An extremely fine and rare Empire gilt bronze mounted amboyna and ebonised wood and white marble guéridon attributed to Jacob-Desmalter et Cie with superb gilt bronze mounts attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire, the moulded circular white marble top above a conformingly shaped frieze with carved fluting above four caryatid pilasters, each headed by the head and bust of a beautiful Egyptian female figure wearing a royal Egyptian headdress or kleft over ringlet hair which is tied above her breasts, set on an angular plinth with fluting to the front, upon a slightly tapering ebonised pilaster support mounted with stylised lotus scrolls and a torchère above female feet and falling drapery which rest upon angular spas that project out from a circular base
Paris, date circa 1805-10
Height 87 cm, diameter 130 cm.
The beauty of this guéridon arises from its quality as well as its elegant simplicity offset by the intricate gilt bronze mounts. The latter were almost certainly made by the preeminent bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843) whose quality as a maître fondeur-ciseleur was rarely surpassed and who often supplied and worked in conjunction with the equally renowned Parisian ébénistes Jacob-Desmalter et Cie. The striking female caryatid and stylised lotus mounts reflect the increased vogue for ancient Egypt during the Empire period. Such interest in the ancient lands of the Pharaohs, sphinxes and pyramids existed long before the eighteenth century but gained renewed momentum after Napoleon's Egyptian campaigns and particularly when in 1798 he took a group of artists and scientists to record the many wonders along the banks of the Nile.
Amongst 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. As leaders in their fields both Jacob-Desmalter and Thomire made overt reference to the retour d'Égypte as evidence by a Jacob-Desmalter chair with carved Egyptian female head supports in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and also by a commode with very similar Egyptian head mounts by Thomire in the same museum (illustrated respectively in Pierre Kjellberg, "Le Mobilier Français", 1980, vol. II, p. 177, pl. 165 and in Marie-Noelle de Grandry, "Le Mobilier Français, Directoire Consulat Empire", 1996, p 79).
Jacob-Desmalter at rue de Meslée, Paris was one of the most important firms of furniture makers during the Empire and Restauration periods. The firm was founded by Georges Jacob (1739-1814), the greatest menuisier of the Louis XVI period. Following his retirement in 1796, he was succeeded by his two sons Georges II (1768-1803) and François-Honoré-Georges Jacob (1770-1841), who worked under the name of Jacob Frères. However Georges II died shortly after so his brother, who added the suffix Desmalter (named after one of his father's properties in Burgundy), went back into business with his father and renamed the firm Jacob-Desmalter et Cie. During the Empire François-Honoré-Georges was described as menuisier-ébéniste, fabriquant des meubles et bronzes de LL., MM., II. et RR (Leurs Majestés Impériales et Royales), implying that he played an active role in the practical side of the firm's craftsmanship. The firm's activities expanded enormously following Jacob-Desmalter's appointment as ébéniste de l'Empereur. 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, for instance from Tsar Alexander I of Russia and Charles IV of Spain. Among the firm's most important surviving items is the Imperial throne at Fontainebleau, the jewel cabinet made for Marie-Louise and display cases in the Cabinet des Antiques at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Jacob-Desmalter's work is also represented at the Châteaux de Compiègne, Fontainebleau, Malmaison, Versailles and Sceaux l'Ille-de-France as well as the Musées du Louvre, Marmottan, 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 the firm's work. Despite phenomenal repute, the firm, like many in the luxury trade, suffered severely from the industrial crisis 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 up until 1847 when it was sold to Charles-Joseph-Marie Jeanselme.