After gold in gastronomy, fashion and jewelry, it’s time to focus on gold in decoration. The yellow metal has always been an essential element of the great French decorative tradition. But what about nowadays?
Par Sandrine Merle.
Honor to whom honor is due… If you had to choose only one place to illustrate the use of gold in decoration, it would be the Palace of Versailles. Louis XIV, whose main concern was to consolidate his sovereignty, spared no expense in covering the seats, frames, woodwork, ceilings and statues of his residence with gold. The Sun King then went on to create the sublime cabinet des bains, a temple of light covered with engravings in matt gold, burnished gold and green gold, evoking aquatic pleasures in medallions bordered by reeds and narcissus. One of my favorite rooms in the Palace of Versailles.
How could Louis XIV have imagined that five centuries later, this profusion of gold, this flamboyance would contribute to making the Palace of Versailles one of the most visited and most Instagrammable places? What better way to take selfies that are liked and shared by all your followers? And for those who find the restoration too flashy and the gold too bright, let’s remember that in the Middle Ages, cathedrals were extremely colorful, even though we’ve always thought of them as plain.
Water gilding, the ultimate
Gold may be indestructible, but it gets dirty and is exposed to blows: it must therefore be restored. The Château de Versailles has its own gilders who are masters of actions and techniques that have remained unchanged since the 15th century. Those of the furniture workshop excel in water gilding, which is highly complex but ensures the most exceptional rendering. “It’s the technique we used for the paneling of Fontainebleau or the candle stands in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles”, explains Laurent Gosseaume, CEO of Atelier Mériguet-Carrère, a specialist in decorative techniques, and among the companies most cherished by the architects of historical monuments. “Wealthy individuals sometimes ask for water gilding to decorate their castle in 18th-century style or their apartment on Park Avenue … But it’s always discreet, “ he adds.
Delisle, from classical to contemporary
Jean Delisle, head of the Delisle company, known since the end of the 19th century for its sublime gilded bronze chandeliers with their crazy dimensions, explains: “The yellow metal represents our second largest expense (after salaries) and it is still mostly electroplated on classic creations”, of the type that can be seen at the Versailles Opera House, the Hunting Museum or the Hotel Georges V. The young head of Delisle is passionate about contemporary creation and develops lighting collections with designers such as Elliott Barnes or creates his own. Like these magnificent, stylized branches plated with brushed yellow and white gold that are juxtaposed with curves and bends.
Gold is gradually fading away…
But in decoration the craze for gold is not what it used to be. In the impressive reserves of the Mobilier National, where nearly 130,000 objects steeped in history are kept (chronologically classified), it is clear: gold is becoming less and less prevalent and will one day disappear completely. There’s a world of difference between Caroline Murat’s ceremonial bed and Mies van der Rohe’s “Barcelona” daybed! Using gold is more expensive than ever and because it has often been misused, it has acquired a bad reputation. “Contemporary designers are more interested in expressing themselves and illustrating their work with new responsible materials,” explains the Mobilier National. It remains to be seen whether this disappearance is irreversible in decoration or whether gold will regain its place in contemporary design.
Comité Colbert is a 1901 law association that brings together more than 100 members representing French luxury. Its mission is to passionately promote, patiently transmit and sustainably develop French savoir-faire and creation in order to infuse a new sense of wonder.
Banner image: Mobilier National, Perret storage area – Photo Thibaut Chapotot