Pampering the French Royal Dog in the 1700s
Marie Antoinette was known to love dogs. When she traveled from Austria to France to marry the Dauphin, her beloved pug Mops was with her. Unfortunately, she had to leave Mops at the border, although she did later manage to retrieve him. But Mops wasn’t the only dog that Marie Antoinette owned and neither was it the only dog at Versailles. There were many other dogs, and just like their masters or mistresses, they received pampering and the royal treatment.
One way royal canines were pampered was with their furniture. Dogs did not just sleep on the floor or on top of a cushy pillow, they slept in what the renown Dr. Samuel Johnson of dictionary fame defined as a “little hut or house for dogs.” Typically these were a basket or some sort of container that allowed the dog to enter and exit from one or two sides. However, among the well-heeled aristocrats and the royals, it became common practice to provide them with furniture that was sometimes elaborate.
Part of the reason for elaborate pet furniture was these pieces were generally viewed by the rich as household furniture, which was also the reason why such pieces were often commissioned. Moreover, those who loved their pets, like the Queen or her friend, the Princesse de Lamballe, could afford it and wanted their pet furniture to resemble their larger furniture counterparts. This meant a kennel might look like a miniature canopy bed or a tabouret stool.
One elaborate commissioned piece was the niche de chien (dog kennel). It was created by Marie Antoinette’s talented chair maker, Claud I Sené. In this case, it was “constructed from gilded beech and pine … covered with luxurious velvet … [and] lined in a striped blue and beige silk.” Copper nailhead trim also added to the elaborate look as did the Neoclassical motifs, which were popular at the time and resulted in the carvings of “acanthus leaves and Greek keys.”
Another commissioned piece from the 1700s, although not necessarily one used by Marie Antoinette, was similar to the niche de chien described above. It was constructed from gilt wood and offered for sale in 2008 by a fifth-generation Paris dealer, Kraemer & Cie, who recovered it in a plush blue velvet. For those thinking about buying it, today it has a royal price tag at $183,300.
Other gilt dog kennels from the 1700s were also sent to auction in 2010. This time it was a pair of Louis XV kennels known as niches en tabourets (dog bed footstools) and offered by Sotheby’s. Tabourets were popular as kennels for dogs because they were also functional for humans. People could sit on them or rest their legs as needed. Louis XV’s famous mistress, Madame de Pompadour, supposedly had several in her apartments at Château de Saint-Hubert in the 1760s. One of these tabourets Sotheby’s offered for sale was stamped circa 1765 with the name E. Nauroy.
Just because dog kennels were elaborate, it did not mean that they were just for show. They were functional and utilitarian for dogs (and fashionable pet marmosets). Dog kennels were elevated off the floor, had interiors lined, and sometimes had detachable tops. The kennels provided pets with a place to relax and sleep, and they helped pets stay warm on cold days. Moreover, French aristocrats liked these miniature pieces because they added whimsy to their interiors and humor to their lives.
Although few of these pieces remain, those that do help to tell the story of the lives of pampered pets in the 1700s. The dogs that used these kennels also served as more than companions to their fashionable and high-class or royal owners. Dogs were thought of as necessary accessories whose constant fidelity made everyone who owned or came in contact with them feel loved.
-  Johnson, Samuel, A Dictionary of the English Language, 1827, p. 15.
-  “Dog Kennel,” in The Collection Online at Met Museum
-  Ibid.
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