A superb set of four Empire gilt bronze four-light wall-lights attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire, each with a draped Victory with hands raised holding a symmetrical two-sided scrolled branch adorned with bearded masks and drip-pans with short nozzles, the figure standing with both feet on a globe above a stiff-leaf and anthemion terminal
Paris, date circa 1810
Height 65 cm, width 45 cm. each.
The personification of Victory was well known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The figure became an integral element within Empire design through the intervention of Charles Percier (1764-1838) and Pierre François Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853), Napoleon’s most important architects and designers. These impressive wall-lights derive from a design for a set of candelabra by Charles Percier of 1802 for the furnishing of Joséphine Bonaparte’s boudoir at Château de St. Cloud (as shown on a sheet of designs by Percier of 1802, now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, illustrated in Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, “Vergoldete Bronzen”, 1986, p.328, pl. 5.2.1.). The model is particularly associated with Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843), though the attribution to this great maker is also based on the superb quality of their casting and finish. Thomire created a number of bronzes featuring similar female Victories either supporting branched lights on their head or in raised hands. In particular the modelling of the drapery, the pose and positioning of both feet on an orb relates closely to a pair of candelabra with winged Victories by Thomire, now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (illustrated and discussed ibid. p. 329, pl. 5.2.4.).
As the most famous bronzier of his era, Pierre-Philippe Thomire was patronised by Louis XVI, then Napoleon and Louis XVIII as well as foreign monarchy and aristocracy. Born in Paris, he began his training under the sculptors Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828) and Augustin Pajou (1730-1809) at the Académie Saint-Luc, Paris and then followed his father’s profession as a fondeur-ciseleur. He studied under the great fondeur-doreur, Pierre Gouthière (1732-1813/14), from whom he acquired the most refined skills in chasing and gilding, in particular matt gilding ‘dorure au matt’, to produce a subtle grainy satin-like finish. Appointed a maître-fondeur in 1772, he set up his own business in 1776 following his collaboration with Jean-Louis Prieur in the decoration of the coronation coach for Louis XVI and in 1783 was also appointed modeller to the Royal Sèvres porcelain factory.
Despite his association with Louis XVI, Thomire was secure during the Revolution since he prudently turned his skill to the manufacture of arms and ammunition. Afterwards he returned to making decorative bronzes to the extent that his pre-Revolutionary success was somewhat eclipsed by his fame during the Empire. In 1806 he became the first bronzier to be awarded a gold medal at the Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie. He won another gold award in 1809, in which year he was also appointed ciseleur de l’Empereur. In response to growing demand Thomire became an associate and then in 1804 purchased the extensive business owned by Martin-Eloi Lignereux, the famous marchand-mercier who had had succeeded Dominique Daguerre. The business, renamed Thomire-Duterme et Cie employed a vast work force and from its showroom at rue Taitbout retailed a large range of decorative objects inspired by Antiquity, including all manner of light fittings, extravagant centrepieces, monumental urns and clock cases, examples of which can be found among the world’s finest collections. Soon after 1815 the partnership with Duterme was dissolved and under its new style, Thomire et Cie thrived once more under the restored Bourbons. In 1823 Thomire won a gold medal for sculpture and in the same year retired though he continued to produce sculptures and regularly exhibited at the Paris Salon until 1834. His two sons-in-law continued his business up until 1852 though Thomire’s renown has continued to the present day.