A Paris art gallery. A German private collection.
Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, "Vergoldete Bronzen", 1986, p. 711, illustrating a page from "Description des expositions des produits de l'Industrie Française faites à Paris depuis leur origine jusqu'à celle de 1819", 1924 by L. S. Le Norman and J. V. de Moléon, showing an engraving of various parts of the surtout de table exhibited by Gérard-Jean Galle at the Expositions des Produits de l'Industrie Française, 1819.
A highly important, unique and exceptional quality Empire matt and polished gilt bronze and mirrored glass five-piece twenty four-light surtout de table modelled and made by Claude Galle, of rectangular outline with rounded ends and composed of five sections, the pierced balustrade composed of peacocks displaying all their tail feathers to create a circular fan above abundant fruiting garlands hung from the shoulders of attendant winged putti and then hung at the other end from either twelve upright foliate stems with a palmetted finial which alternate with a corresponding double branched candle holder, each with broad drip-pans, vase-shaped nozzles and a central palmetted finial, the stem of foliate outline and base mounted with fantastic dolphins centred by Neptune's trident above conjoined rams' head feet , the plateau fitted with mirrored glass
Paris, date circa 1810
Length 310 cm, width 70 cm, height 32 cm.
The importance of this unique and outstanding surtout de table cannot be overestimated. Not only was it the only one ever made by the esteemed bronzier Claude Galle (1759-1815) but was also one of the few pieces that were after his own model. Other similar surtouts exist but all of them were made after Galle's original design. It is therefore a significant rediscovery. Galle, who worked extensively as a marchand de dorure only owned a few of his own models which he had cast at independent workshops. As Jean-Dominique Augarde notes in "Une nouvelle vision du bronze et des bronziers sous le Directoire et des et l'Empire", in: "L'Estampille-L'Objet d'Art, 2005, p. 398, Galle only had three workbenches for bronze work thus the output of his own models were small in number.
Added to its rarity is its innovative decoration featuring peacocks in full plumage supported on either side by putti holding garlands and intersected by the candle holders; it therefore needs to be emphasised that the incorporation of the candelabras, which were a new and functional element was also very rare since it increased the cost of production considerably. Similar examples are known, including one attributed to Galle's famous rival Pierre-Philippe Thomire which was sold by Me Lair-Dubreuil on 3rd April 1911 (lot 105). Another example signed by Thomire is in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg while one by Denière & Matelin was made in 1817 for President James Munroe and is still in the White House, Washington. A final surtout once owned by the Princess of Castel-Rüdenhausen was offered at Galerie Koller, Geneva 2nd October 2002, lot 1252, which like the others was made after the present surtout.
The first mention of this surtout de table appeared in Galle's studio inventory of 1812,under number 36, which describes it as "Un plateau de cinq morceaux riche à figures de paon portant girandoles à vingt quatre lumières tout doré au mat avec glaces peinture coloriée modèle de Galle, estimé à la somme de quattre mille deux cent dix francs". The date of the inventory proves that the model had been designed and created one to two years before 1812. It also refers to glaces peinture or painted glass which was very fashionable at that period. Lot 211 in the deceased sale of the bronzier Pierre-François Feuchère describes "Glaces pour plateaux et dessus de tables peintes par Lagrenée, d'une exécution et d'un coloris délicieux". Over time most of these finely painted plateaux have either been lost or destroyed with the rare exception of one which was sold at the Palais Galliera Paris, 21st November 1974, lot 42.