An important late eighteenth century Russian Jacob Style gilt bronze and brass mounted mahogany bureau bookcase attributed to Christian Meyer, of rectangular form with a moulded cornice, the upper section with two glazed doors with its original glass, each divided into two sets of latticed brass panels, the interior with four shelves, with stop fluted chamfered angles headed by gilt and ebonised paterae, with panelled sides above a projecting lower section fitted with two pull-out green leather-lined writing slides, above two doors, each decorated with a central a gilt mounted lobbed starburst motif upon a scalloped panel within a rectangular frame bordered by stop fluted chamfered angles headed by gilt and ebonised paterae
Saint Petersburg, date circa 1790-1800
Height 278 cm, width 166 cm, depth 60 cm.
This magnificent bookcase with its fine inlays and gilt bronze mounts can be attributed to the celebrated Saint Petersburg cabinet maker Christian Meyer (circa 1850-1807), whose furniture is characterised by its restrained design, its fine quality veneers as well as its high quality gilt bronze mounts, which were probably the best to be produced in Russia during the late eighteenth century. In particular this piece relates to a cylinder bureau bookcase attributed to Meyer, now in a private Italian collection (as discussed in Antoine Chenevière, "Russian Furniture, The Golden Age 1780-1840", 1988, pp. 83, 85 and 124). Furthermore the central medallions and fluted gilt decoration shares many similarities to a mahogany veneer and brass desk chair housed at Pavlovsk Palace Museum (Chenevière, p. 121, pl. 107) while the foliate paterae heading the angles are similar to those found on a portable showcase once belonging to Paul I, in the Hermitage collection.
Christian Meyer was undoubtedly the foremost Saint Petersburg cabinetmaker during the late eighteenth century whose private workshop was one of the busiest in the capital with a prolific output. As a direct supplier to the Imperial Court, he is known to have supplied sixty-four large bookcases for the library in 1793 and thirty-five more in 1795 for the Hermitage. These were among 145 pieces by Meyer, listed in the Hermitage's inventory of 1811, which he had supplied to the Imperial family from 1787 onward. Meyer made many other pieces to furnish Tsar Paul's favourite St. Petersburg residence, the Mikhailovsky Palace as well as the Tsar's cherished retreat at Pavlovsk. During the 1790s he also supplied the Council of the Navy, for whom he made a monumental mahogany desk. Meyer's repute was also such that he gave carpentry lessons to the young Grand Dukes Alexander and Constantine, the sons of Paul and Maria. Meyer was obviously influenced by his celebrated furniture by the German born cabinet maker David Roentgen (1743-1807), who not only impressed the courts of Western Europe as ébeniste mécanicien to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette but also Catherine the Great during his visits to St. Petersburg. Furniture supplied by Roentgen to Russian clients, characterised by their deceptively simple designs of rich mahogany and extremely refined gilt bronze mounts, exerted a great influence on locally produced pieces which lasted well into the nineteenth century. Until recently many pieces supplied to the Russian court were thought to be by Roentgen but thanks to new archival research, most of these important works have now been reattributed to Meyer.
Although the present bookcase shares many similarities with Roentgen's work, its style is much closer to the work of the esteemed Parisian ébéniste Georges Jacob (1739-1814), whose restrained Neo-classical style exerted a strong influence upon Russian makers after Catherine the Great imported a number of his pieces to furnished her palaces. Hence the term Russian Jacob style was coined.