DESIGN FOR THE STAGE: A WOODED GARDEN WITH THE TEMPLE OF VENUS, FOR GRETRY'S OPERA ANACREON, Charles Percier

DESIGN FOR THE STAGE: A WOODED GARDEN WITH THE TEMPLE OF VENUS, FOR GRETRY'S OPERA ANACREON, Charles Percier

c. 1764 to c. 1868 France

Offered by Charles Plante Fine Arts

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This is one of the most enchanting surviving stage designs of the late eighteenth century, and important as one of the few known stage designs produced by Percier before he went into partnership in 1794 with his lifelong companion, P-F-L Fontaine (1762-1853). It was produced in his capacity as Directeur de Decor of the Opera de Paris, to which he was appointed in 1792, following his return from Rome, where he studied architecture from 1786 to 1792. The three-act opera for which it was designed, 'Anacreon at the Court of Polycrates' by the prolific composer, Andre-Ernest Gretry (1741-1813), was staged at the Paris Opera in December 1797. Percier's drawing for 'A Wooded Garden with the Temple of Venus' is signed as approved by the then director of the opera, the architect Jacques Cellerier (1742- 1814). A former pupil of Blondel and Leroy, Cellerier designed elegant hotels-particuliers and theatres in Paris. In collaboration with David, he designed the monumental carriage for the transportation to the Pantheon in 1791 of the ashes of his friend Voltaire.

Percier's wooded garden reminds us that Gretry, an acquaintance of Voltaire, bought L'Hermitage in the Feret de Montmorency, near Paris, which had formerly been the home of Rousseau. Anacreon, lyric poet of the 6th century BC wrote songs of love and wine at the artistic court of his patron, Polycrates, ruler of Samos, which Percier depicts here with light-hearted, and seemingly temporary structures in the tradition of those produced until the Revolution by the French royal office of Menus-Plaisirs. (These influenced Robert Adam's architectural 'Illumination and Transparency' in the gardens of Buckingham House which Queen Charlotte commissioned for George's III's birthday in 1762. The quadrant form of Adam's composition anticipates that of Percier's design for 'Anacreon').

Rich classical details, including candelabra and friezes, are the product of the fruitful years of observation spent with Fontaine in Rome and are related to further valuable products of those years, the two books which he and Fontaine produced in 1798 and 1809 respectively, Palais, Maisons, et Autres Edifices Modernes Dessin's e Rome, and Choix des Plus Celebres Maisons de Plaisance de Rome et de ses Environs.

Percier's central pavilion, serving as a Temple of Venus, has an arch breaking into the pediment and may be inspired by a well-known building in the precinct of the Temple of Isis at Pompeii in which a statue of Venus was discovered in 1765. The relation of this imaginary architecture to Percier and Fontaine's better known work as interior designers is suggested by the resemblance of this Temple of Venus to Percier and Fontaine's baldacchino bed, 'execute e Paris pour Mr.O.', published in 1801 and again in their Recueil de Decorations Interieures (Paris 1812).
Private Collection, London
Dimensions
Height 379.00 mm (14.92 inches)
Width 622.00 mm (24.49 inches)
Medium
Watercolour with pen and black ink
Signed/Inscribed
Inscribed: Approuve pour excute/tel queil est du cote droit/Paris 13 xbre 1792/Celleriere (verso)
Charles Plante Fine Arts

Charles Plante Fine Arts
50 Gloucester Street
London
SW1V 4EH

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