The Salon Doré: History

Since its first known installation in 1781, the Salon Doré has been moved seven times, including its most recent renovation. Following the fortunes of aristocrats, collectors, and art dealers, the period room finally made its way into the permanent collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in 1959.

When it arrived at the Legion of Honor, the Salon Doré’s provenance was incorrectly given as the Hôtel de Crillon on the Place de la Concorde. However, it was soon determined that if in fact came from the less known Hôtel d’Humieres, a mansion on the Left Bank of Paris. More recent investigation of the room’s original plans, however, revealed a discrepancy in its size and organization that led curator Martin Chapman to the conclusion that the room must have come from elsewhere. Based on the research of the historian Bruno Pons, it was found that the boiserie (or paneling) originated in the vanished Hôtel de La Trémoille, an aristocratic mansion on the rue Saint-Dominique that was demolished in 1875. It was only after then that the paneling was transferred to the nearby Hôtel d’Humieres.

The Salon Doré’s correct provenance also shed light on its original function, which was a salon de compagnie, where the duchesse de La Tremoille received guests for conversation. Traditionally, American museums have presented a more romantic interpretation of French period rooms that employed the museums’ finest pieces of marquetry furniture—luxurious commodes, desks, and small tables—that were, in fact, only displayed in the more private rooms of the house. The room’s newly discovered role as a salon de compagnie required a much more rigorous program for the furniture. Martin Chapman, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s curator in charge of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture, identified giltwood consoles and chairs that were acquired to meet this narrow agenda, partly based on the inventory taken in 1790. The suite of armchairs and sofas arranged around the room in front of the paneling was rarely used, the second row of side chairs arranged in the middle of the room was where guests would actually sit, while a pair of comfortable armchairs known as bergères was reserved for the duchess and her most honored guests. The lighting of the room with the candles lit reflects the time just before the visiting hour in the late afternoon. Painstakingly researched and historically accurate, this installation is the first of its kind in an American museum.