The Tuileries Palace. Sypher & Co, 739 & 741 Broadway, New York, probably by the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, almost certainly acquired during the early twentieth century. James Cram, San Francisco, his sale Butterfield & Butterfield, 6th November 1985, lot 990.
A very important and superb quality Empire gilt bronze mounted parcel-gilt thuya wood and verde antico marble console table attributed to Jacob-Desmalter et Cie with extremely fine gilt bronze mounts attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire, from the Tuileries Palace. The rectangular marble top above a conformingly shaped frieze decorated with berried laurel mounts and centred by a finely cast medallion portraying the head of Jupiter with flowing hair, flanked at either end by similar medallion heads, to the left that of Mars with flowing beard wearing a Trojan helmet decorated with a golden oak leaf victor's wreath and to the right by Hector with long hair and sideburns wearing a Trojan helmet decorated with a similar golden oak leaf wreath, the frieze upon a pair of giltwood winged lion monopodia supports on a reverse breakfront platform, the inside front top corner bearing a Garde-Meuble paper label inscribed in ink with the letter 'T' and inventory number '84', the underside of the centre top support rail stamped with the marque au feu showing a crown above the letter 'T' within an oval, the inside front rail bearing an illegible paper inventory label with an indistinct number, the rear back rail bearing painted red inventory initials and numbers 'M.G.M. E-12550 4A' and finally the underneath of the base bearing a printed paper label with the words 'Sypher & Co, Successors to D. Marley, Antiques and Articles of Vertu, 739 & 741 Broadway, New York'.
Paris, date circa 1805
Height 105 cm, width 114 cm, depth 51 cm.
This magnificent console is not only an outstanding piece in its own right but can also be appreciated on several other levels. Firstly it was almost certainly made by the celebrated firm of Parisian ébénistes Jacob-Desmalter et Cie while the mounts can be attributed to the preeminent bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843), who were both strongly patronised by Napoleon Bonaparte. Secondly we know that it once stood at one of Napoleon's main Imperial residences at the Tuileries Palace since there are several labels and marks on the underside of the piece to confirm this important provenance as well as other interesting labels and marks that tell of its subsequent history. And thirdly the inspiration for the work, like many others by Jacob-Desmalter, was almost certainly based on designs made by Napoleon's favourite architects and interior designers Percier and Fontaine.
The renowned Parisian firm of ébénistes Jacob-Desmalter et Cie is one of the finest among the annals of French furniture making. From 1803-1813 it was run by Georges Jacob (1739-1814) and his son François-Honoré-Georges Jacob (1770-1841) but its history, under different names spanned over eighty years, during which they made superb quality pieces. Georges Jacob, who supplied furniture to the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne during the latter part of the eighteenth century counted among his clients the comte de Provence and the comte d'Artois, while his commissions for Queen Marie Antoinette included furnishings for the Petit Trianon and the chateaux des Fontainebleau, Versailles, St. Cloud and Rambouillet. Georges Jacob's friendship with the Republican painter Jacques-Louis David enabled him to weather the French Revolution. In 1796 he handed the business over to his two sons Georges II (1768-1803) and François-Honoré-Georges Jacob, who worked under the name of Jacob Frères. Following Georges II's early death his younger brother went back into business with his father, adding Desmalter to his surname (after a family property in Burgundy) and renamed the business as Jacob-Desmalter et Cie.
Jacob-Desmalter's successful relationship with the influential designers Charles Percier (1764-1838) and Pierre François-Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853) led to many commissions in the new Neo-classical fashion known as the Empire style based on Antiquity to include Etruscan, Greek and Roman motifs. Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife Joséphine were among those who supported this new style and as such commissioned Jacob-Desmalter to work with Percier and Fontaine to furnish Malmaison and their Paris residence at the Tuileries. In 1803, in preparation for his coronation the following year, Napoleon and Joséphine commissioned Percier and Fontaine to redesign the interior of the Tuileries Palace which was to be their official residence. During 1803 more than 330 pieces were ordered from Jacob-Desmalter. The order included Napoleon's throne, which as here featured similar winged lion supports. Similar monopodia supports featured in a number of other Percier and Fontaine designs, for instance for a proposal for a grand table à thé to be made by MM. Jacob (illustrated in Olivier Lefeuel, "Percier et Fontaine" in "Connaissance des Arts", Paris, 15th June 1954, no. 28, p. 32).
Following the coronation of Napoleon as Emporer, Jacob-Desmalter continued to be the main supplier of furnishings to the Imperial Garde-Meuble, when they made superb pieces for Fontainebleau, the Grand Trianon, Saint Cloud, Rambouillet and the Tuileries. In 1810 Jacob-Desmalter refurbished many of the Imperial apartments for Empress Marie-Louise upon her marriage to Napoleon that year. According to Denise Ledoux-Lebard, in "Le Mobilier Français du XIXe Siècle", during the years spanning 1803-1813, the cost of furnishings provided by the firm for the Tuileries Palace alone amounted to 541,765 francs. Following the crowning of Louis XVIII in 1815 and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, the firm of Jacob-Desmalter remained in favour and continued to receive commissions from the Crown.
Having expanded upon its maker it is worth considering some of the decorations in more depth since they directly relate to the prevailing style during the Empire period and in turn reflect the type of status that Napoleon was keen to promote. At the centre of the frieze is Jupiter (Greek: Zeus) who in antiquity was the supreme ruler of all the gods and mortals and the most powerful of the Olympian gods. He was also the god of the sky and the changing weather whose thunder bolts could destroy his enemies but at the same time Jupiter was merciful and protected the weak. To the left of Jupiter is his son Mars (Greek: Ares), god of war, who was feared and hated by most but also honoured by all great warriors for his military prowess. According to mythology, when the Achaeans laid siege to Troy, Mars sided with the Trojans riding into battle in his chariot drawn by horses named Flame and Terror. However Jupiter forbade Mars from further engagement in the war as he wished it to proceed according to his own plans. Avoiding his father's wishes, Mars took on a mortal guise when he entered the body of Hector, son of King Priam of Troy. Armed with Mars's superhuman strength Hector fought heroically against the Achaeans until Achilles eventually killed him outside the walls of Troy.
Supporting the frieze with its victorious laurel wreath spray and heroic figures are a pair of winged lions. Historically the lion is considered the strongest of all animals on the earth but when winged becomes a celestial creature, moving freely into the heavens. This legendary winged creature derives from Shedu in Sumerian and Akkadian mythology as a human headed winged bull or lion. The winged version as known today was the emblem of St. Mark the Evangelist who became the patron saint of Venice after his body was brought back from Alexandria. As a Republic Venice thrived as a centre of economic and artistic strength for a millennium and when Napoleon conquered the state in 1797 he adopted the winged lion as one of his own symbols.
As noted the console bears a number of labels and stamps which together tell of its important and interesting provenance. Among them are those related to the Garde-Meuble - an institution was established in the reign of Louis XIV during the seventeenth century. Its function was to index, manage and secure royal furniture, tapestries, carpets, bronzes, and other luxury furnishings. The Garde-Meuble continued to be administered by a central government department throughout the eighteenth century when it had responsibility for the movement of furnishings from one royal residence to another and also maintained large storage facilities in Paris. Inventories were maintained and furniture was branded, labelled or stencilled according to which royal residence the item was located. After the Revolution the department continued to exist but its primary function was to manage items from confiscated royal properties and to furnish the public spaces of the new Republic. When Napoleon I ascended the throne, the Garde-Meuble oversaw the movement, placement, procurement, payment and documentation of the Imperial furnishings. Records were meticulously maintained; details were kept in written ledgers and journals while items, particularly furniture, were labelled, branded, or stencilled with ciphers appertaining to the various residences and were often accompanied by inventory numbers. Whenever a piece was moved from one residence to another, it would be given a new mark or label.
The brand or marque au feu on the underside of the top cross brace of the present console was one of the stamps used by the Garde-Meuble for the Tuileries during the Restauration period, (as noted by Jean Nicolay in "Maîtres Ébénistes Français au XVIIIe Siècle"). The paper label with the capital letter 'T' and the number '84' in black ink on the inside front rail also indicates a Tuileries provenance. Traditionally the inventory letter 'T' was used for the Grand Trianon but in this instance it most probably denoted the Tuileries since similar Empire pieces, known to have stood at the Tuileries, are also marked with the letter 'T'. Amongst examples is a Jacob Frères giltwood fauteuil from the apartment of Mme Bonaparte at the Tuileries Palace (as noted in Denise Ledoux-Lebard, op. cit, p. 312). The present console also has an illegible partial Garde-Meuble label on the inside of the same rail but unfortunately a later label from the firm Sypher & Co. is glued over it. During the Restauration period, Empire period furniture was moved to various residences of the returning monarchy. Under Napoleon III much of the remaining Empire furniture was either placed in warehouses or dispersed, which explains why some Empire period Imperial furniture survived the burning of the Tuileries Palace during the Paris Commune of 1871. Later in the 1870s and throughout the 1880s several auctions of furnishings from the Garde-Meuble took place but further sales were stopped by the French government during the early 1890s.
Although there is no record as to when the console left the Garde-Meuble collection we know that it was in America by at least the last quarter of the nineteenth century since there is, on the underside of its base, a Sypher & Co. label. This concern was run by the brothers Obadiah and Asa Sypher who in 1865 purchased D. Morley Antiques, first established in 1821. By 1878 Sypher & Co boasted a prestigious establishment at 739 & 741 Broadway. From this fashionable address they were perfectly placed to cater to wealthy Americans such as the Astors and Vanderbilts and helped satiate their desire for fine European and Asian antique furniture, tapestries, silver and porcelain. The Metropolitan Museum owns a number of pieces, including a Federal card table by Charles-Honoré Lannuier (1779-1819), that bears the same Sypher & Co. label as found here.
Decades later this wonderful console reappeared in the collection of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (M.G.M), as indicated by the label marked 'M.G.M. E-12550 4A'. Prior to the Second World War it was common for film studios to acquire and use antiques as props. To this end M.G.M.'s award winning set designers travelled worldwide in order to find furniture, automobiles, statuary and tapestries, many of which were bought at auction or through estate sales. Eventually the film company had acquired so many props that in 1970 the auctioneer David Weisz held a massive sale on their behalf lasting three weeks. Amongst the props from seven M.G.M. sound stages were numerous antiques, statuary and 11,000 pieces of furniture. Several important pieces from these sales have subsequently appeared at auction such as the Seddon cabinet originally commissioned by King Carlos IV of Spain (sold by Bonham's London on 7th March 2012, via Atherton California), which had the same M.G.M. inventory labelling as the present console. The M.G.M. provenance seems perfectly apt when one considers that while film aspires to imitate life in the Golden Age of Hollywood, the Hollywood leads were using props created for leaders from a previous era. In many cases those leaders, such as Napoleon, were trying to imitate leaders or heroes from Antiquity.