Types of furniture named after people are scarce but not rare as one might think. Take the Wellington chest or the Davenport as two examples that of pieces that came to be known after famous men of their time (see also Behind the Name – The Chiffonier). Furniture whose name derives from women is harder to find but not impossible. Which leads us to that simple yet elegant day bed or chaise – the récamier.
Eighteenth century Frenchwoman Juliette Récamier was, by all accounts, beautiful, capricious and literary. A leader in fashion and an inveterate socialite, Récamier drew leading political and literary figures to her salon. During her lifetime, and afterward, she came to portray the ideal of neoclassicism both before after after her death.
Recamier’s lifetime spanned the latter half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the 19th, during which time she was painted by some of the most talented artists of the age.
The eponymous récamier comes from an unfinished painting by Jacques-Louis David. Récamier is depicted as reclining on a day bed, or chaise longue, gazing directly at the viewer with disconcerting intensity. There is debate as to why David declined to finish the portrait but it is said that he told her, “”Madame, women have their caprices; artists have theirs too. Allow me to pander to mine; I shall keep your portrait as it stands”
Thus we are left with a mere ghost of what the painting might have looked like, with those of us more interested in the furniture than Madame Récamier wondering what the chaise would have looked if David had completed the work. Would the upholstery have been brighter? Or the cushions more detailed? Why are the feet of the chaise so artfully pointed? We can only imagine.
The original painting hangs in the Louvre where Récamier is described as ‘one of the most admired women of her time.’