• [Marie Antoinette (1755 - 1793)] "GARDE ROBE. DE. LA. REINE. N°19": The Traveling Wardrobe of the Queen

[Marie Antoinette (1755 - 1793)] "GARDE ROBE. DE. LA. REINE. N°19": The Traveling Wardrobe of the Queen

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[Marie Antoinette (1755 - 1793)]
"GARDE ROBE. DE. LA. REINE. N°19": The Traveling Wardrobe of the Queen
Oak and Cyprus, studded leather and hammered metal

A royal traveling trunk for the Queen's wardrobe, constructed of oak and cyprus, studded leather and hammered metal, the cover arched and inscribed "GARDE ROBE. DE. LA. REINE. N°19" with hammered nails.  H.: 48 cm. (19 in.) ; L.: 111,5 cm. (44 in.) ; W.: 52 cm. (20 ½ in.).

Wardrobe trunks were the means of transporting the clothing of the Royal family and large families during the Court's trips to the Royal residences according to the seasons. Each member of the Royal family had his or her own contingent, identified and numbered with nails. This Royal baggage in the form of trunks and chests was constructed by the layetiers of the Crown, trade workers who made chests and wooden crates usually used for packaging. It is also known that the "loans" of wardrobes were transported through the residences by domestic service from the finery storage to the Royal Chambers in this style of padlocked chest or basket, fully covered in sealed taffeta to avoid poisonings or theft. Indeed, a dedicated trunk handling servant, the porte malle, was part of the Royal entourage. The trunks were generally sent by carriage a few days prior to the arrival of the Royals themselves to their homes in Compiègne (in summer), Fontainebleau (in autumn), Marly or Choisy. 

Heavily used and often replaced, these original trunks are exceedingly rare. The use of “La Reine” as an identifier, as seen across the top here, is a distinctly 18th century application of the term. There are three similar examples in the collections of Versailles and Trianon, the present example being more or less identical in construction and identification to the Malle de voyage de la chambre de la Reine Marie-Antoinette n° 8. acquired by them in 2005. This example was loaned by Versailles and exhibited internationally as part of the Louis Vuitton traveling exposition "Volez, Voguez, Voyagez" in 2018.  The present example is from the collection of one of the most prestigious and influential decorators of the 20th century, Serge Royaux (1924-2016). 

This wardrobe trunk is an extraordinary survival from the fabled queen of Louis XVI of France whose lavish wardrobe only increased her image as a frivolous spendthrift, one of the principal reasons why she became despised by the French people. This antipathy would eventually bring down the monarchy and lead her to the guillotine in 1793. Versailles was the center not only of French political power but also of French fashion and Marie Antoinette was perhaps the first fashion icon in the way we presently understand the term. For and around her, dressmakers, bodice makers and stylists such as Rose Bertin - Marie-Antoinette’s “Minister of Fashion,” who at the time established a princely clientele at Versailles and other European Courts -  built a new kind of empire.  It is the first thing most people associate with the doomed queen - skirts as wide as they are tall paired with towering hairstyles, all draped in jewels and pearls - and if Marie wore a style, the rest of the court, and the Western world, followed suit. 

We are grateful for the assistance of Mathieu da Vinha (Directeur scientifique, Château de Versailles) for his confirmation that this trunk would have been used for the Queen's domestic service; and to Yves Carlier (Conservateur général, Château de Versailles) for his confirmation that "several more or less identical wardrobe trunks are kept in the collection of Versailles...One bearing N° 8 and the other one N° 9...said coming from Marie-Antoinette."

The trunk and luggage collecting market has never been stronger. Recent Vuitton collaboration trunks with Supreme and Kusama have sold in the $200-$300k range and an 1892 Vuitton aluminum mail trunk fetched $200k when it sold at auction in 2018.