Christofle French, 1805-1863



In 1829 Charles Christofle opened a business on Rue de Bondy, Paris which was to become the largest firm of silver and electroplate manufacturers in France. In 1830 he was joined by his brother-in-law, Joseph-Albert Bouilhet (b.1778) who brought his own expertise as a jeweller to the family firm (the Bouilhet family still continue as directors of this highly successful firm). The house owes its initial success to the introduction of electroplating techniques. In 1840 Charles Christofle purchased the rights to use the recent invention of Count Henri de Roulz, though he had first to negotiate with Elkington's whose patent it enfringed. Electroplated articles could be produced dramatically cheaper than those of solid silver but still maintained the same quality of finish and design. Charles Christofle was a true entrepreneur, recognising that post-Revolutionary Society, during the Second Empire appreciated saving but was also immersed in the art of living; thus the appearance of a dinner service was more important than its intrinsic value. On December 13th 1853 Napoleon III held a sumptous feast at the Tuileries, the table was adorned with his newly acquired Christofle dinner service, comprising of 15 main and over 1,200 smaller pieces; it was shown at the Paris Exposition, 1855 to great acclaim.


From that day on Christofle was sought after by International Society, including a unique commission from a Maharaja for a solid silver bed which had at each corner a life size nude. However the predominant demand was for elaborate tableware - centre pieces, tureens or wine coolers of electroplated silver. Christofle specialized in reproducing ciselure by electroplating while some pieces, such as jugs held exquisitely cut and engraved glass liners and others were decorated with enamel bands and borders. Christofle's continuing success relied upon its constant decorative innovation. Like most important silver factories, they commissioned expert designers, such as Albert Carrier-Belleuse (1824-87), a sculptor whose hedonistic forms particularly appealed to Napoleon III. Christofle produced a number of pieces of furniture, including a bronze table by Carrier-Belleuse (Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris). In addition the house cast quality mounts for furniture in the Louis XVI style and also cast much larger objects, notably the giant statue of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, Marseilles and the statues crowning the Paris Opera Fagade.


During the 1870's Christofle reflected the current interest in Japonisme and led the field in the use of cloisonne enamel of larger objects. From c. 1890-1910 the sculptor, Arnoux made a number of designs. His decorations consisted of naturalistic floral motifs and curving lines which lent a modern accent to predominantly traditional forms. After the First World War, Christofle became much more progressive, introducing a number of well designed Art Deco pieces. Among their innovative designs during the 1930's were a series of plates with Surrealist decoration by Jean Cocteau and the Vicomtesse Marie-Laure. Since the Second World War Christofle has employed such eminent designers as the Italian, Gio Ponti (b.1891) and the Finn, Tapio Wirkkala (b.1915) and to this day the house maintains a standard of innovation combined with taste and good design.


Copyright by Richard Redding Antiques Ltd.