Singerie Chic

There is something about monkeys that people find irresistible. Have you ever noticed how often they appear in art, both fine and decorative? Did you know that there is a term for specifically for it? If you have studied art history you probably know that it is singerie, from the French word “singe” meaning monkey. I have always loved these depictions and actually went through a “monkey” phase, which is when I purchased these playful candlesticks.

Monkeys have been used by artists for mocking, mirroring and expressing man’s ways for centuries. One blog post could not do justice to this fascinating topic but I felt the urge to conjure up a little homage to our furry friends. Monkeys appeared in art from the beginning starting with the Greeks and Egyptians who, in general, held a less than favorable opinion of the creature. This continued through the Middle Ages as monkeys were often placed in Eden, symbolizing a human gone bad, who has given into sin. A perfect example is here in this page from Verard Antoine’s book “La Bible en Francoys” from 1500 where the apple-eating monkey is assisting the serpent in tempting Adam and Eve.

But Singerie per se didn’t come into its own until the French rococo, the most amazing example probably that of Christophe Huet’s Grande Singerie at the chateau de Chantilly. Painted in 1735 for the Duke of Bourbon, Louis-Henri de Condé, the reception rooms at the palace depict allegorical designs of monkeys, in mostly mandarin attire, pursuing activities of everyday life in a satirical manner. Three years ago, the Institute of France, which owns the chateau, finished restoring the room. The repairs cost $1 million and were possible due the generosity of the Aga Khan, who lived nearby and matched the World Monuments Fund in Europe’s $500,000 to undertake the project.

photo courtesy of
Here is a detail from one of the panels

photo: © Neue Zürcher Zeitung AG

Unlike the Grande Singerie, the paintings in the Petite Singerie, in the private section of the chateau, show the monkeys in French costumes, engaged in more aristocratic activities indicated by the names of the panels such as “The Card Game, “The Promenade on Ice” and “The Toilette”.

If you are interested in learning more about Huet, there is a book devoted entirely to his work. This is the second edition which has an August release date.

Singerie appeared in other decorative arts as well. Take for example this fabulous rococo Meissen Monkey Band, ca. 1740. It includes twenty-four pieces of fashionably attired monkeys made by Johann Joachim Kandler, the master modeler at Meissen for more than forty years.

courtesy of RISD museum

These 2 charming fellows, obviously from a similar Dresden group, brought $1,32oo at auction four years ago at Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati.

The rage for chinoiserie, which had inspired the rococo’s vision, continued. It became associated with images of paradise where monkeys had a more positive connotation and then translated to other non exotic idyllic locations as well, as seen here in Henri Rousseau’s Tropical Forest with Monkeys.

Frida Kahlo’s art depicted monkeys as protective caring creatures.

Monkeys have continued to be popular subjects by many contemporary artists as well.

If you are or have become after this post a fan of monkeys, there are many ways you can incorporate them into the more decorative aspects of your life. I’ve always loved Pierre Frey’s Singerie – such a charming fabric.

This Austrian early 20th century monkey head humidor could be the perfect accessory for a difficult to buy for cigar-smoking man in your life.

And to give you an idea the popularity of monkeys, this Minton majolica monkey garden seat sold at Christie’s last year for $15,550, above the upper limits of the estimate.

But this French 19th century monkey majolica pitcher is still available at 1stdibs

Or how about a little monkey business in your office? This 19th century French singerie inkwell from Hollyhock through the upscale online retailer Taigan would certainly add an element of panache.

The fun stationer Iomoi also has several simian offerings. This hand sculpted monkey will hold your business cards in style.

And these adorable coasters would make a great hostess gift for any upcoming invites!

Start your baby off in style with this charming Vera Wang Joyful Monkey birth announcement or birthday card. It’s sure to bring a smile.

And for the over 21 crowd, this boxed note set of a brown gin monkey from The Printery could be a chic signature card.

Use their whimsical gold fancy monkey place cards for an informal lunch or dinner.

Similarly, the Monkey Marbles engraved motif from Thornwillow would add a jaunty bit of attitude to your correspondence.

William Wayne, the NYC outpost of all forms of household chic, offers their signature monkey bowl to hold anything from edibles to collectibles.

And if you’d rather wear your singerie, there’s always vintage David Webb – doesn’t get any better!!

Thanks to my blogging friend Barbara at My Dog Eared Pages who sent a few of these fun images my way!

30 thoughts on “Singerie Chic

  1. How long did it take you to put this fun & educational post together! I grew up with a lot of antique Meissen around me (my Mom is from Austria). I would not say no to the Monkey Band! The details are fantastic.

    ox, Mon

  2. What a great post—I remember seeing some monkeys used in a few Victorian homes that I have visited, also… love the information and examples you have shared with us—I want those cards, especially!

    Hope you are having a fabulous new week,

  3. Yet another fantastic post. I feel as though you should work for NPR or some sort of series. Love learning about all your research, so thorough, clever and stylishly collected.
    I created a birthday invite for a friend, “hear no, see no, speak no evil” and had it framed in bamboo….love monkeys and love they playfulness they bring to life.
    I toured Chantilly and have photos from that room….we ate fresh whipped Chantilly cream…whipped right in front of us! I felt like a monkey!
    My favorite monkey is Curious George.

  4. Q – you never “monkey” around with your posts, do you? Your posts are little educational treasures, each and every one. I have a cute little tapestry purse from J. McLaughlin with “hear no, see no, speak no evil” monkeys – perhaps designed by PVE – that’s one of my favorites!

  5. I went BANANAS over your monkey post (sorry I couldn’t resist). And I know these historical posts take a lot of time! Plus I learned that monkeying around has a name. :-) my favorite was the charming card holder.
    All best, Lynn from decor arts now.

  6. while these all look quite harmless, I, personally, am scarred for life after having watched the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz…I still have nightmares…lol..
    love the images…

  7. I do remember this from art history in college :) I have always thought they were cute, yet so many seem to have an aversion to the motif. I think the only thing scary is Frida’s eyebrows in that painting! Ha Your post could be the final project to art history class! Wonderful!! XO

  8. How wonderful! I’m feeling inspired to paint a few monkeys. Thanks for introducing me to the term “singerie”… I will use it when I talk about the Spring 2011 Prada collection! And I agree with Patrica, Curious George is my favorite monkey. XO

  9. q-
    I LOVE MONKEYS! You have made my morning with this post! I am especially in love with the band. I will refer back to this post for my monkey fix, haha.
    Have a great day.

  10. This is fascinating, I love historical background on popular subjects and objects, thank you! Many of our customers are fond of Lilly patterns with monkeys, it is nice to know a little more about them!

    Hoping your Tuesday is divine,

  11. My Gigi, truly one of
    the most stylish ladies
    ever, loved monkeys
    and had a lot of them
    woven into her decor.
    Thank you for all of
    the memories and for
    the smiles that this post
    brought! Love the little
    gift ideas!
    xx Suzanne

  12. Thanks for this super post. I have always love singerie; in fact anything depicting animals makes a room happy. A set of 18th c. Singerie hand colored engravings would make my day. For the moment I am making due with elephants, dogs, parrots and macaws. (and of course, huge poodle “Jones” usually joins me at work) Have a wonderful day!!! Mary

  13. How this is possible I do not know but I don’t think I’ve ever noticed the ribbon in the monkey’s hair in the Frida image. I just can’t stop laughing about it for some reason. That brooch, oh my the craftsmanship – swoon. You know now whenever I see monkeys depicted in art or wares, I’m going to be reminded of you and I mean that in the best way.

  14. I’m so glad to know I’m not alone in my affection for monkeys. And, there is a name for it!! I feel like I just joined a club.

    Friends gave my son’s monkeys when they were born, so I had a local artist paint a painting incorporating the monkeys into the picture. It still hangs in my son’s room, 6 years later. I think he wants an update, but I still love it!

  15. I had a monkey phase, too… and still love them. What a great look at Singerie. I would love to see the chateau de Chantilly. I adore how the last monkey {DW brooch} is wearing his diamond bracelet in such “Petite Singerie” style!

  16. I ADORE monkeys!! That last little fellow is my favorite, beyond cute! On our honeymoon in CA husband and I saw the most adorable monkey crib bedding in a little store and I had to run out of the place to stop myself from buying them (we both agreed it would be crazy to buy nursery sheets since we knew we wouldn’t be having little ones for years). I’m glad to know my quirky obsession has an official (and very stylish) name =)

  17. Excellent post! I’ve been dying for a copy of the Huet Singeries book. I do like a touch of monkeys here and there. I have those Printery place cards and I love them!

  18. Love this post, especially that writing paper! What is it about monkeys that people love so much? It always amazed me that my monkey bags were always best-sellers. You’re inspiring me to add a few into my pop-up shop :) Hope you’re having a wonderful week so far!
    xo Mary Jo

  19. That is such a great post. I love monkeys and as a child had a few monkey toys I loved:) Those coasters are soooo adorable:) How is your week so far, my dear?
    Happy Tuesday

  20. I’m so glad that I didn’t miss this–as always, the breadth of your references blows me away! But I don’t look at monkeys the same way after an encounter with some meanies in Bali…

  21. Thank you for this delightful posting! I was not familiar with the term singerie, but I’ve noticed that monkeys and palms used together are a popular theme in Florida decorating. And by coincidence, there’s recently been an escaped monkey loose in the Tampa Bay area who has caused much interest for his extensive neighborhood travels.

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