In considering the present pair of magnificent settees, one has to place them in the original context for which they were made, which was one of the most important, homogeneous and sumptuous rococo interiors ever conceived in Italy.
The decoration of the famous Gilded Gallery of Palazzo Carrega Cataldi (see ill.) with its exuberant gilded stuccoes typifying the froth and excess of the luxuriant rococo style was conceived, possibly together with the rest of the panelling including the mirrors and the consoles and the seat-furniture, by Lorenzo De Ferrari (1680-1744), between 1743 and 1744 in the characteristic Genoese rococo style (see the 1769 century chronicles by Ratti, mentioned by A.G.P. op. cit., 2). In particular, the aquatic theme typified by mermaids, scallopshells and dolphins, which is present elsewhere in the room and so typical of the Genoese decorative repertoire and the rococo style in general, is profusely present on these settees. Lorenzo De Ferrari intended with this room to rival the French interiors of the time but his exuberance has been tempered and resulted in a stiffer interpretation of the rococo style, echoing the earlier Régence style or rather anticipating the later neo-classical style of the late 18th century. Lorenzo De Ferrari was almost certainly assisted by others in his work, by perhaps Diego Carlone for the stucco work and other unknown craftsmen for the furniture.
A.G.P. (op. cit., page 376, 2), also suggests the name of Domenico Parodi (1668-1740) as the possible designer for some of the furniture in the gallery. The present settees originally stood below the four large mirrors on the two long walls and have been today replaced by simpler Genoese giltwood rococo examples. The mirrored doors and the consoles present today in the Galleria Dorata are copies based on the original ones.The doors are presently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, illustrated by A.G.P. op. cit., p.160, fig.189-190. The console tables (already ill. by Morazzoni, op. cit., tavv. XU and XUII) are in the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio, U.S.A (see ill.). The location of the eighteen chairs, (all of which are reproduced here in fig. 4.) has now come to light, as they were originally also acquired by Stanford White at the same time as he acquired the present settees, at the end of the 19th century from Palazzo Carrega-Cataldi and were in the collection of William Collins Whitney. At the end of the 1930's they were in the Patino collection and sold recently from the collection of the late Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, Christie's Paris, 25th February 2009, lot 710 (961,000 euros).
It is intriguing to learn from a description of the interior written by the English architect Sir Robert Smirke during his visit to Genoa in 1802, that the chairs and therefore presumably the present settees were covered in green silk (the manuscript is at the Royal Society of British Architects, London, and partly translated by A.G.P., op. cit., 2).
The Carrega-Cataldi Palace:
The Palazzo Carrega-Cataldi has a distinguished history and belonged at one time to one of the wealthiest Genoese Renaissance families, the Pallavicino's.The Palazzo was built by Tobia Pallavicino overlooking the renowned beautiful Strada Nuova (today Via Garibaldi), the main thoroughfare in Genoa which was built under the direction of Giambattista Castello (1509-1569) during the years 1558 to 1561. It is worthwhile noting that the lay-out of this Renaissance Palazzo has been accurately illustrated by Rubens in his Genoese Palace series. On February 1704, the Palazzo was purchased by Filippo Carrega and it is to him and his son that the credit for the considerable renovations to the Palazzo is due, as the interior decoration of the new wing was undertaken by the Carrega family between 1727 and 1746, including the Galleria Dorata, for which the present settee were made. In 1830, the Carrega family sold the Palazzo to another noble family, the Cataldi family. In 1922, the entire building was taken over by the Genoese Chamber of Commerce and the Gilded Gallery which was seriously damaged during the bombardments of November 1942, was repaired and renovated during the following decades.
Stanford White (1853-1906):
This American architect travelled extensively throughout Europe buying architectural elements for his rich patrons to furnish the houses he decorated. It was during one of these trips during the late 19th century that he acquired directly from Palazzo Carrega-Cataldi, the entire contents of the Galleria Dorata; the four settees, the four pairs of doors, the pair of console tables and he sold all these items except the two pairs of doors, which he kept for himself, to William Collins Whitney whose mansion at 871 5th Avenue he transformed into a palace from 1896-1902. The latter spent over $4,000,000 converting it into a palace and created on the second floor what was then, the largest private ballroom in New York where the furnishings of the Galleria Dorata were installed, see a photograph circa 1942 showing the settees and furniture in situ in the ballroom (fig. 3.), where the settees had already at this time been lengthened probably by White, as this ballroom was so much larger than the Galleria Dorata.
William Collins Whitney (1841-1904):
He was educated at Yale and Harvard Law School and moved to New York to practice corporate law. He was also a leading light in the Democratic Party and served under the Secretary of the Navy under President Cleveland. He was also a leader in high society and amassed a substantial fortune.
Harry Payne Whitney (1872-1930):
He was the son of the above and inherited two Standard Oil Fortunes and followed his father into business.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942):
She was the daughter of the financier and art patron Cornelius Vanderbilt (1843-99) and in 1896, married Harry Payne Whitney. She was a renowned sculptress and patron of the arts.
Count Volpi di Misurata and Palazzo Volpi :
Palazzo Volpi situated at 21 via del Quirinale in Rome, was built in the 17th century by the architect Alessandro Specchi, whose designs included the celebrated Spanish Steps in Rome. The late Count Volpi di Misurata was a diplomat, politician and Italy's leading industrialist and lived in great splendour in this and his other residences on the Grand Canal in Venice and a house on the Giudecca, the Ca'Leone and a Palladian summer house on the beach at Saubadia an hour outside Rome. His wife Countess Nathalie Volpi in 1951 set about renovating the Palace and was known for her sense of style. When the suite of seat furniture was sold in these Rooms in 1998, the collection largely from the Roman Palazzo had been in storage and unseen for twenty-five years.
Each approx: 123cm high, 282cm. wide, 62cm. deep; 4ft. ½ in., 9ft.3in., 2ft. ½ in.
A chair and a settee (unextended) from the same suite are published by:
1. Alvar González-Palacios, II Mobile in Liguria,Genova, 1996, p. 219-220, plates 263 and 264, pages 186-190 and page 229.
2. Alvar González-Palacios, II Tempio del Gusto, La Toscana el" Italia Settentrionale, Milan, 1986, Vol. I, La galleria dorata dei Carrega, p. 375-376, Vol. II, fig. 835 and 836.
3. Orlando Grosso, Decorazione e mobilia di palazzi genovei nel Seicento-e nel Settecento, in Dedalo, Year 11, 1921, Vol. I, pag. 62 (not checked).
4. Giuseppe Morazzoni, II Mobile Genovese, Milano, 1949, refers to this group of seat furniture on page 101. As the author notes, the suite was already abroad by the time of publication.
The Galleria Dorata, Palazzo Carrega-Cataldi, (now Chamber of Commerce), Via Garibaldi,Genoa, Italy (see figs. 1 & 2.)
Acquired directly from the Palazzo by the architect Stanford White and exported to New York, late 19th century
Sold to the politician William Collins Whitney (1841-1904), circa 1896-1902, when Stanford White was renovating 871 5th Avenue, New York for him, situated in the Ballroom
Thence by descent to his son Harry Payne Whitney (1872-1930), 871 5th Avenue, New York
Thence by descent to his wife Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942), 871 5th Avenue, New York
Count Volpi di Misurata, Palazzo Volpi, Rome, sold in these Rooms, 16th December 1998, lot 46, (the other pair ensuite was sold as lot 45, subsequently sold again in these Rooms, 7th July 2009, lot 15 for £370,000).
Private English Collection