed, with the apprentice behind them remaining anonymous to this day.
This institution of apprenticeship has roots that go back as far as the Middle Ages, however it wasn't until the 16th century that its organization became a permanent staple in furniture making. Due to a more sedentary lifestyle that began in the 16th century, there was a new demand from the upper class for cabinets, desks, seating, etc..Thus the cabinet maker was born and apprentices followed suit. To increase the number of assistants to aid the cabinet makers that were in high demand, a new institution named the Compagnons de France was initiated.
Louis XVI style secretary writing desk
(Click photo to view online)
To be compagnon, complete training was required. It began with six years of apprenticeship carrying out menial tasks, followed by three years as a journeyman touring the country. Once complete, the compagnon paid an admission fee and presented his Meuble de Maitrise to a jury of 6 Cabinet Makers, all with 10 or more years of mastery under their belts. Foreigners could also apply to become a Compagnon de France, but the requirements for their meuble de maitrise were doubled since many did not have the same programs of apprenticeship in their native countries. Once admitted to the institution, the new member would be restricted to Paris, near the king's court, thereby solidifying the king's "style" as the predominant one. Few member were allowed to leave Paris, though those that did would relay to the provinces the preferred ornamentation demanded by the current king.
Above a miniature chair in the English Jacobean style.
(Click photo to view online)
The institution of Compagnons exists to this day, with a final piece required of each new applicant to highlight their craft. Though no longer strictly relating to furniture, craftsmen now create pieces out of many things including bronze, marble, and even mechanics. It is no wonder that the Compagnons are the most sought after workers in France today due to the demanding training that makes them elite craftsmen.
Compagnon de France miniature wooden hay wagon signed Marc 2007.
(Click photo to view online)
Bastille Day is the official French national holiday. The national holiday is celebrated annually on the 14th of July to commemorate the storming of the Bastille Fortress in Paris that took place the same day in 1789. The Bastille Fortress at the time served as a prison for citizens that received arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed and did not indicate the reason for the imprisonment. Having served as a royal prison for this purpose since the reign of Louis XIV in the 17th century, the fortress had become a symbol of monarchical oppression.
On the 14th of July, 1789, large mobs began laying siege to the Hotel des Invalides (the military hospital in Paris) in order to obtain arms. Shortly after, the crowd moved on to the Bastille to liberate prisoners and seize the fortress's ammunition and gunpowder supply in order to arm the populace. Up until that date, the French citizenry had increasingly become afraid of an attack on them by royal troops to suppress their outrage towards a series of abuses relating to taxes, starvation, and lack of representation. After an initial loss of 200 attacking citizens, the mob was joined by mutinous Gardes Françaises or “French Guards”, a municipal police force in charge of protecting public buildings. The fortress soon after surrendered.
Contrary to the vast numbers believed to be held in the Bastille, only seven people were freed after the siege. Events following the siege of the Bastille fortress lead to abolition of feudalism and the proclamation of the Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen or the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen on August 26th, 1789. The following year, the new republican government enacted the Fête de la Fédération (a precursor to the current holiday) as their new national holiday to commemorate the event.
Much like the Bastille itself, symbols throughout France were incorporated into the festivities. Supporters of the new republican government began wearing a Bonnet Rouge, or red cap with tricolor cockades and the rooster became a national mascot.
The Bonnet Rouge was a symbol taken from the headgear of ancient roman slaves who would have been presented with a similar cap as an emblematic gift when granted their freedom. Representing not only personal liberty, the cap also stood for the freedom of citizens and the right to vote. The Bonnet Rouge on a spear was proposed as a component of the national seal on 22 September 1792 and in 1793 the cap became the symbolic “hairstyle” of Parisians, becoming a rallying point and a way to mock the elaborate wigs of the aristocrats who represented the Noble Estate, and the red caps of the bishops who represented the Ecclesiastical Estate.
The tricolor and its associated cockade, or badge, were introduced just a day before the storming of the Bastille as a distinctive badge to be given to the citizen militia. The newly introduced badge took the form of a two-colored cockades, or circles of folded ribbon, in the ancient colors of Paris, blue and red. It would appear that the Marquis de Lafayette, former French commander during the American Revolution, added a white band representing loyalty to the sovereign on the 17th of July when Louis XVI met with the newly formed National Guard. In 1792, the Assembly adopted the tricolor cockade as the official symbol of the revolution, with the three colors said to represent the three estates of French society: the clergy (blue), the nobility (white) and the third estate (red). The use of the three colors spread, and a law in 1794 made them the colors of the French national flag.
The Gallic rooster as a symbol of the French people was not an official one, but its roots went back to the Middle Ages. Originally a play on words in Latin, the Latin word Gallus meaning inhabitant of Gaul (the ancestral lands of the French) was very similar to the word gallus meaning rooster in Latin. During the French Revolution, the Gallic rooster saw a revival in use due to its association with pre-christian France. French history until then had been associated with the first French Christian king Clovis in 496. The new republican government therefore began using the rooster as a way to disassociate with the monarchy and re-associate their new regime with classical civilization such as the Gallo-Romans, consequently the Romans themselves. As an interesting point of fact, cathedrals and churches in France began placing rooster weather vanes atop their steeples as a means to reconnect the French with the Christian faith, since many had rejected it due to its close ties to the monarchy. This symbolic peace offering can still be seen on churches in France today.
For the past sixteen years, French Metro Antiques has been traveling to France at least twice a year to seek and acquire beautiful pieces of furniture, art, and decorative objects to bring back to our clients. January buying trips mean new arrivals in the spring, and June buying trips bring a new container to our shop in the fall. So on January 9th, Harrison and I took our usual trip, looking forward to the hunt as well as to seeing our old friends and colleagues in the business of antiques.
After a successful buying trip, we were back in the Charles De Gaulle airport nearly three weeks later, and Covid19 had just begun to rear its ugly head. We saw some travelers wearing masks, and the word was out. We arrived safely back in Fayetteville on January 27th. Quite unaware of what was to come, we went back to work to our routine—tie up the transportation details in France, organize the transatlantic shipping, notify the customs broker, and create a marketing plan for our April arrivals. We set out to create emails for our spring shipment and decided on a theme of capturing what we as humans do in our leisure time. What are the simple pleasures of life that contribute to a rich life? What pieces in our new collection spoke to that? With our photographer, we set up vignettes in our shop for inspiration and let the creative juices flow. Then the world began to change. We, among all of our friends, family, and our whole community found ourselves at home, sequestered, sheltered, distanced. Our shop closed, many of our friends’ businesses closed. So where does French Metro fit in? What about this shipment arriving in April? Do we move forward with our usual routine? One thing we know is you can’t stop a ship on the water from delivering a container. Once it has set sail, a shipment is on the way. And so our container sailed in February and arrived last week.
Our French Metro team enlisted some trusted friends to help us unload, and then Harrison, Daniel, and I set to work—unpack, clean, restore, and arrange a shop that may not be open for weeks. Work is good for the soul, and being surrounded by beautiful things that we love reminds us that although the world is full of uncertainty, there are things that restore our spirits. For us, one of those things is beauty. So Harrison shined and polished. Daniel cleaned and restored. And Renee priced and decorated with Harrison playing multiple roles, moving back and forth between the workshop and the showroom floor for decorating.
The shop is closed, but we move forward. Our photographer has been here photographing everything to put on our website, and you will see our latest arrivals online soon. Our passion for all things French, our love of French history, culture, language, and antiques has not waned. Our theme of leisure time and pastimes is more a propos than we could have anticipated. To our clients, we hope you are safe and healthy. Perhaps you are rediscovering hobbies while you are at home or finding new ones. In some small way, we hope a little beauty from French Metro, if even only virtually, can give you a bit of respite as well.
For me, it is as simple as surrounding myself with beauty to remind me that there has always been good in the world. People of the past have answered a deep yearning within to create something beautiful and sometimes it is something that lasts a long time. At French Metro, it is beauty that calls to us as we do what we do. The invitation is always open to walk through our door and discover something beautiful.
Autumn is around the corner, and our latest arrivals from our summer trip to France are here! It was another successful buying trip, and this time Renee and Harrison were joined by brother Alexander and French son-in-law Nicolas as they made their way from the south of France to the north. As always, French Metro will be closed this next week to unpack and will reopen our doors on Friday, August 30th at 10am. Come see what's new or stay tuned to our website for our latest treasures from France in our Fall 2019 Collection!
Another successful buying trip to France for those that kept up with us--we were very busy and productive but were able to sneak one day in to relax. We had worked through all of our appointments and were far ahead of schedule before we needed to head back to Paris from Normandy for our return flight home. With no clear plan in mind, and no set lodging to speak of, Renee and I decided to make an unscheduled stop in the cathedral town of Beauvais on our way back to Paris. I remembered studying the cathedral when I was at school in France and remembered that it was particularly of interest for its Gothic architecture, lack of a nave, and for boasting the tallest quire in the world, what Eugene Viollet-le-Duc called the “Pantheon of French Gothic”.
We decidedly drove to Beauvais and organized lodging while on the road. After we were settled in, we went out for dinner. The heat wave or “La Canicule” as the French called it had been heavy in the air for a few days already, so dinner was a delight. We ended up in a place which served fresh and light fare. The owner of the restaurant was surprised to hear that we’d decided to come to Beauvais on a whim and told us that we were indeed lucky. Apparently we were to be there for the local festival of Jeanne Hachette, a heroine from the late 15th century who in 1472, inspired by Joan of Arc, defended the walls of the city of Beauvais against an attaching Burgundian force and cut down the Duc of Burgundy’s flag that had been hoisted atop one of the towers the enemy had penetrated.
After dinner we made our way toward the famed cathedral to see the light show.
The following day we went back to the cathedral for Mass, where we had been told of a performance by a choir from Romania. The acoustics in the church were an absolute marvel.
Our spontaneous visit was complete with the medieval parade and feast. Beauvais was indeed a complete surprise!