A French “Japonisant” cabinet sold at Bonhams on 4 December 2008 for a staggering £2,036,000, making a new world record price for a piece of 19th Century furniture. The cabinet, which dates to 1895, quadrupled its pre-sale estimate when it was bought by an anonymous buyer on the telephone.

Designed by Edouard Lièvre, the rosewood and lacquer cabinet, shaped in the style of a pagoda, pays homage to the Far East. Similar pieces are housed in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Francois Le Brun, Head of Bonhams Fine Continental Furniture Department, says: “We are delighted and honoured to have sold this extraordinary piece of furniture, one of only six of its kind whose companion pieces stand in the Hermitage and the Musee d’Orsay. It is a once in a lifetime sale which goes to the heart of the magic of auctioneering”.

The shape of the cabinet is an interpretation of a pagoda. Bronze lions and dragons wind their way around the columns flanking the cabinet, guarding the central cupboard, which acts as a sacred altar.

The central panel on the cabinet depicts Juroujin, one of the Seven Gods of Fortune. According to Taoist beliefs Juroujin is the God of longevity and he is here represented as an old man with a long white beard. He clutches a fan and staff with a scroll on which is written the lifespan of all living things. A deer, also a symbol of longevity, accompanies him.

A similar cabinet, dated 1877, is in the collection of the Musee d’Orsay in Paris – it was designed by Lièvre for Albert Vieillard, Director of the Bordeaux manufacture of ceramics.

Another comparable cabinet, which was commissioned by the Grand Duc Vladimir of Russia, stood in the Antichkov Palace where Empress Maria Fedorovna lived. It is now in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

A third version of the cabinet recently sold at auction for €915,000.

The archives of the Parisian merchants, l’Escalier de Cristal, show that six similar, but not identical, examples of this cabinet were made. The six cabinets are all slightly different in dimensions and materials, some are decorated with a watercolour, others with a Japanese lacquer panel such as the one sold by Bonhams.


A French 'Japonisant' ormolu-mounted Brazilian rosewood and lacquer cabinet on stand. By l'Escalier de Cristal, Paris, Circa 1895, after a design by Edouard Lièvre

the shaped pediment with out-scrolling ends on small pierced scroll supports, above a cupboard door centred by an early Meiji period lacquer panel depicting Juroujin, the God of longevity, within a finely cast quatrefoil frame depicting waves and sea vegetation, surmounted by a figure of a samurai and a scrolling branch terminating with a dragon's head, the interior signed to the lockplate A L'ESCALIER DE CRISTAL, PARIS, above a rounded rectangular stepped base, the sides issuing two pairs of columns, the front two with entwined dragons, the lower angles each with a pierced foliate corner frieze, the base centred to the front by two rectangular pierced foliate frames, on a waived and bombé apron with pierced scrolling foliate surround, centred to the front by a Japanese "Ho-o" pheonix, the angles to the front each with an open-mouthed lion mask, on scrolling tapering legs on pierced cast sabots, each surmounted by a dragon's head mask, 116.5cm wide, 67cm deep, 204cm high (45.5" wide, 26" deep, 80" high). Sold for £2,036,000




Notes: The shape of this cabinet is an interpretation of a pagoda, decorated with bronzes referring to ornaments from the Far East such as the lion's heads on the angles of the legs and the dragons winding around the columns flanking the cabinet on each side, guarding the central cupboard as a sacred altar.
The central lacquer panel depicts Juroujin, also known as Gama. He is one of the Seven Gods of Fortune or Shichi-fuku-jin, according to Taoist beliefs. He is the God of longevity. He is always represented as an old man with a long white beard. His attributes are a fan and a staff with a scroll on which is written the lifespan of all living things. The deer, symbol of longevity, accompanies him as a messenger.

A similar cabinet dated 1877, in rosewood and ebony with an oil painting by Edouard Detaille is in the collection of the Musée d'Orsay in Paris; it was designed by Lièvre for Albert Vieillard (1841-1895), Director of the Bordeaux manufacture of ceramics.

Another comparable cabinet, signed by l'Escalier de cristal, in rosewood with a watercolour by George Clairin, commissioned by the Grand Duc Wladimir of Russia was in the Anitchkov Palace in 1897, the residence of the Empress Maria Fedorovna (1847-1928) and is now in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

A third known version of this cabinet was recently sold at auction for €915,000.

After Edouard Lièvre's death, a sale of the models he created was held in Paris in 1890 where the Pannier brothers acquired the model of this cabinet, lot no 82-83, including "designs and technical drawings".

Thanks to the archives of the Pannier brothers, the merchant owners of L'Escalier de Cristal, we know that Kroeller executed the woodwork and Pestat the bronze mounts. The firm's daybooks indicate that this model of cabinet has been executed in six similar but not identical examples, some of them decorated with a watercolour, the others with a Japanese lacquer panel, all slightly different in dimensions and materials. We know that they were commissionned by "Sieber, Magnier, David, Gizycki, Galoppe and the Grand Duc Wladimir".

One of these examples was exhibited in 1894 at the Exposition d'Arts Décoratifs Modernes, described as :"Meuble, style oriental, palissandre massif et bronze doré; dans la porte une aquarelle originale de Vibert: Baccara".

The fine merchants store A l'Escalier de Cristal was established circa 1820 by Mrs Veuve Desarnaud at the Palais Royal in Paris. The firm was acquired in 1847 by Lahoche, and by the mid-19th century was owned by Pannier. At that time the business expanded in manufacturing furniture, specializing in 18th century revival and Japanese styles.

- Philippe Thiébaut, Contribution à une histoire du mobilier japonisant: les créations de l'Escalier de Cristal, Revue de l'art, no 85, 1989.
- D. Ledoux-Lebard, Le Mobilier Français du XIX Siècle, pp.190-192.
- Edouard Lièvre, Connaissance des Arts, No. 228, Paris, 2004, pp. 28, 31 and 34.




Кабинет (на подставке) Золоченая бронза, бразильское розовое дерево, эбеновое дерево, лак Франция, Париж. Ок. 1895
Escalier de Cristal, по проекту/рисунку Эдуарда Льевра

Аналогичный кабинет, датированный 1877 г., из розового и эбенового дерева, с росписью маслом работы Эдуарда Детайя ,находится в коллекции музея д’Орсэ в Париже. Он был выполнен по проекту Льевра для Альбеорта Вьейяра (1841-1895), директора керамических мануфактур Бордо. Еще один экземпляр был сделан для великого князя Владимира в России.
На гуаши Муравьева 1897 года, изображающей Голубой кабинет в Аничковом дворце, среди прочих вещей, хорошо узнается эрмитажный шкаф-кабинет.
В статье 1983 года, посвященной предметам фирмы Эскалье де Кристаль в Эрмитажной коллекции (их всего 5), этот шкаф сравнивался с похожим из музея Орсе, созданным по рисунку Льевра в 1877 году. Отмечались и различия. Так указывалось, что в шкафу из Орсе богаче бронзовый декор, из бронзы сделаны боковые колонки и ножки, одновременно отличие бронзы эрмитажного шкафа в том, что применено матовое и блестящее золочение. Сохранились также следы окраски бронзовых деталей в разные цвета и серебрение на гриве, когтях и шарах в лапах драконов. На шкафе из Эрмитажа
на обороте наклейка Аничкова дворца, что указывало на то, что он какое-то время был в этом дворце- одной из императорских резиденций в Петербурге.
Шестью годами позже в статье г-на Тьебо был опубликован рисунок этого шкафа из каталога фирмы «Эскалье де Кристаль». Среди заказчиков этой модели шкафов упоминался великий князь Владимир из России, для которого он был исполнен. Хотелось бы обратить внимание, что из шести заказчиков подобного шкафа-кабинета, имевшего разные вставки в центральной дверце, российский заказчик заплатил самую большую сумму.
Безусловно одно - все эти шкафы-кабинеты созданы фирмой «Эскалье де Кристалл» по одному рисунку, проданному Льевром фирме, как указывает Тьебо в 1894 году. Таким образом определяется начальная дата их создания.

Литература - Раппе 1983, Тьебо, 1989, Семенова, 2006, Рапе 2006, Амстердам, 2007, 148

Article in Russian written by Tamara Rappe, Head Curator of the Furniture Department, the Hermitage Museum.

Bonhams. Fine Continental Furniture & Works of Art, 4 Dec 2008. New Bond Street. Copyright © 2002-2008 Bonhams 1793 Ltd., Images and Text All Rights Reserved. www.bonhams.com