Paul Marmottan, “Le Style Empire”, vol. III, 1925, pl. 28, illustrating a gilt bronze mounted mahogany console, c. 1797-1802, with Wedgwood plaques, mirrored back and bleu turquin marble top, featuring a very similar single carved winged Egyptian chimera, now in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Guillaume Janneau, “Le Meuble Léger en France”, 1952, no. 279, illustrating a gilt bronze mounted mahogany guéridon by Jacob-Desmalter of circa 1805-1815, featuring similar bronze cast Pompeian female winged chimeras with hoof feet. Patricia Lemonnier, “Weisweiler”, 1983, p. 95, illustrating a mahogany guéridon by Adam Weisweiler with three extremely similar winged chimera supports in the Museo Correr, Venice. And p. 138, illustrating a gilt bronze mounted mahogany table by Weisweiler with four extremely similar winged chimera supports, in the Palazzo Reale, Naples. Denise Ledoux-Lebard, “Le Mobilier Français du XIXe Siècle”, 1989, p. 412, illustrating a bonheur-du-jour by Charles Lemarchand with comparable carved ebonised Pompeian winged chimeras. Christophe Huchet de Quénetain, “Les Styles Consulat et Empire”, 2005, p. 118, pl. 83, illustrating a very ornate gilt and patinated bronze console with pietra dura marquetry, 1797-8 attributed to Martin-Eloy Lignereux and Pierre-Philippe Thomire for the first floor of l’hôtel Delannoy, which is supported on very similar sphinx monopods. And p. 120, pl. 86, illustrating a gilt and patinated bronze mounted console, attributed to a collaboration between Lignereux, Thomire and Weisweiler featuring very similar monopodia supports. Eleanor P. Delorme, “Josephine and the Arts of the Empire”, 2005, p. 109, pl. 72, illustrating a gilt bronze mounted mahogany console with similar but wingless Egyptian caryatid supports attributed to Weisweiler and Thomire for Lignereux which was delivered in 1802 to Joséphine’s Grand Salon at Saint-Cloud, now in the Grand Trianon. Pierre Arizzoli-Clémentel and Jean-Pierre Samoyault, “Le Mobilier de Versailles chefs-d’oeuvre du XIXe siècle”, 2009, pp.110-111, no 15, for a console table by Jacob-Desmalter with comparable Pompeian rather than Egyptian winged monopodia supports with additional scrolled acanthus at the front and pp.128-129. Jean-Pierre Samoyault, “Mobilier Français Consulat et Empire”, 2009, p.108, fig. 183, p.119, no. 201, p. 216, fig. 216.
A rare and important Directoire gilt bronze mounted acajou-pomelée and gilt carved ebonised walnut guéridon probably by either Jacob-Desmalter et Cie or Adam Weisweiler in collaboration with Martin-Eloy Lignereux, the moulded circular black marble top above a conformingly shaped acajou pomelée frieze with a gilt bronze border, decorated with a foliate mount above each of the three beautifully carved ebonised walnut winged chimeras, each wearing an Egyptian Nemes headdress and hair in ringlets, with scrolled gilding around their breasts, on a monopodia support terminated by a lion paw foot, on a concave-side tripartite stretcher on original brass rollers
Paris, date circa 1800-05
Height 77 cm, diameter of top 75 cm.
With its exquisitely carved Egyptian winged chimeras and use of rare acajou pomelée, this handsome guéridon could only have been made by one of the very best Parisian ébénistes at the dawn of the nineteenth century. Since the piece is not stamped, one has to rely upon comparisons when making an attribution. There were a few makers who could have attained such perfection, most notably the esteemed firm of Jacob-Desmalter as well as Adam Weisweiler (1744-1820), probably in collaboration with the marchand-mercier Martin Eloy (or Eloi) Lignereux (1750-1809), whose oeuvres included a number of pieces of similar design and quality. At the same time one must not rule out other fine Empire ébénistes such as Charles-Joseph Lemarchand (1759-1826) and Pierre-Antoine Bellangé (1757-1827) whose work also featured similar winged monopodia supports.
Before discussing the related pieces, it is worth noting that the design of the winged chimeras which reflected the reignited interest in the goût-Egyptian, was largely inspired by Napoleon’s Egyptian campaigns, particularly when in 1798 he took a group of artists and scientists to record the many wonders along the banks of the Nile. Among one of the most influential resulting publications was Baron Dominique Vivant-Denon’s “Voyage dans la Basse-et Haute-Egypte” of 1802 whose illustrations provided great inspiration to artists and designers. While the fashion for Egyptian decoration was part and parcel of the Directoire and subsequent Empire style, the winged monopodia supports also reflect the arts of classical antiquity, especially artefacts excavated from Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum. Included was a Pompeiian bronze altar-tripod (now in the Museo Archeologico, Naples) with three female winged sphinxes, each seated upon a monopodia leg terminated by a lion paw foot, which featured in “Autels, Trepieds, Candelabres, Lampes et Meuble”, by J. N. L. Durand, published in Paris, 1802. Among other similar excavated artefacts was a bronze apparatus for heating wine or other liquids with simpler but distinct winged chimeras at each corner on monopodia supports and lion paw feet (now in the Naples Museum). Such rediscovered pieces were to have a profound influence on designers such as Napoleon’s chief architects and ornamentalistes Charles Percier (1764-1838) and Pierre François Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853). In their Recueil de Décorations Intérieures, Paris, published as a series between 1801-1812, Percier and Fontaine illustrated a design for a tripod (pl. XXXIII) which featured three equally beautiful female winged monopodia supports on hoof feet. Although very similar to the present examples they were classical rather than Egyptian in conception but nevertheless the maker of this piece would have been aware of such antique prototypes.
It should also be noted that a number of pieces of furniture, from guéridons and bureaux to tables and consoles of the period also featured similar sumptuous winged chimeras made from gilt and patinated bronze, of which some of the finest examples were supplied by the celebrated fondeur-ciseleur Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843). Among comparable examples is a remarkable Consulat period gilt and patinated bronze table with a rectangular rose granite top and an x-shaped stretcher attributed to Thomire from the baron Fould-Springer collection, sold from le Palais Abbatial de Royaumont (sold by Christie’s Paris, 19-21st September 2011, lot 7). It featured extremely similar caryatids with comparable shaped wings, hair and Nemes headdresses as well as simpler but nevertheless pronounced breastplates, below which is additional decoration.
Pierre-Philippe Thomire, who sometimes worked in collaboration with Martin-Eloy Lignereux and purchased his business in 1804, provided a number of extremely refined gilt bronze mounts to the celebrated firm of ébénistes Jacob-Desmalter et Cie. From 1796 until 1803 the latter, then styled Jacob Frères, was run by Georges II Jacob (1768-1803) and François-Honoré-Georges Jacob (1770-1841) but after the death of his older brother, François-Honoré-Georges restyled his name and the business as Jacob-Desmalter in partnership with his father, the celebrated menuisier Georges Jacob (1739-1814). Like Thomire, the Jacobs were leaders in their field and often worked in collaboration with Percier and Fontaine. Among some of Jacob-Desmalter’s more remarkable pieces made at rue de Meslée in Paris is a console table with comparable Pompeian rather than Egyptian winged monopodia supports with additional scrolled acanthus at the front. In addition, a gilt bronze mounted mahogany guéridon with a glass top by Jacob-Desmalter of circa 1805-1815, features bronze cast Pompeian female winged chimeras with hoof feet (illustrated in Janneau, op. cit., no. 279).
In her book on Weisweiler, Patricia Lemonnier op. cit. itemises a catalogue of his known works. Listed are two almost identical guéridons, each with three Egyptian winged monopodia chimera supports on a concave-sided triform stretcher. Although their stretchers are centred by a Neo-classical vase, they nevertheless bear a remarkable similarity to the present piece. The first guéridon (Lemonnier no. 190), of circa 1800, stamped A. Weisweiler, is in the Grand Trianon at Versailles. Measuring 91 cm. in height with a circular vert des Vosges granite top, it is ornamented with beautiful gilt bronze mounts most probably by the bronzier Lucien-François Feuchère (fl. 1784-1824), who sold the piece in 1811. The other very similar guéridon by Weisweiler (Lemonnier no 191), now in the Museo Correr in Venice, is surmounted by a remarkable porcelain inset top illustrating the adventures of Télémaque. The top was originally on an earlier Neo-classical support which the ministre de l’Intérieur then asked the marchand-mercier Lignereux to replace with a more modern alternative so that it could be given as a diplomatic gift to Louis I, duc de Bourbon during his visit to Paris in May and June 1801. With this in mind Lignereux commissioned Weisweiler to make a new lower section for the porcelain top, with the finished result of it being almost identical to the guéridon in the Grand Trianon. Also worth noting is a table in acajou moucheté by Adam Weisweiler with a rectangular green marble top, supported on four beautiful cast winged female monopodia wearing Egyptian headdresses by Pierre-Philippe Thomire. Now in Palazzo Reale in Naples, the table was made as part of a suite for Joachim Murat (1767-1815), who became King of Naples on 6th August 1808 (illustrated in Enrico Colle, Angela Griseri and Roberto Valeriani, “Bronzi Decorativi in Italia”, 2001, p. 202. And Lemonnier no 144).
Another close comparison is a sumptuous amboyna console with a black marble top and very similar winged chimera supports. Now in the Museum of Decorative Art, Budapest, it bears Lignereux’s label inscribed “Lignereux, Successeur de Daguerre, Rue Vivienne, N 11, en face celle Colbert, Magasin de Meuble d’Ebénisterie ornés de Bronzes, Pendules, Girandoles, Lustres, Bron[zes], Porcelaine, Vases et Curiosités. Dépôt général des Porcelaines de Sevres a Paris”. It was delivered between 1789 and 1803 to the newly redeveloped Kismarton Palace belonging to Prince Miklos Esterhazy (1765-1833), who had a passion for the French arts. Although Martin-Eloy Lignereux is considered primarily as a marchand-mercier, firstly as partner and then successor of Dominique Daguerre’s lucrative Parisian concern, he also worked as an ébéniste in rivalry to Jacob (see Hedvig Szabolcsi, “M. E. Lignereux, Ébéniste Illustre sous le Consulat. Un Meuble signé de Lignereux au Musée des Arts Décoratifs de Budapest”, in “Acta Historiae Artium”, vol. VIII, 1962, p. 279-297). As a key figure within the Paris market under the ancien-régime up until the early nineteenth century, he also maintained close relations with other artisans as illustrated by the marriage in 1798 of his only daughter Adélaïde-Anne with the ébéniste François-Honoré-Georges Jacob-Desmalter. Witnesses to this marriage included Thomire, Percier, Fontaine as well as Lignereux’s clerk Antoine-Francois Duterme, who in partnership with Thomire became a successor to Lignereux’s business in 1804. This closely entwined network of key figures within the Parisian art world was significant, with many of them collaborating in the creation of a single work of art and significantly those that compared with the present guéridon. With that in mind, it is worth noting a pair of consoles of circa 1802 in the Grand Trianon, with female monopodia supports which, despite their lack of wings, are nevertheless very similar to the present figural supports and likewise to those on the aforementioned console now in the Museum of Decorative Art, Budapest. The pair in the Grand Trianon, along with two other consoles, were delivered for Joséphine’s grand salon de réception at the Palais de Saint-Cloud and were most probably made by Weisweiler and Thomire but conceived by Lignereux who that same year delivered furniture valued at 4,800 francs to Saint-Cloud. The four consoles remained at the Imperial palace until 1853 when three were sent to the Tuileries and the other to the Ecole Militaire.
Another very close comparison is a gilt bronze mounted mahogany console or pier table decorated with Wedgwood jasperware plaques with a closely related central carved winged chimera with Egyptian Nemes headdress, which having been in the collection of Gustave Duval in Paris 1925 was purchased in 1935 by the noted French collector and author Professor Guy Ledoux-Lebard. It was later acquired by this gallery who had the honour of selling it to Detroit Institute of Arts in 2007. The console was considered to be a collaboration between Martin-Eloy Lignereux, Adam Weisweiler and Pierre-Philippe Thomire. Attributions however can shift with time, especially when new material comes to light. A few years ago the scholar Sylvain Cordier published an article “The Bellangé Album and New Discoveries in French Nineteenth-Century Decorative Arts”, in “The Metropolitan Museum Journal”, vol. 47, 2012, pp. 119-147. In it he discussed and illustrated pages from an album of furniture designs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, noting that of the seventy-three watercolours and drawings, a few could be attributed to Charles Percier and other ornamentalistes and while only two were signed ‘Bellangé à Paris’, the majority were believed to belong to the workshop of Pierre-Antoine Bellangé (1757-1827) and his son Louis-Alexandre Bellangé (1797-1861). What is interesting is that one of the designs attributed to Pierre-Antoine (folio 20a) bears a very close resemblance to the aforementioned console or pier table. Thus one should also consider Pierre-Antoine Bellangé when attributing an authorship to the present piece.
The winged chimera supports also compare with those featured on several pieces by Charles-Joseph Lemarchand (1759-1826). Like Weisweiler, he was one of the last ébénistes of the ancien-régime that continued to excel after the French Revolution when he was commissioned by the Garde-Meuble to provide furnishing for the Imperial palaces and subsequently re-appointed Royal châteaux. Among similar pieces by Lemarchand is an Empire gilt bronze mounted bureau-cartonnier, now in the Châteaux de Malmaison and de Bois-Préau, which features two carved and gilded ebonised Pompeiian style female winged monopodia supports. From the same collection is an equally magnificent console by Lemarchand which, dating from circa 1800-05 and as one of a pair, was delivered in 1825 to the Palais de Saint-Cloud for le salon de Diane. Although the latter console features a comparable pair of classical winged chimeras, they slightly differ from those on our guéridon in that they have additional acanthus scrolls at waist level and from there downward are gilded overall, (illustrated in Samoyault, op. cit., p.108, pl. 183). In addition, one can cite a gilt bronze mounted citronnier bonheur-du-jour with related ebonised winged caryatids by Lemarchand of circa 1800-04. Though similar in conception all three of the above pieces by Lemarchand feature caryatids inspired by Pompeian or Herculaneum prototypes, whose wings, hair and facial features also differ. Furthermore, the gilding is less robust and does not delineate the same elaborate foliate breastplate as worn by the present chimeras. It therefore seems that the most likely maker of this remarkable guéridon was either Jacob-Desmalter but perhaps more likely Adam Weisweiler, possibly in collaboration with Martin- Eloy Lignereux. Though a firm authorship cannot be made there is no doubt that the piece of the highest quality and featuring winged Egyptian chimeras, it was at the cutting edge of French fashion. That together with the fact it was made using acajou pomelée, a very rare and special type of mahogany with distinctive dark veined colouring, means that it was not only an expensive piece of furniture but also one that was destined for a leading connoisseur of the arts. Such finesse and beauty was rarely surpassed.