Drawing: Panel of Arabesques for the Hôtel de Salm, Paris, 1785. Artist: Jean-Guillaume Moitte. Purchased for the Museum by the Advisory Council. 1911-28-219.

 

From Frivolity to Revolt: The Hôtel de Salm’s Role in the French Revolution

Mixing classical themes with whimsy, the Panel of Arabesques for the Hôtel de Salm is a vibrant example of Neo-classical taste. The design, colored a bright turquoise, decoratively illustrates motifs of satyrs and flower nymphs participating in a religious sacrifice. Bright color palettes were exceedingly popular during the period but were later covered up with more conservative hues. This work, along with the Hôtel de Salm, built from 1782-1786, were both created at the crux of a massive stylistic and political shift in France. 

The designer of this panel, Jean-Guillaume Moitte (1746- 1810) was a prolific draftsman and sculptor in Paris during the late 18th century. Working under the royal goldsmith Henri Auguste, he created designs for important royal buildings such as the Louvre and Versailles. At the outbreak of the French Revolution, Moitte adapted his style to appease the new French Republic, which favored more sober motifs championing democratic ideals.     

The Hôtel de Salm, designed by architect Pierre Rousseau for Prince Frederick III of Salm-Kyrburg, is significant to both French and American architectural history. Prince Frederick III was an important military leader to the Dutch Republic and a member of the French court. His enjoyment of the building however was short-lived; in 1787, Prince Frederick fled during Frederick Wilhelm II of Prussia’s invasion of the Dutch Republic. He was then guillotined during the Revolution in 1794. The building passed to Madame de Staël, the revolutionary author, who held salons there in 1797. It then housed the Legion of Honor in 1804. The original Hôtel burned down in 1871, but the Palais de La Légion d’Honneur, now a museum, was built in its place.

The Hôtel de Salm inspired architecture both of its time and in the future. Thomas Jefferson, infatuated by the Hôtel, even tore down part of his partially constructed Monticello to incorporate new Neo-classical designs. Other buildings, such as the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, are replicas of the Hôtel de Salm. Whether either of these buildings have bright turquoise panels has yet to be determined.

Museum Number: 
1911-28-219