The Salon Doré at the Legion of Honor

Overview
This magnificent salon, a significant feature of the Legion of Honor’s holdings, represents one of the finest examples of French neoclassical interior architecture in a museum. Designed during the reign of Louis XVI, it was originally installed in the Hôtel de la Trémoille on Paris's Rue Saint-Dominique as the salon de compagnie (the principal reception room) of this aristocratic mansion. The architecture of the Salon Doré—with its giant gilded Corinthian pilasters framing four arched mirrors crowned with trophies of Love and War—was intended to invoke the grandeur of ancient Rome. Such a stately classical impression conveyed the knowledge and the social status of the owners, the ducs de la Trémoille—a French aristocratic family of ancient lineage—who placed this formal entertaining salon quite literally in the heart of the house.

Timeline
Throughout its history, the paneling of the Salon Doré has been moved no less than six times. The travels of the Salon Doré began in 1877, when the Hôtel de la Trémoille was razed during Haussmann’s modernization plan of Paris, to accommodate the construction of the Boulevard Saint-Germain. The paneling was first reinstalled in the nearby Hôtel d’Humières on the Rue de Lille. However, when that structure was torn down some 27 years later to make way for new apartment buildings, the salon reappeared across the Atlantic as the centerpiece of the New York mansion of American banker and arts patron Otto Kahn. After Kahn’s death, the room was purchased by art dealers the Duveen Brothers in 1936 and installed in their midtown Manhattan premises. In 1955, Duveen sold the room to Mr. and Mrs. Richard Rheem for installation in their Burlingame residence. It was the Rheems who donated the salon to the Legion of Honor in 1959. It has now been reinstalled three times at the Legion.

Research and Renovation
In the last century, the Salon Doré lost its associations with the Hôtel de la Trémoille, acquiring a false history in the Hôtel de Crillon during Duveen’s ownership. From extensive research, Martin Chapman, curator in charge of European art, uncovered the salon’s true origins from research undertaken by Dr. Bruno Pons and historic upholsterer Xavier Bonnet. Its paneling had a felicitous coincidence in that it turned out to have been constructed for the sister of the Prince de Salm, the man who built what was to become the Palais de la Legion d’Honneur, upon which the architecture of our Legion of Honor museum is based. Over the course of 18 months (2013–2014), the Salon Doré underwent comprehensive conservation, with the aim of returning the room to its original form as a complete domestic interior, replete with eighteenth-century parquet flooring, with its windows and doors and a new lighting scheme. Historically accurate furniture and upholstery was added to reflect the original inventory as uncovered by Bonnet. With its new suite of armchairs displayed around the walls and a second row of side chairs in the middle, the result reflects the essential relationship of the furnishing to the architecture of the paneling as well as the social history of how these rooms were used in the years before the French Revolution. It is the only complete example of a pre-Revolutionary Parisian salon to be displayed anywhere.

Salon Doré Timeline

1781—Original Location: Hôtel de La Trémoille, Paris

The paneling is installed in the Hôtel de La Trémoille, rue Saint-Dominique (formerly the Hôtel de Neuchâtel, then the Hôtel de Béthune and then the Hôtel de Châtillon) in 1781. It was designed for Jean-Bretagne-Godfroy, duc de La Trémoille et de Thouars (1737–1792) and his second wife, Marie-Maximilienne, princesse de Salm-Kyrbourg, as a new salon for the duchess. The duchess’s brother built the Hôtel de Salm overlooking the Seine (now the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur), which was the model for the Legion of Honor museum. The* Salon Doré *was probably designed by the family architect Pierre-Auguste Delapoize. 

1877—Hôtel de La Trémoille demolished

This hotel was one of the many victims of Haussmann’s famous urban remodeling of Paris. The owner, the Marquise de Croix, was forced to give up this mansion for the construction of the Boulevard Saint-Germain.

1879—Hôtel d’Humières rue de Lille

Following the demolition of the Hôtel de la Trémoille, the Marquise de Croix acquired the Hôtel d’Humières. She saved some of the La Trémoille paneling and reused it in her new home. The boiserie of the Salon Doré was installed on the ground floor overlooking the garden. Some of the old paneling from the Hôtel d’Humières was sold to Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild for his new house, Waddesdon Manor in England.

1905

 In 1905 the Hôtel d’Humières was demolished to make way for several apartment buildings. This caused a public outcry resulting in the establishment of the Société d'Histoire et d'Archéologie du VIIe Arrondissement de Paris. The salon was extensively photographed before demolition.

1918—Otto Kahn Mansion, 1 East 91st Street, New York

The boiserie was installed as the “French salon” in banker Otto Kahn’s massive new mansion on 5th Avenue and 91st Street. Some of the room's original elements were moved around. The narrow panels on the chimneypiece wall were moved to the corners, and the large mirror in the back wall was replaced by a set of double doors.

1934—Duveen Brothers, 720 Fifth Avenue, New York

After Kahn’s death, his widow sold the room to the Duveen Brothers. It was installed as one of the main showrooms in Duveen Brothers in New York by the decorating firm of Alavoine. Photographs of 1946–1947 show how the room was stretched from 30 feet to 43 feet in one dimension and from 30 feet to 23 feet in the other, with the showcases sunk into the walls.

1952—Richard Rheem, La Dolphine, Burlingame

The Salon Doré was sold to Mr. Rheem by Edward Fowles of Duveen, who claimed the room was from the more famous Hôtel de Crillon, and designed by the equally famous architect, Jacques-Ange Gabriel. This was an invented provenance. It was installed in the Rheem's home, La Dolphine, by the Parisian decorating firm of Decour.

1962—Legion of Honor, San Francisco

The Salon Doré was accepted as a gift from Mr. Rheem in 1959 on the advice of the architectural historian John Harris. Professor Winfield Wellington researched the room and rediscovered its earlier provenance in the Hôtel d’Humières and advised on its installation. Built to Professor Wellington’s specifications in Gallery 7 of the Legion of Honor, the room included windows and doors, parquet floor and ceiling. It was restored to what were then believed to be its original dimensions of 30 x 30 feet.

1990—Legion of Honor retrofit

In 1990, the Salon Doré in Gallery 7 was deinstalled as part of the comprehensive building seismic retrofit undertaken during the early 1990s.

1995—Salon Doré re-installed at the Legion of Honor

When the Legion of Honor reopened in 1995, the Salon Doré is installed in Gallery 11 and was shown as a “paneled environment,” without its parquet flooring, ceiling, windows nor two pairs of doors. It becomes a gallery for the general display of French furniture and decorative arts.

2014

New installation at the Legion of Honor. The Salon is reinstalled after 18 months of conservation work on the carving, gilding, and paint with its missing architectural elements reinstated such as the doors, windows, ceiling, floor, and a mirror. Furniture is acquired to reflect the inventory of 1791 and arranged to reflect the social history of pre-revolutionary salons. The upholstery and curtains are researched and executed by Xavier Bonnet according to the inventory and historical documents. A new lighting scheme uses historical light fixtures. Architectural rendering by Andrew Skurman

Present

The Salon Doré as currently installed with its paneling conserved and architectural elements reinstated. The final design added new windows, a ceiling, and an eighteenth century parquet de Versailles, while restoring the dimensions to its original square form. The furniture scheme includes 8 armchairs, 10 side chairs, 2 bergères, and a canapé upholstered in blue and white silk, as well as two console tables and a clock. A fire is lit in the fireplace prior to the arrival of the guests and the lighting suggests early evening in the winter months when these salons were mostly used.

For more information see the catalogue The Salon Doré from the Hôtel de La Trémoille (San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2014)