Pelletier, René and Thomas
London; carver and gilders (b. c.1670–1726 and (b. c.1680-after 1726)
Thomas and René were the sons of Jean Pelletier, a French carver and gilder who received his letter of denization in London in 1682. According to a deposition in the Boughton archives, in 1712 René was then aged ‘40 years or thereabouts’ and Thomas ‘30 years or thereabouts’, which would make their birth years 1672 and 1682 respectively. But when René arrived in Amsterdam with his father in 1681, he was already working, since his trade of ‘engraver’ was noted when he applied for Amsterdam citizenship later that year. That being so it seems that René was probably born well before 1672.
It is assumed that the René and Thomas, with their mother Esther, came to England at the same time as their father (1682), although René may have continued working in Amsterdam for a while. However, he was certainly in England by 1691 when he stood godfather at the Huguenot Church on 5 July. Both men later claimed to have worked with their father Jean from 1688 onwards, but it was Thomas who took over the management of the business from 1702. In November 1704, a month before his father’s death, Thomas was appointed Cabinet Maker in Ordinary to Queen Anne. However, no payments to Thomas Pelletier survive in the Great Wardrobe Accounts, and it has been suggested [Murdoch, 1998] that the carved giltwood furniture invoiced during Queen Anne’s reign by Gerrit Jensen was in fact made in Thomas Pelletier’s workshop. This includes a marble topped table now in the King Charles Dining Room at Windsor (RCIN 21620), a pair of stands for Japanese lacquer cabinets (RCIN 35485), another marble topped table now at Buckingham Palace (RCIN 600) and a pair of tables with Japanese lacquer tops formerly at Warwick Castle (sold Sotheby’s, 10 July 1998, lot 116.)
The Pelletiers continued to work for Ralph Montagu during this time, supplying picture frames, mirror frames, glass sconces and window glass for Boughton. They also supplied ordinary case furniture and chairs and at the time of Duke Ralph’s death in 1709 £2,382 12s 6d was owed to the Pelletiers for work undertaken. Some of the mirror frames were perhaps embellished with vere églomisé, eg: 1706, a chimneypiece with ‘a glass frame two pieces being 60 inches and two other pieces 32 inches Engraved with gold upon a blue ground’. However, the description could equally imply true engraved glass rather than églomisé. The wholesale attribution of vere eglomisé mirror frames to the Pelletier workshop should not be encouraged.
In February 1712 the brothers’ mother (and Jean’s widow) Esther died. Previously the brothers had become co-partners in 1709 but a dispute developed which resulted in dissolution of the partnership in March 1712. According to René’s complaint the dispute arose because Thomas did not invest his share of his inheritance in the business and furthermore paid money collected in the way of business into his own accounts. René’s inability to speak English may have contributed to his lack of control in the business at this time. Whatever the truth of the dispute, neither brother worked in the carving business after 1712. René’s deposition is interesting not least because it suggests that René himself was not a carver. He declared that ‘he did live with and serve his father’ from 1688 until his death. Further, ‘he did by his father’s Direcion from time to time make Entries… in his father’s Books of Accts..’. From this it appears that René was a bookkeeper and businessman but not a carver; that side of the business was Thomas’s responsibility.
Thomas developed a second career as a dealer and auctioneer, supplying paintings and prints to Ralph Montagu, among others. In March 1712 an auction was held at Thomas Pelletier’s house ‘next to the Wheat-Sheaf, in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden’. He had insured this property in August 1711 for £450. He also owned a house in Maiden Lane which was insured for £250. This latter property was still being insured in July 1723, but his own address was then being given as the parish of St Giles-in-the-Fields. It appears he also had a country property at Aldenham, Herts., where three daughters were baptised between 1724 and 1727. The date of Thomas’s death is not yet known.
René, meanwhile, worked as a mounter or ‘mat-maker’ of prints, maps, &c. The Holkham archives record payments in 1729 to Mr Pelletier for mounting 115 old master drawings. He died in 1726 and his stock in trade of ‘Pictures, Prints, Drawings’ was auctioned in March. In 1727 payment was received by a ‘Mrs Pellitier’, probably René’s widow, for work undertaken for the Duke of Chandos at Cannons, Edgware, Middlx. The payment of £26 5s was for setting up a cartoon. René’s son Solomon was apprenticed to Peter Saulnier, a diamond cutter, in 1732 and may be the same as the ‘Mr Pelletier, goldsmith’ recorded in Leicester Fields in 1744.
Sources: V&A archives; Beard, Craftsmen and Interior Decoration in England, p. 275; GL, Hand in Hand MS vol. 9, p. 224; vol. 27, p. 206; 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).