A very rare Empire gilt bronze mounted mahogany console-secrétaire attributed to Jacob-Desmalter et Cie, the rectangular rouge griotte marble top above a frieze drawer centred by a beautiful gilt bronze escutcheon featuring Venus in her chariot drawn by a pair of swans, flanked either side by ribbon-tied wreaths, the sides with Apollo head mounts, the hinged frieze drawer opening to reveal a green leather writing slide below two pairs of smaller drawers flanking a central open compartment, the frieze drawer flanked by a pair of gilt bronze mounted laurel leaf wrapped caducei above columnar supports with gilt bronze Corinthian capitals and base before a mirrored back on a breakfronted rectangular base
Paris, date circa 1805-10
Height 92.5 cm, width 117 cm, depth 46 cm.
At first glance this very rare piece looks like a typical Empire console, however on closer inspection one finds that the frieze drawer has a hinged base and slides out to be transformed into a secrétaire. Few craftsmen were capable of such workmanship and ingenuity as this, other than the famous Parisian ébénistes Jacob-Desmalter et Cie at rue Meslée. The piece compares with a slightly later bureau by François-Honoré-Georges Jacob of 1821, which when closed also looks like a console. The later likewise of mahogany but without the decorative mounts and with curved legs terminating in lion paw feet was delivered to Château de Rosny for the chamber de la vicomtesse de Gontaut (illustrated in Denise Ledoux-Lebard, "Le Mobilier Français du XIXe Siècle", 2000, p. 349). The quality of the mounts is of the highest standard and given their intricacy and superb craftsmanship it is very likely that they were made by the pre-eminent fondeur-ciseleur Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843), who often supplied Jacob.
Jacob-Desmalter was one of the most important firms of furniture makers during the Empire and Restauration. When its founder Georges Jacob (1739-1814), the greatest menuisier of the Louis XVI period, retired in 1796, he was succeeded by his two sons Georges II (1768-1803) and François-Honoré-Georges Jacob (1770-1841), who worked under the name of Jacob Frères. But when Georges II died shortly after, his brother, who added the suffix of Desmalter (named after one of his father's properties in Burgundy), went back into business with his father at rue de Meslée and renamed the firm Jacob-Desmalter et Cie. During the Empire François-Honoré-Georges was described as menuisier-ébéniste, fabriquant des meubles et bronzes de LL., MM., II. et RR (Leurs Majestés Impériales et Royales), implying that he played an active role in the practical side of the firm's craftsmanship.
Following Jacob-Desmalter's appointment as ébéniste de l'Empereur the firm's activities significantly increased. Numerous commissions came from the Garde-Meuble Imperial to supply furniture to various Bonaparte residences, especially those of the Empress Joséphine. The firm was also patronised by many notable figures and rich Parisian bourgeoisie. Commissions also came from abroad, from Czar Alexander I of Russia and Charles IV of Spain.
Among the firm's most important surviving items are the Imperial throne at Fontainebleau, the jewel cabinet made for Marie-Louise and the display cases in the Cabinet des Antiques at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Jacob-Desmalter's work can also be admired in numerous other collections including the Châteaux de Compiègne, Fontainebleau, Malmaison, Versailles and Sceaux l'Ille-de-France as well as the Musées du Louvre, Marmottan, Mobile National, Grand Trianon, Napoléon and Tours. The Bibliothèque Marmottan, Banque de France, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères and the Palais d'Aranjuez in Spain are among many others to own Jacob-Desmalter's work.