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The Salon Doré reopens at the Legion of Honor in April

The Salon Doré at the Legion of Honor, long under reconstruction, is due to reopen in all its historic golden glory.

The Salon Doré in 1877
The Salon Doré in 1877@Legion of Honor

The Salon Doré from the Hôtel de La Trémoille is one of the finest examples of French Neoclassical interior architecture anywhere. Richly carved and gilded, it was designed during the reign of Louis XVI as the main salon de compagnie of the Hôtel de La Trémoille on the rue Saint-Dominique in Paris. Its architecture, with large gilded Corinthian pilasters framing four arched mirrors and complemented by four massive doors, points to the influences of classical architecture on the art and design of this period.

Originally the salon or reception room for the Dukes of Tremoille, it was one of the many centers of cultural exchange in 18th century France. Voltaire, Rousseau, Beaumarchais, author of the "Marriage of Figaro" regaled the aristocratic elite of the era with their wit and sparkling conversation. It was given to the Legion of Honor by the Tremoille family in 1959.

Unfortunately, a long history of relocation and reconfiguration had left this great room needing more than a dusting and a bit of polish. Moved no fewer than six times between 1877 and 1995, its architectural and aesthetic integrity had been greatly compromised. Last year, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco closed the Salon Doré and the adjacent British art gallery to embark on a comprehensive conservation project of the period room.

After a 17 month comprehensive conservation project, the Legion of Honor will be re-opening the salon to the public. Developed by Martin Chapman, curator in charge of European decorative arts and sculpture, this complete refurbishment of the room emphasizes the original use of the room, and sets a new standard for the presentation of museum period rooms.

“The aim of this project has been to reinstate this paneling as an architectural entity as well as recreating its program for furnishing based on the 1790 inventory of the room. It was also to provide a full picture of how these salons functioned in the years before the Revolution swept away the culture of the ancien régime and to understand the essential relationship between the furniture and the interior architecture,” said Martin Chapman.

During this time, the conservators' and curators' efforts were on display in a special viewing gallery. Gallery 13 (the British art gallery) was transformed into an open conservation workshop where museum visitors were able to watch the conservation in action. Extensive multimedia documentation granted unprecedented access to conservation treatments, including interviews with experts and occasional live-streaming of the activities taking place inside the open conservation workshop.

In order to achieve this extensive restoration project, a laboratory was set up in an adjacent gallery that could be viewed by visitors to the museum. In this space, up to 16 specialists worked on the carving and gilding under the direction of Fine Arts Museums’ head objects conservator, Lesley Bone, and the Museums’ conservator of frames and gilded surfaces, Natasa Morovic.

The furniture’s upholstery was researched and executed by Xavier Bonnet of Atelier Saint-Louis, Paris. The silk incorporated in the room was woven by Tassinari and Chatel in Lyon, France to a design matched to an 18th century document in that city’s Musée de Tissus et des Arts décoratifs. The trimming by Declercq was laboriously made using traditional techniques and designs derived from 18th century models. The conservation portion of the project executed in France was managed by Benjamin Steinitz of Galerie Steinitz.

“The Salon Doré will be the only pre-Revolutionary Parisian salon in the United States displayed with its full complement of furnishings. Returning the room to its original glory and revealing its initial purpose, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco presents the Salon Doré as an example of how a period room can engage a 21st century audience,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Opening April 5, 2014