Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, “Vergoldete Bronzen”, 1986, p. 382, pl. 5.16.2, illustrating a gilt bronze and mirrored glass surtout de table stamped Thomire à Paris of circa 1810-14 with a pierced balustrade formed of pairs of half kneeling putti holding vine sprays intersected by six pilasters, the two at either end surmounted by urns while the ones at the sides are surmounted by comparable female personifications of The Four Seasons, in the Musée Marmottan, Paris.
An extremely fine set of four Empire gilt bronze and marble statuettes for a surtout de table attributed to the esteemed bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire with each of the beautiful classical female figures representing one of The Four Seasons. Spring is shown as the goddess Flora wearing a long diaphanous tunic dress, with her hair worn up and adorned with a crown of flowers, holding in her right hand a floral wreath and in her left a dove. Summer is represented as the ancient goddess Ceres, shown as a beautiful classical semi-nude female with her coiled hair arranged as if ears of wheat, wearing a diaphanous dress and holding aloft in her right hand a sickle and in her left hand a sheaf of corn. Autumn is shown as a Bacchante, wearing a short tunic dress, with bunches of grapes in her coiled hair and holding other Bacchic attributes, namely a thyrsus her right hand and a wine goblet held aloft in the other. Winter is represented as a semi-nude figure who wraps a diaphanous robe around her shoulders and across the front of her body to shield herself against the cold. Each figure standing on a square green marble dais set upon a rectangular yellow marble plinth mounted on the front with a carved palm frond above a gilt bronze acanthus leaf band, set upon a square green marble base
Paris, date circa 1810
Height 35 cm. each.
These magnificent statuettes can be attributed to the pre-eminent fondeur-ciseleur Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843) based on their quality but more particularly their close comparison with similar statuettes that adorn a surtout de table made for Emperor Napoleon’s brother Prince Lucien Bonaparte, which is now in the Musée Marmottan, Paris. As here the latter figures represent The Four Seasons which had been a traditional subject in Western art since the Renaissance and a much favoured allegorical theme during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
A surtout de table was a lavish decorative table ornament that was first introduced in France during the early nineteenth century, when the French, who always enjoyed a long tradition of gastronomy and entertainment, began changing their eating habits. This in turn brought about a modernisation of the dining table. The service à la Française, which was the height of fashion during the eighteenth century, had involved a lavish display of food, served on large platters which remained in the centre of the table throughout the meal. However, when the service à la Russe came into fashion circa 1810, traditionally assumed via the Russian Ambassador Prince Alexander Borisovich Kurakin, food was presented one course at a time. Since individual dishes were served hot direct from the kitchen this meant that the central part of the table was left bereft of decoration. As a consequence, table ornaments became increasingly more lavish with the surtout de table providing the perfect solution.
Juliette Niclausse’s biography, “Thomire, fondeur-ciseleur 1751-1843: sa vie, son oeuvre”, 1947, pp. 129-130, lists ten complete and twelve incomplete surtouts de table and individual pieces by Thomire. The largest set, comprising 59 pieces was owned by the Mobilier National, while the Ministère de l’Intérieur and the Ministère de la Guerre both owned other Thomire surtouts. In addition to that made Prince Lucien Bonaparte, in the Musée de Marmottan, was a further example owned by the comtes de Pourtalès, which is now in the Gulbenkian Museum. Prince Demidoff also once owned a Thomire surtout, part of which was purchased in 1880 by the silversmiths, Odiot.
Pierre-Philippe Thomire is regarded as one of history’s finest fondeur-ciseleurs. He enjoyed the patronage of the Emperor Napoleon and his family but also Louis XVI, Louis XVIII as well as foreign monarchy and aristocracy. Born into a family of ciseleurs, Thomire began working with the renowned bronzier Pierre Gouthière (1732-1813) as well as Jean-Louis Prieur (b. 1725 d. after 1785) ciseleur-doreur du roi, before opening up his own workshop in 1776. Famed for his production of finely chased gilt bronze objets de luxe, of which a large quantity were commissioned by the royal household, Thomire frequently collaborated with the marchands-merciers, such as Simon-Philippe Poirier and his successor Dominique Daguerre. In addition, Thomire supplied finely chased mounts to leading ébénistes of his day such as Guillaume Benneman (maître 1785, d. 1811) and Adam Weisweiler (1744-1820). Thomire also helped establish his name when working at the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory, firstly as an assistant to its artistic director Jean-Claude Duplessis in making the factory’s mounts and then following the latter’s death in 1783, he took over Duplessis’s job and in this capacity supplied all the gilt bronze mounts for the factory’s porcelain. His post-Revolutionary success somewhat eclipsed his fame during Louis XVI’s reign and in 1806 he became the first bronzier to be awarded a gold medal at the Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie. He won another gold medal in 1809, in which year he was also appointed ciseleur de l’Empereur.
In response to growing demand Thomire became an associate and then in 1804 purchased the extensive business owned by Martin-Eloi Lignereux, the famous marchand-mercier, formerly associated with Daguerre. Soon his newly named company Thomire-Duterme et Cie was employing a work force of about 800; it had a workshop at rue Boucherat and a showroom at rue Taitbout, from where Thomire retailed a large range of decorative objects inspired by antiquity including extravagant surtouts and centrepieces, candelabra, clock cases and monumental Greek and Roman style urns and vases. Like many Parisian trades, the firm encountered financial difficulties due Napoleon’s continuing wars. Soon after 1815 the partnership with Duterme was dissolved and under its new style, Thomire et Cie thrived once more under the restored Bourbons. 1823 saw Thomire winning a gold medal for sculpture in Paris as well as his retirement from the firm though he continued to produce sculptures and regularly exhibited at the Paris Salon until 1834. His business was continued by his two sons-in-law and then his grandsons up until 1852 though Thomire’s legacy has continued for much longer.