Emmanuel Ducamp, "Pavlovsk: The Collections", 1993, p. 193 pl. 46 and p. 222, illustrating and describing chenets of near identical models executed entirely of gilt bronze housed at Pavlovsk Palace, Saint-Petersburg. Iouna Zek, "Bronzes d'Ameublement et Meubles Français Achetés par Paul Ier pour le Château Saint-Michel de Saint-Petersbourg en 1798-99" in "Bulletin de la Société de 1'Histoire de 1'Art Français", 1994, p. 162, listing two feu or fire surrounds with pedestals or chenets of very similar descriptions.
A rare and important pair of Louis XVI gilt and patinated bronze chenets attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire, each composed of a semi-nude classical maiden wearing drapery at her back tied across her bare breasts and crouching as she pours water from an ewer into a cassolette with lion paw feet, on the edge of which is perched a pair of doves who drink from the water, the figure and cassolette on a stepped plinth with an acanthus band cast with a central frieze showing the recumbent figures of Vulcan holding a hammer and tongs beside his anvil and Neptune holding a staff and trident, both gods resting after their labours and leaning against a central torchère backed by drapery
Paris, date circa 1785-90
Height 58.5 cm. each
There are two pairs of near identical chenets at Pavlovsk Palace, of which one pair is entirely of gilt bronze while the other, now in the State Bedroom, has as here patinated bronze figures but their tied drapery is highlighted in gilt. Both pairs are attributed to the preeminent fondeur-ciseleur Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843). Interestingly an inventory drawn up as part of a consignment of luxury bronze furnishings sent from Paris to Tsar Paul I for his newly built Palace of Saint-Michael via the marchand-mercier Barthélemy Defarge between February and July 1799 include mention of chenets of very similar description which may very well refer to those now at Pavlovsk. The descriptive inventory (published by Iouna Zek 1994, see literature) also helps describe the symbolism of the chenets which represent fire, air and water; the first which had a connecting gallery was described as: "(14) Un feu superbe portant 5 pieds de long, représentant le Feu, l'Air et l'Eau, il est composé d'un beau piédestal d'une belle architecture avec moulure dans le genre antique, au milieu du pied est un bas relief représentant Vulcain et Pluton se reposant de leurs travaux, sur le pied est une figure de femme accroupie versant de l'eau dans une casolette sur le bord de laquelle sont 2 oiseaux représentant l'Air; attenant le piédestal est une gallerie qui rejoin le second pied, les balusters à l'antique taillées avec moulures, le tout doré au mat... 3500 roubles". A further entry on another page lists another feu without a gallery as "(21) Un feu représentant le Feu, l'Air et l'Eau comme celui dans l'autre page, mais sans gallerie, les figures au verd antique.... 2450 roubles".
Between June 1798 and October 1799 Tsar Paul I purchased more than five hundred bronze furnishings and fittings for his new palace of Saint-Michael. Acquired on the Paris market via the marchand-merciers; these luxury goods came from royal collections, from belongings of émigrés or condemned people resulting from the French Revolution. Many of those bronzes were made by Pierre-Philippe Thomire who established himself as a leadin light during Louis XVI's reign. His output included a number of decorative objects to adorn chimneypieces such as gilt bronze chenets with flaming urns and sphinxes for the Louvre in 1786 as well as a gilt bronze fire grate and pair of columns made in 1788 for an English gentleman, possibly Lord Uxbridge (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London). Born in Paris, Thomire began his training under the sculptors Jean-Antoine Houdon and Augustin Pajou at the Académie St. Luc, Paris and then followed his father's profession as a fondeur-ciseleur. His career was advanced when he studied under the great fondeur-doreur, Pierre Gouthière, 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 after he had collaborated with Jean-Louis Prieur in the decoration of Louis XVI's coronation coach. Having assisted in the making of the mounts for the Sèvres Grands Vases (Musée du Louvre, Paris and Pitti Palace Florence), in 1783 he succeeded Jean-Claude-Thomas Duplessis as chief supplier of mounts for Sèvres, which was an important post and assured Thomire's future.
By the late eighteenth century Thomire had achieved considerable renown, having enjoyed the patronage of Louis XVI. He then turned to the manufacture of arms and ammunition during the Revolution and subsequently gained even greater renown as one of the main suppliers to Napoleon and the Imperial family, foreign royalty and aristocracy during the Empire period.