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2020/05/11

The Furniture in the Former Crown Prince’s Palace ①

Crown Prince’s Palace and Three designers

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The former Crown Prince’s Palace in Tokyo (now the state guest house, Akasaka Palace 迎賓館赤坂離宮) was completed in 1909, designed by Japanese architect, Tokuma Katayama (片山東熊 1854 - 1917). The design of the building was in French neo-baroque style, influenced by Louvre in Paris and Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. There are three foreign interior designers or decorators got involved in this project, Georges Hoentschel, Henri Auguste Fourdinois and Alexander George Mosle.


Unfortunately the building was never used as palace for crown prince (Emperor Taisho 大正天皇later). After the World War II the ownership of this premises transferred to Japanese Government from Imperial Household. In 1968 the government decided to use the building as the state guest house. After 6years restoration and modernisation work Akasaka Palace was officially open in 1974.


At the time some furniture were found to be stored in different places in Imperial Household Agency (宮内庁) and in total 688 items for the palace were confirmed. Among them 509 items were repaired and re-used in the newly state guest house, Akasaka Palace. A part of the rest was donated to Museum Meiji-Mura (博物館明治村) and some went to Imperial Household. The report called ‘Geihinkan Akasaka Rikyu Kaisyu Kiroku 迎賓館赤坂離宮改修記録 The Report of Refurbishment Works at Akasaka Palace’ compiled in 1977 mentioned that all the furniture in the palace was made by L. Alavoine. However it was known that some furniture was not made by them. Also recent researches found some evidences, which suggested that other cabinet-makers might be got involved in the projects.

 

 

Most of the furniture in the palace was supplied by Fourdinois. Therefore he was only awarded a special order (叙勲五等旭日章) by Japanese government for his achievement in 1907. However he died in the same year later.
The three interior designers or decorators did not act as cabinet makers. We know that they worked as intermediary in the project and now one question is raised in my mind. Actually who made those furniture?

 

Georges Hoentscel (1855 - 1915) was once internationally acclaimed interior decorator and is among forgotton. He was known to design and oversee the decoration of the pavilion of the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900. Later a part of his personal collection was purchased by J. P. Morgan and donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In 2013 there was a special exhibition focused on his collection ‘Salvaging the Past: Georges Hoentschel and French Decorative Arts From the Metropolitan Museum of Art’.


Hoentschel bought his uncle’s business ‘Maison Lays’ in 1892, which seems to be specialising interior design and associated carving such as interior panelling or seat furniture. Often the firm was associated with other specialising cabinet makers for certain projects such as Henry Dasson and L’ escalier de Cristal, even in some cases collaborated with English firm, Waring & Gillow.


Armand-Albert Rateau (1882 - 1938) was working as woodcarver at Maison Lays and then he was appointed as a director at the interior decoration firm Maison Alavoine in 1905 which was associated with Fourdinois later in the project, interior design of Crown Prince’s Palace. It suggests some kind of connection between Hoentschel and Fourdinois at that time.

 

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Fourdinois (1830 - 1907) was son of the well-known cabinet maker, Alexandre-Georges Fourdinois (1799 - 1871). He was one of the prominent furniture designers in the neo-Renaissance styles. Some furniture was bought by the South Kensington Museum, today Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Fourdinois the younger took over father’s business in 1867. With loosing popularity of neo-Renaissance style he was trying to change his firm’s speciality. One of the commode by his firm is in the collection of Château de Compiègne. The commode is a copy of famous Louis XVI commode by Benneman and Stöckel for Château de Fontainebleau.

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With economic crisis in France in the 1880s he had less and less work. Eventually he gave up his business and closed the company in 1887 and auctioned off all asset of the company later. In 1889 at the Paris Universal Exposition he was employed as a furniture critic by the government and praised François Linke’s works.

At the time he was commissioned the Crown Prince’s Palace project, he was freelance interior and furniture designer, not cabinet maker. However he was associated with L. Alavoine (Maison Alavoine). The typed invoices were held in the Archives and Mausolea Department of the Imperial Household Agency of Japan (宮内庁書陵部).

It was reported that a couple of furniture maker stamp were found on back side of a pedestal and a bench. It said ‘L. ALAVOINE & CLE ★ H. FOURDINOIS PARIS ★ 9. RUE CAUMARTIN. 9’. It is certain that some furniture was made by Maison Alavoine under the design of Fourdinois.

 

Alexander George Mosle (1863 – 1949) was an agency for armed dealer in Japan. He came to Japan in 1884 and stayed for about 20 years. He was also big collector of Japanese arts. His commission in this project was quiet small, only supply for three rooms. The group of the furniture in French design was delivered in 1903 by German furniture manufacturer Heinrich Pallenberg in Cologne. A small number of furniture via Mosle was only a group known who their manufacture was.

 

 

 

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