Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord (1754-1838), Château de Valençay.
A superb Empire silver gilt tureen with cover and dish by Marie-Joseph-Gabriel Genu (maître 1788) with body ornamented by four swans, the swans either end supporting two ringed handles with an anthemion gallery, supported upon four paw feet. The cover surmounted by a handle formed as a snake with tail in its mouth, symbolising eternity and engraved with the initials D de C
Paris, dated 1805
Height 15 cm, width 16 cm.
Marie-Joseph-Gabriel Genu created fine silver and gold work for Napoleon, for members of his imperial court such as his foreign secretary Talleyrand and distinguished members of society. Although his dates are uncertain, it is known that Genu became a maître in 1788 and is assumed to be the son of the maître silversmith, Jean-François Genu (m.1754, d.1781). He began as a jeweller and also made metal crosses before making his name as one of the greatest Parisian silversmiths, based at Rue des Fossés-Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois. Much of his work was made in association with and for Martin-Guillaume Biennais, who with his rival, Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot was one of Napoleon's favourite court gold and silversmiths. However Biennais was primarily a dealer and businessman who organised a team of some 600 craftsmen to meet the Emperor's insatiable appetite for fine silver and furnishings. He therefore needed to employ some of the finest artists of the day, of which Genu was his most important collaborator.
One of the definitive writers on French silver, H. Bouilhet noted that Genu's work ranked on a par with Odiot and furthermore that Biennais' great name in supplying Napoleon and others with nécessaires de voyage (luxury travelling cases) was largely on account of Genu's craftsmanship. The Musée des Art Décoratifs, Paris owns a fine nécessaire, 1798-1809 bearing both Biennais and Genu's marks; in addition to toiletries it also contains a complete breakfast set with a tea, coffee and chocolate service. Another fine nécessaire bearing Genu's marks alone of 1806-9 is now in the Royal Palace Stockholm. It was made for Désirée Clary, wife of Marshal Bernadotte and later Queen of Sweden.
Genu caused a sensation at the Exposition des Produits de l'Industrie Française of 1806 when he showed among other items, a very fine sauceboat, designed by Percier and Fontaine made for the Empress Josephine. Genu in collaboration with Biennais also created a magnificent gondola shaped sauceboat, designed by Charles Percier for Napoleon's personal service. Perhaps the most outstanding of Genu's masterpieces was part of a tea and coffee service made for the Empress Josephine, 1797-1808. The cream pot and tea urn bear both Biennais and Genu's marks while the coffee-pot bears Genu's marks alone. Each piece is styled after the antique featuring Roman and Egyptian forms and decorations. It is interesting to note that many books on European silver often dismiss Genu as a mere assistant to Biennais - albeit a very important collaborator. Rather he should be considered as one of the very finest artists of his day whose name has inadvertently been overshadowed by that of Biennais.