Carle Dreyfus "Musée du Louvre: Les Objets d'Art du XVIIIe Siècle: Époque Louis XV", 1923, pl. 3, illustrating a very similar pair of chenets originally owned by Madame de Pompadour at Château de Bellevue, now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. F. J. B. Watson, "The Wrightsman Collection", 1966, vol. II, p. 375, no. 192 A & B, illustrating an almost identical pair of chenets in the Wrightsman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
An important pair of Louis XV gilt bronze chenets attributed to Jacques Caffiéri, each stamped with a C-couronné poinçon, both in the form of a plinth, chased to resemble brickwork from which issues from its outer side a large rocaille scrolled volute terminating in foliage and a large fruit, upon the plinth is perched a parrot which on one of the chenets turns toward a seated Chinaman with arms folded leaning on the volute and looking over his left shoulder toward a Chinese woman who is seated on the other chenet with her left arm resting on the volute and the other in her lap while she looks downward toward the parrot
Paris, date circa 1745-49
These magnificent rocaille chenets are conceived in the picturesque Chinese manner, featuring a gardener and his companion who listen to parrots, while perched on balustrades beneath giant shrubs. The design is believed to have been invented for Madame de Pompadour, of which a pair from her apartments at Château de Bellevue is now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. In addition to those a near identical pair is in the Wrightsman Collection. F. J. B. Watson notes that another version of the model, in a private collection, was illustrated in "Connaissance des Arts, Le XVIIIe Siècle Français", p. 122, pl. C, where it was reported as being signed F-TH Germain. Although François-Thomas Germain (1726-1791), who became a maître in 1748, was a silversmith, Louis XV granted him lodgings in the Louvre, which enabled him to work both in bronze and silver without abiding by the rules of the guilds; for this reason one also finds works by him being made in bronze including a pair of chenets of a different design, now in the Musée du Louvre.
The present chenets may very well relate to the "model de garniture de grill representant un chinois et une chinoise", listed in the 1755 inventory of the celebrated fondeur-ciseleur Jacques Caffieri (1678-1755), (see E. Molinier, "Le Mobilier Français du XVIIe et du XVIIIe Siècle", circa 1900, p. 23). A similar pair of chenets, formerly in the collection of Lord Savile was later owned by Frederick John Nettlefold (illustrated in R. Forrer, "The Collection of Bronzes and Castings in Brass and Ormolu Formed by Mr. F. J. Nettlefold", 1934, pls. 33 & 34). In addition the Chinaman alone features on a pair of Rococo chenets of a different design that once belonged to Princess Hélène of Saxe-Altenburg and was lent to a retrospective exhibition of art at Saint Petersburg in 1904 (illustrated in Alexandre Benois, "Les Trésors d'Art en Russie", IV, pl. 108). Furthermore a related single chenet, listed in the collection of Sir Philip Sassoon, Bt. at his London home in Park Lane during the 1920s, was later in the collection of the Marquess of Cholmondeley, Houghton and sold at Christie's London 8th December 1994, lot 64.
During the Régence and early part of Louis XV's reign the passion for all things Chinese remained strong. The Chinoiserie style was readily adopted by the Parisian marchands-merciers who acquired original Chinese porcelain figurines via the East India Company and had them copied by the Parisian bronziers. The marchands also used Chinese lacquer panels to decorate pieces of furniture or commissioned Parisian artisans to recreate other objects in the Chinese taste. This was the case with Lazare Duvaux whose daybook lists several deliveries of candelabra, clocks and decorative Chinese style chenets, which Duvaux had executed by various fondeur-ciseleurs; among whom were two of the most celebrated exponents of their day namely Jean-Joseph de Saint-Germain (1719-91), and Jacques Caffiéri. Interestingly Duvaux's daybook records that on 23rd August 1756 he delivered to Mme la Marquise de la Ferrière "un petit feu doré d'or moulu compose de figures chinoises avec ses garnitures de pelles et pincettes 120 l".
It is fair to assume however that these magnificent chenets can be attributed to Jacques Caffiéri, based on their quality, style, the fact that he is known to have produced other Chinoiserie chenets as well as their dating (the C-couronné poinçon stamp being proof of a tax payment imposed between March 1745 and February 1749 on any alloy containing copper). Jacques Caffiéri was one the leading exponents of the Rococo and one of the most prominent bronziers during the reign of Louis XV. Working as both sculptor and fondeur-ciseleur he created many of the original designs for proprietary models that were subsequently cast in bronze. In 1747 his son, Philippe Caffiéri (1714-74) entered into partnership and assisted his father with the creation of some of his later pieces. Like his father Philippe gained great repute as a fondeur-ciseleur working predominantly in the Neo-classical style. While the present chenets are typical of Jacques Caffiéri's oeuvre they also date from a period when his son assisted him.
The Caffiéris were of Italian descent, comprising a great dynasty of sculptors and bronziers employed by the French Crown. On the request of Cardinal Mazarin, Jacques Caffiéri's father, Philippe (1634-1716) emigrated from Naples to Paris and subsequently worked for the French crown to become sculpteur du Roi. Jacques was his tenth child; he was elected to the Académie de Saint-Luc as a sculptor and shortly before 1715 was accepted as a maître fondeur-ciseleur. From then until his death he resided at rue des Canettes. From 1736 onward he was constantly employed by the Crown, being appointed fondeur-ciseleur des Bâtiments du Roi and as such produced works for the palaces at Fontainebleau, Versailles, Choisy, Marly and others. His most important royal commissions included the creation of a large astronomical clock with movement by Dauthiau after designs by C.-S. Passement, now at Versailles as well as two monumental Rococo gilt bronze chandeliers, now in the Wallace Collection, London.
Caffiéri was also commissioned by the Crown to execute two large gilt bronze mirror frames after designs by the architect A.-J. Gabriel, which Louis XV presented to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He also made furniture mounts, notably those for a commode by A.-R. Gaudreau made in 1739 for Louis XV's bedchamber at Versailles (now in the Wallace Collection) and probably another similar commode for Compiègne. In addition he was responsible for the mounts on a chimneypiece in the Dauphin's apartment at Versailles, supplied in 1747 as well as two signed figures intended to be mounted on a cabinet probably for a princely German patron. Jacques Caffiéri also proved to be an able portrait sculptor, as evidenced by his busts of his patron baron de Besenval and his son as well as of baron de Brunstadt. In addition to prominent collections cited above, Jacques Caffiéri's work can be admired in many other important world collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Residenzmuseum in Munich and Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio.