A magnificent and rare pair of large sized St. Petersburg Empire two-toned gilt bronze vases attributed to Friedrich Bergenfeldt after a design by Jean-François Thomas de Thomon, of campagna form with everted rim above a stiff leaf border, the body headed by a band of grotto-work and flanked by two semi-nude classical nymphs draped at the waist and leaning outward as they hold a cord hung with a foliate and fruiting swag suspended from lion mask heads, each figure standing on scrolled handles that wrap around the vase base above a palmette band on a fluted waisted stem and ribbon wreathed foot, on a square plinth above a stepped black and grey veined marble base with stiff leaf mounted border below a pair of mounted classical females with a ewer and bowl and to the sides with female mask heads within diamond-shaped frames
Saint Petersburg, date circa 1805
Height 60 cm, diameter 28 cm.
There is a pair of almost identical vases in the Hermitage Museum, which are illustrated in Igor Sychev, "Russian Bronze", 2003, pp. 102-3. The latter however have covers and have a bright green patination, while the malachite bases are mounted with figures of Diana the huntress. Igor Sychev describes the latter as "The Medici Vases. St Petersburg, the J. -J. Baumann Factory (?) 1805-7". However it is far more plausible to attribute the design of these highly worked and jewel-like bronzes to the French born architect Jean-François Thomas de Thomon (1754-1813) and their manufacture to the German born bronzier Friedrich Bergenfeldt (1760-1814/22), both of whom worked extensively in St. Petersburg. Although the design reflects many aspects of the French Empire style, in particular that of the renowned bronzier Claude Galle (1759-1815), it also includes other elements that define it as belonging to the Russian Empire style and in particular to the work of Thomas de Thomon.
Notable is the combination of classical lines and romantic grottowork, which is also evident in one of Thomas de Thomon's designs for a vase of 1803. The latter, as here, combines rockwork and water nymphs within an overall classical design. Elements of Thomon's design also appear in a group of gilt and patinated bronze vases, which again are closely related to the present pair. A pair of vases, formerly in the collection of Count Stoganoff (sold in his sale by Lepke, Berlin, May 1931, lot 137) also includes similar figures to those in Thomon's design. Furthermore an ovoid gilt and patinated vase signed and dated F. Bergenfeldt à St. Petersburg 1802 also follows the same form and combination of rockwork with classical elements and bears an identical gilt bronze mount featuring Neptune flanked by hippocampi. A pair of vases in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence (illustrated S. Colombo, "L'Arte de Mobile in Italia", 1975, pl. 302) and another single vase with applied figures to the rim and to the sides (illustrated in Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, "Vergoldete Bronzen", 1986, p. 365, pl. 5.12.11) also bear the same Neptune mounts as in Thomon's design. Interesting the latter vase is attributed to Claude Galle though Ottomeyer mentions its similarity with Bergenfeldt's vase of 1802. Also of significance is the fact that one of the vases in that group has similar handles to the present pair, though instead of nymphs they are formed as mermaids but have very similar distinctive facial features and pose (as if leaning out). Such close similarities between this vase and those cited above suggest the present vases being a collaboration between Thomas de Thomon and Bergenfeldt. Interestingly this gallery also once sold a pair of Russian gilt bronze mounted malachite brûle parfums attributed to Bergenfeldt after a design by the Andrei Voronikhin, which again featured nude classical females leaning out away from the main body.
The German born bronzier Friedrich Bergenfeldt was working in Saint Petersburg during the 1790's after which he may well have worked in Paris but by 1801 was once more in Russia and proved very productive during the first decade of the nineteenth century. He was without doubt one of the finest bronziers to have worked in St Petersburg during that period and like his contemporaries such as Baumann or J-P Lancry supplied numerous bronzes to furnish the Russian Imperial court and aristocracy. He regularly collaborated with the ébéniste Heinrich Gambs for whom he supplied elaborate bronze mounts. Though he generally worked from designs by others, nevertheless his bronzes showed a distinct similarity with the work of the Parisian bronzier Claude Galle, whose monumental vases and urns as well as clock cases often featured semi-draped female beauties abutting the main body as part of the handle or around the rim.
Like Bergenfeldt, Thomas de Thomon, who was born in France, was a foreigner working in St Petersburg. He worked as a designer, painter and engraver though is probably best known now for his many architectural works in St Petersburg and elsewhere. Among the many buildings he designed the Stock Exchange and the extraordinary Rostral Columns at Vasilyevsky Island as well many of St Petersburg cemeteries in combination with some superb decorative works for the Imperial court such as a gilt bronze mounted crystal and stained glass vase (made by the Imperial Glass Factory) for Maria Feodorovna at Pavlovsk Palace.