A very rare and important Empire gilt and patinated bronze mounted mahogany jardinière attributed to Jacob-Desmalter et Cie with mounts most probably by Pierre-Philippe Thomire and almost certainly after a design by Charles Percier and Pierre François Léonard Fontaine, the circular bronze bowl with a tin liner and patinated bronze top with an egg and dart border above a two-toned rose and yellow gilt bronze bowl mounted with a reclining classical male and female figure seated either side of a fruit filled basket, she holding a fruiting bouquet and he a fruit and foliate filled cornucopia, flanked by further baskets of fruit, above an anthemion cast band centred below by a pinecone terminal, the bowl supported on patinated bronze monopodiae winged lions on tall slender columnar pillars with gilt bronze Corinthian capitals, joined by two tiers of gilt bronze banded mahogany concave-sided stretchers, on a concave-sided stepped mahogany base framed with gilt bronze stiff leaf borders, centred above by a foliate and stylized fruit finial on eight patinated gilt lion paw feet
Paris, date circa 1810
Height 115.6 cm, diameter 19.5 cm.
Of exceptional quality and of rare design this magnificent jardinière was almost certainly made by the leading firm of Parisian ébénistes Jacob-Desmalter et Cie of rue de Meslée. The quality of the mounts point to the work of Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843), the preeminent fondeur-ciseleur, who often supplied and worked in conjunction with Jacob-Desmalter. In addition the design, or at least individual elements of it, was most probably supplied by Charles Percier (1764-1838), who with Pierre François Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853) was instrumental in creating the Empire style for the Emperor Napoleon.
A closer analysis of the piece may help confirm these attributions. Firstly the distinctive monopodiae winged lion caryatids that support the bowl are very close to those appearing in a number of Percier and Fontaine's designs. In particular one can cite a design proposal by Percier and Fontaine for a table à the which features near identical supports and is inscribed on the drawing 'on peut reconnaitre au fini et à la perfection qu'ils sont de la fabrique de MM Jacob' (from the Lefuel collection, illustrated in Olivier Lefuel, "Percier et Fontaine" in "Connaissance des Arts", Paris, 15th June 1954, no. 28, p. 32). Similar but slightly more robust monopodiae supports feature of Napoleon's throne, which was made by Jacob to the designs of Percier and Fontaine now in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris (illustrated ibid, p. 33).
Jacob-Desmalter is known to have made a number of jardinières of equal ingenuity and of diverse design, for example one described by Denise Ledoux-Lebard in "Le Mobilier Français du XIXe Siècle", 2000, p. 337, as a magnificent sculptured round gilt bronze mounted and inlaid mahogany jardinière supported on four winged lions, which included pilasters and gilt bronze mounts featuring the twelve signs of the zodiac. As here the work was not stamped but carried the marks of the Trianon having been given by Louis King of Holland to Madame Mère. Other jardinières made by the same firm include one from the ancient collection of J. B. Chantell as part of a larger suite of furniture. Made of maple and amaranth it did not include bronze mounts and was much simpler in design but included a figural frieze, a central stem surrounded by three baluster shaped pilasters supported on the backs of dolphins (illustrated ibid, p 356).
As the premier firm of ébénistes during the early nineteenth century, the firm enjoyed the patronage of the Emperor, many of the Imperial family as well as leading figures from European society. This celebrated firm was founded in 1765 by Georges Jacob (1739-1814), who was one of, if not, the finest maître-menuisier immediately before and after the French Revolution. Jacob's particular interest in antiquities and innovation was continued by his two sons, Georges II (1768-1803) and François-Honoré-Georges (1770-1841). When they succeeded their father, following his first retirement in 1796, the two brothers renamed the business as Jacob Frères. Following Georges II's early death in 1803 François-Honoré assumed the name of Jacob-Desmalter and subsequently went back into business with his father continuing the business as Jacob-Desmalter et Cie. The elder partner then retired once more in 1813 and in 1825 François-Honoré was succeeded by his own son. The firm continued under family ownership until it was sold in 1847.
Many of their pieces were richly embellished with decorative mounts for which they called upon such celebrated figures as J-B-C Odiot, Feuchère and P-M Delafontaine but perhaps more regularly on Pierre-Philippe Thomire. Owing to the fact that Thomire often supplied mounts for their more important pieces, as well as the evident quality of the chasing and finish here, it can be assumed that he was indeed responsible for the jardinière's bronzes. Further evidence of their exceptional quality is given by the fact that the bowl features rare two-toned rose and yellow gilding. The two figures holding fruits and a fruit filled cornucopia, each flanking an abundant basket of fruit appear to symbolise the Italian god and goddess Vertumnus and Pomona who were protectors of gardens, orchards and ripening fruit and thus were appropriate subjects to adorn a jardinière, whose purpose was to support plants and floral displays. Though Thomire often made mounts for the leading ébénistes, he was better known for his complete bronzes such as magnificent surtouts de table - which interestingly were sometimes decorated with fruit filled baskets. Thomire also supplied the Imperial family with pieces of furniture under his own name. For instance between 1811-12 he delivered to Château de Fontainebleau a bronze jardinière centred by four baskets and three others supported by three patinated female figures centred by a baluster on a triangular base of bois de racine (now in Musée National de Château de Fontainebleau).
As further evidence of the work's rarity and quality, it was once owned by the Parisian connoisseur and collector Edouard Chappey (c. 1858-1907), who had a Hôtel in the famed rue de la Ville l'Evêque as well as a residence in rue Saint-Georges. Chappey had a very eclectic but a well defined taste that ranged from Renaissance and Medieval sculptures to Oriental rugs and carpets, for instance an Ottoman carpet now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. He was also equally interested in porcelain notably Sèvres, Vincennes as well as Oriental pieces together with rare jewelled boxes, antiquities, glass and bronzes, clocks and furniture predominantly dating from the eighteenth century to the Empire period. His passion for collecting began at about the age of 12 when he began acquiring fossils, agates and other minerals. By 1874 he had started collecting cartoons and old journals, while a period of study in Rouen inspired his love for the Renaissance and architecture.
From April to June 1907 a series of sales were held at Galerie Georges Petit Paris where the remains of his vast and important collection went under the hammer. Although the present work was not included in the sale, having been acquired in 1900 by a previous collector, the contents of his four leather-bound catalogues containing the remaining contents of his impressive collection give an insight into the breadth and depth of his passion. Included were many French eighteenth century pieces of furniture from a suite by J.-B. Sené as well as commodes and secrétaires. His passion for the Directoire and Empire periods was equally evident. Among a number of Empire gilt candelabra, one was described as having female caryatids, scrolled branches and chimeras; an Empire guéridon with lion paw feet was decorated with a painting on glass while a marriage chest from the same period featured grisaille putti reliefs, palmettes and floral swags above the four supports which were headed by winged genie masks on lion paw feet.