FRAME|WORK: The Salon Doré at the Legion of Honor

FRAME|WORK is a weekly blog series highlighting an artwork in the Museums’ permanent collection. This week, we feature an unusual treasure in the Legion of Honor—it is unusual because it’s not a painting or a sculpture, but rather an entire room. The Salon Doré, an 18th-century French period room, is currently on view.

Salon Dore

Salon Doré from the Hôtel de la Trémoille. French, Paris, ca. 1781. Painted and gilded wood with mirror. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard S. Rheem. 1959.123 (Photograph of the 1962 installation).

This magnificent salon, a signature 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 main salon de compagnie (or the principal reception room) of this great 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 Trémoiller—a French aristocratic family of ancient lineager—who placed this formal entertaining salon quite literally in the heart of the house.

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 the Haussmann demolitions, Paris’s modernization plan, which included the construction of the Boulevard Saint-Germain. The room 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 then appeared across the Atlantic as the center of American banker and arts patron Otto Kahn’s mansion in New York. After Kahn’s death, the room was purchased by art dealers the Duveen Brothers in 1936 and installed as their main showroom in midtown Manhattan. In 1955, the Duveens 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.

Somewhere along the way, the Salon Doré lost its associations with the Hôtel de la Trémoille. Through archival research, however, Martin Chapman, curator in charge of European art, uncovered the salon’s true history. Later this summer, the Salon Doré will undergo comprehensive restoration, with the aim of returning the room to its original form as a complete domestic interior, replete with 18th-century parquet flooring, with its windows and doors reinstated, a new lighting scheme and historically accurate furnishings. With its new suite of armchairs displayed around the walls, the result will convey the essential relationship of the furnishing to the architecture of the paneling as well as how these rooms were used in the years before the French Revolution.

Step into history with a visit to the Salon Doré at the Legion of Honor.