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Pelletier, Jean (John) (1682–1704)

Pelletier, Jean (John)

London; carver and gilder (fl. 1682–1704)

Jean Pelletier was almost certainly born and trained in Paris and might be the same ‘Monsieur Peletyer’ of Paris from whom the Countess of Dysart bought two sets of tables, stands and looking glasses in April 1673. He left Paris and arrived in Amsterdam in December 1681, where his presence was noted in the records of the Walloon (Huguenot) Church. He was described as ‘Maitre Doreur et Sculpteur’. After a short stay he continued to England. The first record of Jean Pelletier in England is his letter of denization, dated 8 March 1681/2.

The early part of Pelletier’s career in England, from 1682 to 1689, is obscure. His principal patron was Ralph, Earl and later 1st Duke of Montagu, who despite being a close ally of William III was a staunch Francophile, which may account for his support for Pelletier. After being appointed Master of the Great Wardrobe in 1689, Montagu was in a position to give Pelletier plum contracts for the furnishing of the Royal Palaces.

Pelletier’s bills for furniture supplied to the Wardrobe span the years 1690 to 1702, and principally concern tables, looking glass frames, and candle stands. The bills are transcribed in Murdoch, Burlington Magazine (November 1997). Probably the largest single commission, amounting to over £600, was for William’s III’s State Apartments in Hampton Court Palace between 1699 and 1702 (illus. Murdoch, Burlington (1997) figs. 3, 5, 6 & 7). The furniture is essentially French in style, owing much to the engravings of Pierre le Pautre and others. It is likely that Jean Pelletier was assisted in this work by his sons René and Thomas; in a deposition made to the Duke of Montagu’s executors they stated that they had been working with their father ‘since 1688’.

Pelletier’s documented work for Montagu began in 1689 at Montagu House, London, which had been damaged by fire in 1686. The work included gilding picture frames and architectural features such as cornices and chimneypieces. He also carried out similar work at Montagu’s lodgings in Whitehall Palace from 1689, including, in 1691, gilding ‘six large frames with corners and middles’ costing £4. 10s. per frame and a ’looking glass frame with corners and middles and a carv’d top’. Contemporary picture frames of this ‘corners and middles’ type survive at Boughton (illus. Murdoch, Burlington (November 1997), figs 9 & 10).

Also, in 1691 Pelletier charged £5 15s each for carving a gilding two large oval sconces for Montagu’s apartments at Whitehall, which have been identified as those now at Boughton (illus. Murdoch, Burlington (November 1997), fig 12). However, some care is needed in make these and similar attributions because Pelletier worked closely at time with another immigrant carver, Robert Derignée, both for the Great Wardobe and for Ralph Montagu. For instance, in Queen Mary’s Apartments at Kensington Palace carving by Derignée was gilded by Pelletier.

In his will Jean’s occupation was given as ‘frame gilder’ and later, in 1711 René described his father as ‘Limner, Engraver and Gilder’. Both these descriptions emphasis the decorative element of his work, rather than the carving, which makes the connection with Derignée intriguing. Further work gilding picture frames at Montagu House was billed by Pelletier in 1693-4; the frames and paintings, by Jean Baptiste Monnoyer, are still in the house. In July 1699 Pelletier billed Montagu ‘for carving and gilding two frames of two marble tables at £20 per frame’. These tables, with black bordered marble tops, are still at Boughton (illus. Murdoch, Burlington (November 1997), fig. 4.)

Another table at Boughton, although undocumented, has been attributed to Pelletier and dated c. 1689. It bears the cipher and Earl’s coronet of Ralph Montagu (illus. Murdoch, Burlington (November 1997), figs 11, 14 & 15). In August 1701 Pelletier provided for Montagu House twelve ebony frames ‘for the small heads of Vandyke’ and supplied other frames, cornices and undertook gilding work.

Jean Pelletier’s will was written in June 1702. In it he left his ‘Wares, Goods, Chattels, ready money, Debts, Plate, Warehouse, holdstuff, utensils’ to his wife Esther ‘during her life and after her Decease to be equally divided between my two sons René Pelletier and Thomas Pelletier’. He died in 1704 and his business was carried on by his two sons. A month before his father died Thomas Pelletier was appointed Cabinet Maker in Ordinary to Queen Anne. Jean Pelletier’s wife Esther died in 1712; his daughter Jane married Jean Guilbaud, probably the cabinet maker of that name who worked at the sign of ‘The Crown and Looking Glass’ in Long Acre.

Source: DEFM; Yorke, ‘French Furniture at Ham House’, Furniture History (1990); Murdoch, ‘Jean, René and Thomas Pelletier, a Huguenot family of carvers and gilders in England 1682-1726’, The Burlington Magazine, Part I (November 1997); Part II (June 1998).

The original entry from Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, 1660-1840 can be found at British History Online.