A very fine Empire carved mahogany fauteuil de bureau attributed to Jacob-Desmalter et Cie, the shaped gondola back terminating in finely carved lioness heads, on curved supports terminated by circular tapering pilaster legs divided by a straight seat-rail, with rear rectangular sabre legs, upholstered in brown Moroccan leather
Paris, date circa 1805-1810
Height 81 cm, width 65 cm.
Lion and lioness heads were among a number of motifs borrowed from antiquity that were later incorporated within the Empire style. The overall design and quality of this impressive chair relates to others by the celebrated firm of Parisian ébénistes Jacob-Desmalter et Cie, who produced similar examples with arms terminating in lion, lioness or leopardess heads as well as swans, dolphins and sphinxes. For instance Georges II (1768-1803) and François-Honoré-Georges Jacob (1770-1841), under the name of Jacob Frères produced a set of fauteuils with arms terminating in lion heads for use at the Tuileries during the Consulat.
Later in 1804 the firm, renamed Jacob-Desmalter et Cie, used the same design for another set supplied to Fontainebleau, an example of which is now in the Musée de Marmottan, Paris, (illustrated in Marie-Noelle de Grandry, "Le Mobilier Français, Directoire Consulat Empire", 1996, p. 57). Another fauteuil with lioness heads by Jacob Frères was commissioned in 1802 for Napoleon's uncle, Cardinal Fesch (d. 1839) at the time of his appointment as Archevêque de Lyon.
The celebrated firm of Jacob-Desmalter et Cie at rue de Meslée was one of the most successful and influential furniture makers of its day. It began with the celebrated menuisier Georges Jacob (1739-1814), upon whose retirement in 1796 the business was run by two sons Georges II and François-Honoré-Georges Jacob, under the name of Jacob Frères. Following Georges II's early death his brother assumed the name of Jacob-Desmalter, (Desmalter being one of his father's properties in Burgundy) and went back into business with his father, renaming the firm Jacob-Desmalter et Cie. During the Empire Jacob-Desmalter was described as menuisier-ébéniste, fabriquant des meubles et bronzes de LL., MM., II. et RR (Leurs Majestés Impériales et Royales), implying that he had an active role in the practical side of the firm's craftsmanship.
After Jacob-Desmalter's appointment as ébéniste de l'Empereur, the firm's activities expanded enormously.
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 Tsar 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, Mobile National, Grand Trianon, Napoléon and Tours. In addition, the Bibliothèque Marmottan, Banque de France, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères and the Palais d'Aranjuez in Spain are among many others to house work by Jacob-Desmalter.
Despite its phenomenal repute, the firm, like many others in the luxury trade, suffered severe financial problems following the Peninsular War and Russian Campaign. In 1813 Georges I Jacob retired, coinciding with the firm declaring bankruptcy. This however was short lived as business revived rapidly after the Restoration of Louis XVIII in 1814 and continued in business up until 1847 when he sold it to Charles-Joseph-Marie Jeanselme (b. 1827 d. after 1871).