Lot 8. Southern German, Augsburg, circa 1600. The Rothschild Orpheus Cup, detail. Estimate £600,000-800,000/ €780,000-1,040,000/ $880,000-1,170,000. Photo Sotheby's
LONDON.- From opulent carpets made for the Sun King and Frederick the Great’s armchair to the intriguing Rothschild Orpheus Cup and gems of scientific innovation - Sotheby’s London Treasures sale on 6th July 2016 brings together a trove of furniture and decorative arts masterpieces. Inaugurated in 2010, this highly curated sale has become the most pre-eminent decorative art auction of the year, attracting interest from across the globe. Combining royal and aristocratic provenance with extraordinary beauty, craftsmanship and freshness to the market, this summer’s selection feature magnificent Furniture, Silver, Vertu, Clocks, Sculpture and works of art which constitute the very pinnacle of their collecting category.
Discussing the forthcoming sale, Henry House, Head of Sotheby’s Furniture and Decorative Arts Department, said: “Each of the 46 lots in the sale exemplifies the definition of treasure. Formerly the preserve of Kings, Princes and Popes, they celebrate the genius and craftsmanship of the greatest artists and artisans of their era. Singled out as the best of what could be created at the time of their inception, many of the masterpieces on offer have been in the same collections for centuries and very few similar examples known today are preserved in the world’s most important museums. The auction represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire treasures of such outstanding calibre.”
Exceptional objects in silver, gold and enamel
The sale is distinguished by exceptional objects in silver, gold and enamel. Among them is the magnificent Rothschild Orpheus Cup, made in Augsburg, Southern Germany circa 1600-1640 (est. £600,000-800,000/ €780,000-1,040,000/ $880,000-1,170,000). It is extremely rare for a late Renaissance gold and enamelled object to have stimulated so much comment and adulation. Once attributed to the celebrated Italian sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, the Orpheus Cup is first recorded as one of the exhibits at the 1862 International Exhibition on loan from the collection of Baron Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879). The cup was also part of the Exhibition of Art Treasures in London in May 1928 and, as reported in The Yorkshire Post at the time, of the thousands of objects in the show, it was “one of the things which Queen Mary asked specifically to see, and she inspected the rich enamel and jewel work with great attention”.
Lot 8. Southern German, Augsburg, circa 1600. The Rothschild Orpheus Cup. Estimate £600,000-800,000/ €780,000-1,040,000/ $880,000-1,170,000. Photo Sotheby's.
with a torn paper label underneath: Baron L. Rothschild, partially enamelled gold set with rubies, with a later wood box lined with cream cloth; cup: 18 by 12.9cm., 7 1/8 by 5 1/8 in.; box: 22 by 15.5 by 12.5cm., 8⅝ by 6¼ by 7⅞in.
Provenance: Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1808-1879) by 1862;
by descent to Alfred Charles de Rothschild CVO (1842-1918), Seamore Place, London, United Kingdom, 1882-1918;
by descent to Almina Herbert, Countess of Carnarvon (1876-1969), Seamore Place, London, United Kingdom, from 1918;
Sir Joseph Duveen, Bt, (1869-1939), London, United Kingdom;
With S. J. Phillips, New Bond Street, London, United Kingdom, by 1928
Exhibited: International Exhibition, South Kensington Museum, London, 1862, no.4,817
Exhibition of Art Treasures, Grafton Galleries, London, 1928, no. 1180, ill. fp. 137
Literature: W. Franks, 'Section 19 Miscellaneous Enamels' in Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Works of Art of the Medieval, Renaissance, and more recent periods on loan at the South Kensington Museum, J. C. Robinson (ed.), pp. 389-380, no. 4,817;
C. Davis, A Description of the works of art forming the collection of Alfred de Rothschild, London, 1884, vol. II, no. 149;
'Some Artistic English Homes' The Art Interchange, New York, vol. XVI, no. 4, 26 February 1885, p. 53;
'A Celebrated Collection', The Times, London, 4 April 1885, p. 8c;
B. Steurart Erskine, 'Notable Collections: The Collection of Mr. Alfred de Rothschild in Seamore Place', The Connoisseur, June, 1902, p. 79;
The Bucks Herald, Saturday 12 September, 1908, p. 8b
'The Exhibition of Art Treasures at the Grafton Galleries', Apollo, vol. VII, July 1928, pp. 274-277, illn.;
'Queen's Art Interests. Evening visit to Grafton Galleries', The Yorkshire Post, Leeds, Friday 11 May 1928, p. 5c
Old Furniture: A Magazine of Domestic Ornament, vol. 4, 1928, p. 87, illn.;
'Books of the Day', The Illustrated London News, vol. 173, 19 May 1928, p. 913;
W. A. Steward, 'Goldsmiths' and Silversmiths' Work - Past and Present', Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol. LXXXI, no. 4211, 4 August 1933, p. 875;
'La coupe la plus extraordinaire', Connaissance des arts, no. 51, 15 May 1956, pp. 40-41;
Weinhold, Emailmalerei an Augsburger Goldschmiedarbeitin von 1650 bis 1750, Munich, Berlin, 2000, pp. 30, 31, 197, no. 3
Notes: A notice in The Yorkshire Post on 11 May 1928 reported an evening visit made by Queen Mary to the Exhibition of Art Treasures at the Grafton Galleries in London. Of the thousands of objects in the show The Yorkshire Post observed that ‘The magnificent Orpheus cup of enamelled gold, made by Benvenuto Cellini, from the collection of the late Baron de Rothschild, was one of the things which the Queen asked specifically to see, and she inspected the rich enamel and jewel work with great attention’.
As Queen Mary appreciated, the Rothschild Orpheus Cup rewards close inspection. The cover is made of gold and is enamelled en ronde bosse on the cover and foot. The cup is decorated in painted enamel. On a luscious grass covered hill the goddess Diana sits back to back with a diminutive figure of Orpheus who vigorously plays his lyre, charming the host of animals arranged on the hill below him. Both Diana and Orpheus are accompanied by faithful dogs, whilst a seated bear reaches out to touch Orpheus’ left leg. Eleven putti sit in a circle on the next level down, below which recumbent jewel encrusted animals lounge peacefully. The animals comprise a horse, a camel, a white stag, a lion, a unicorn, a bull and a goat. Interspersed around these larger animals are rabbits and dogs and, most charming of all, a seated green monkey eating a fruit. The cup is decorated with painted enamel scenes taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and, on the underside of the cover, with hunting scenes. The cup and cover are supported by a gold figure of Atlas who kneels on a small mossy promontory crawling with lizards and snakes and surrounded by a painted enamel representation of a river or lake.
The iconography of the cup might be interpreted as Atlas holding the world up above a primordial land inhabited by lizards and frogs. The bowl of the cup illustrates scenes of humans engaged in various escapades, from mythological encounters with gods to a rural scene of hunting. The top of the cup is the vision of Mount Parnasus, the sacred mountain of the gods, a land of peace and harmony. Thus the Rothschild Orpheus Cup is a seminal example of a Schatzkammer treasure which was admired for its virtuosic craftsmanship as well as its instructive meaning.
Alfred de Rothschild at his desk. Reproduced with the permission of The Trustees of The Rothschild Archive Trust Limited.
The Provenance of the Rothschild Orpheus Cup
The Orpheus Cup is first recorded as one of the exhibits at the 1862 International Exhibition on loan from the collection of Baron Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879). It is not documented where Baron Lionel acquired it; however, he had a particularly developed taste for Schatzkammer objects which he inherited from his grandfather, Mayer Amschel. Baron Lionel has left accounts of his visits to the Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden and the Habsburg collections in Vienna, and he bequeathed over three hundred Schatzkammer works to his three sons. The Orpheus Cup was inherited by his second son, Alfred de Rothschild (1884-1918) and displayed, appropriately, in the Green Room at 1 Seamore Place, London. There it was described on various occasions and was illustrated, exceptionally, with two full page photographs in Charles Davis’s 1884 catalogue of the collection. Davis illustrates a photograph of the Green Room with the Orpheus Cup visible in a cabinet of objets de vitrine to the left of the fireplace (fig. 3). In his short introduction to the catalogue of Seamore Place, Alfred wrote: 'The principal objects, and those which, needless to say, I most prize, I inherited from my dearly beloved father, and, in addition to the great pleasure they afford me, they constantly remind me of his perfect judgment and taste'. This certainly applies to the sumptuous Orpheus Cup. Lady Carnarvon (1876-1969), Alfred's illegitimate daughter, inherited Seamore Place and most of its contents including the Rothschild Orpheus Cup. When Lady Carnarvon sold it is not recorded, but by 1928 it was with the firm of S. J. Phillips, having been acquired from Joseph Duveen. The Rothschild Orpheus Cup has remained in the collection of S. J. Phillips for the past 88 years.
fig. 3. The Green Room at Seamore Place. Reproduced with the permission of The Trustees of The Rothschild Archive Trust Limited.
The Attribution of the Rothschild Orpheus Cup
The catalogue for the 1862 International Exhibition, where the Orpheus Cup is first mentioned, attributed it to Johann Melchior Dinglinger (1664-1731) (Franks, op. cit.). This attribution is not tenable however, because Dinglinger's work is stylistically much later. Perhaps Baron Lionel's knowledge of the collection of Dinglinger's works in the Grünes Gewölbe encouraged this description. It would seem that Alfred de Rothschild soon rejected this idea, despite the profound respect he expressed for all the objects he inherited from his father, in favour of a description as Italian, ‘Cinque-cento’ as it was listed by Charles Davis in 1884. The Cup is published on numerous occasions in descriptions of Alfred’s collection with increasing adulation. The long review of Seamore Place published in The Connoisseur in 1902 singled out ‘the celebrated Orpheus cup’ as one of the highlights of the collection (Steurat Erskine op. cit.).
By 1928, when Queen Mary sought out the Rothschild Orpheus Cup at the The Exhbition of Art Treasures, an association with Benvenuto Cellini and a link with the patronage of François I of France was already proposed. This was taken up with enthusiasm by numerous reviewers of the exhibition and further discussed by W. Augustus Steward in his article on ‘Goldsmiths and Silversmiths’ Work – Past and Present’ in the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts in 1933.
The myth of Benvenuto Cellini
In his pioneering 1883 monograph on Cellini, Eugène Plon devoted a chapter to goldsmith works without specific documentation, but attributed to the Florentine artist. He concluded in his introduction that it was legitimate to publish these unrecorded works not least as a way to highlight the more doubtful attributions that had been made to Cellini of works which were neither Italian nor 16th century (Plon, op. cit., partie 3, p. 261).
The myth of the great Benvenuto Cellini was at its height around the middle of the 19th century. The phenomenon of great luxury silver-gilt objects having the name of Cellini appropriated to them was discussed by John Culme in 1973 (op. cit.).Nearly a century before the Rothschild Orpheus Cup was believed to be by the Italian sculptor, a fabulous nautilus cup crowned with a figure of Jupiter was acquired in 1823 by George IV with an attribution to Benvenuto Cellini. John Flaxman, who was principal designer at Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, from whom the cup was acquired, is supposed to have accepted this attribution, although the piece is actually marked by the Nuremberg silversmith, Nicholas Schmidt, a pupil of Wenzel Jamnitzer. What was good for a King was desired by many eager collectors. Culme has demonstrated how during the 19th century Cellini's name was used in association with silver and gold objects in three ways. Firstly, it was used as a means of marketing exceptional authentic 16th century works, as with the George IV nautilus cup or the Rothschild Orpheus Cup. Secondly, from the early 1840s, Cellini's name was used by entrepreneurs like Jean Valentin Morel as a way of assessing and promoting the virtuosity of contemporary silversmiths, such as Antonio Cortelazzo. Lastly, forgeries were produced by 19th century craftsman with the intention to deceive, for example the silver-gilt cup and cover discussed by Culme (ibid., fig. 1). Certainly the Cellini phenomenon created some outlandish claims, such as 'Joan of Arc's sword chased by Benvenuto Cellini' described by Comte Horace de Viel-Castel. Perhaps the Rothschild Orpheus Cup has more claim than many other works to be considered amongst the best goldsmith's works that can be associated with the style of Cellini, although it was sadly unknown to Eugène Plon in the 1880s. Certainly up until the middle of the 20th century this was still being proposed. In 1956Connaissance des arts published an article which postulated that, at least the en round bosse enamelled gold cover could have been one of the objects which Cellini is supposed to have left unfinished in France when he fell out of favour with François I and returned to Italy in 1545.
Dating the Rothschild Orpheus Cup
Whilst a Cellini myth developed around the Orpheus cup from the beginning of the 20th century, more recent scholarship has provided an alternative theory. The key comparison is with a gold and enamel cup in the Rijksmuseum (BK-17095) (We are grateful to Mag. Paulus Rainer for drawing this comparison to our attention). The foot and stem are analogous to the Orpheus Cup with a main figure of Orpheus surrounded by animals and putti enamelled en ronde bosse, which are so close as to suppose they come from the same workshop as the figures and animals on the cover of our Cup. The stem of the Rijkmuseum Cup and the cover and foot of the Rothschild Orpheus Cup are stylistically consistent with the late 16th or early 17th century. For comparison a pendant in the Waddesdon Bequest at the British Museum (WB. 161) of a warrior on a white horse has rubies mounted in gold on the body of the horse in a similar fashion to the animals on the cover of the Orpheus cup. This is considered to be German, mid-sixteenth century. A similar pendant representing St George and the Dragon is in the Grünes Gewölbe (inv. VIII 265) and described as German, late sixteenth century. Finally, a gold and enamelled lion holding an orb and inset with a ruby and two diamonds also in the Grünes Gewölbe (inv. 1997.1), attributed to a German craftsman working from 1580-1590, makes a close comparison in style and technique with the work on the cover of our cup. Whilst this establishes a convincing date of around 1580 for the cover and animals on the foot of the Rothschild Orpheus Cup and locates it in southern Germany, the attribution of the painted enamel Cup is quite different.
The Rijksmuseum Cup also has a painted enamel bowl similar to the Orpheus Cup. Based on the visual sources for the mythological scenes on the former, which are derived from the work of Johann Wilhelm Baur (1607-1640), these cannot date before around 1640. In addition the inside of the Rijksmuseum Cup is initialled G LOT F and IGB. The first initials have been linked to the Augsburg goldsmith Georg Lotter, the elder or younger, and the second initials to Baur (Joannis Guilielmi Baur). Published by Ulrike Weinhold in 2000 both cups were considered as early examples of Augsburg enamel datable to around 1660.
Cup, German, Augsburg (possibly George Lotter), ca. 1660, gold, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum (Inv. No. BK-17095). Photo: © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Recent study has not clarified the exact connection between the magnificent en rond bosse enamelled parts of these Cups, which must date around 1580, with the later painted enamelled parts, which date to around 1650. Whether the initials on the Rijksmuseum Cup do indeed refer to Georg Lotter, whose known corpus of work is quite different from these two cups, is also far from conclusive. It might be proposed that a goldsmith or enameller in southern Germany, probably Augsburg, in the first half of the 17th century had elements from an unfinished or dismembered cup of around 1580 which they incorporated into two new objects later in the 17th century.
It is extremely rare for a late Renaissance gold and enamelled object to have stimulated such comment and adulation as exists for the Rothschild Orpheus Cup. The attribution to Benvenuto Cellini has no doubt been inspired both by the quality of the en ronde bosse enamel parts and by the wonderful imagination of the maker whose vision of the goddess Diana seated next to Orpheus on Mount Parnassus, with all the exquisite animals spread around the luscious landscape, which is the principle fascination of this work. That it was owned by the Rothschild family is consistent with its sumptuous quality and intriguing mixture of styles. But whilst the difference of styles between the cover and the cup may exercise modern art historians, this does not detract from the immediate fascination of the viewer today who can marvel at the superb menagerie in enamelled gold, exactly as did Queen Mary nearly a century ago.
E. Plon, Benvenuto Cellini. Orfévre, Médailleur, Sculpteur. Recherches sur sa vie sur son oeuvre et sur les pièces qui lui song attribuées, Paris, 1883, partie III, pp. 258-262;
J. Culme, ''Benvenuto Cellini' and the nineteenth-century Collector and Goldsmith', Art at Auction: The Year at Sotheby's Parke Bernet 1973-74, London, 1974, pp. 293-296
Another exceptional object is an 18th century French royal silver tureen and cover from the celebrated Penthièvre-Orléans’ service, once in the collection of Louis-Philippe I, King of the French (1830-1848) (est. £400,000-600,000/ €520,000-780,000 / $585,000-880,000). The circular cover, applied with the arms of Louis-Philippe, is one of four known from the only French royal silver dinner service still in existence. Of the three other covers of this shape and size, one is in the Louvre, one is in the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire in Brussels, and the third has recently been identified in a private collection. The latter will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s Paris on 20 September 2016 in the Robert de Balkany Collection. The majority of the relatively small number of pieces of the Penthièvre-Orléans’ service that have survived are in major museums such as the Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Detroit Museum, the Gulbenkian, The Philadelphia Museum of Art or The Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels.
Lot 25. A French Royal silver tureen and cover from the Penthièvre-Orléans service, the cover, Antoine Sébastien Durant, Paris, 1752-1753, the tureen, Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot, Paris, circa 1821. Estimate £400,000-600,000/ €520,000-780,000 / $585,000-880,000. Photo Sotheby's.
the cover, shaped circular, surmounted by duck and parsnip sculptural finial, applied circa 1821 with the arms of Louis-Philippe I, King of the French, flanked by cherub and bulrushes, the tureen of bombé form similarly applied with the Orléans coat of arms, raised on celery supports, with applied leaves and celery stalk handles, liner, Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot, Paris, circa 1821, heater and heater cover, Charles-Nicolas Odiot, Paris, 1826-1838 - 35.5cm., 14in. wide over handles; 7720,9 gr.; 248oz 4dwt.
Provenance: Most probably acquired from Henry Janssen (1701-66) by
Louis-Charles de Bourbon compte d’Eu (1701-75) by descent to his cousin
Louis-Jean-Marie de Bourbon, duc de Penthièvre (1725-93) to his daughter
Louise-Marie-Adélaïde de Bourbon-Penthièvre (1753-1821) who married in 1769
Louis-Philippe-Joseph, duc d’Orléans (Philippe-Egalité) (1747-93) to their son
Louis-Philippe, King of the French (1773-1850) by descent to
Emmanuel duc de Vendôme (1872-1931) who married
Henriette de Belgique (1870-1948)
Charles, duc de Nemours (1905-1970)
This present cloche and stand were purchased directly from the Orléans family circa 1949 by Jacques Favre de Thierrens, grandfather of the present owner.
Notes: This cloche is one of four known, from the only French royal silver dinner service still in existence. Of the three other covers of this shape and size, one is in the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire in Brussels (Fig.4), one is in the Louvre (Fig.5) and the fourth has recently been identified in a private collection.
Fig.2. An oval silver cloche, Antoine-Sébastien Durant, Paris, 1750-51 with later base, Jean-Baptiste Claude Odiot, Paris, circa 1821 © Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels.
Fig.3. A circular silver cloche, attributed to Antoine-Sébastien Durant, Paris, 1750-56 with later base, Jean-Baptiste Claude Odiot, Paris, circa 1821 © Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels
Fig.4. An oval silver cloche, Antoine-Sébastien Durant, Paris, 1750-51 with later base, Jean-Baptiste Claude Odiot, Paris, circa 1821 © Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels.
Fig.5. A circular silver cloche, attributed to Antoine-Sébastien Durant, Paris, 1752 © Courtesy of the Musée du Louvre.
The cloche belongs to the `Penthièvre-Orléans’ service which holds a unique position being ‘miraculeusement preservé…aujourd’hui le seul ensemble qui permette d’apprécier la splendeur, l’éclat et le raffinement de l’argenterie de la cour de France1
The majority of the relatively small number of pieces that have survived to this day are in major museums such as the Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Detroit Museum, the Gulbenkian, The Philadelphia Museum of Art or The Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels (see below).2
Unlike other French royal services, the Penthièvre-Orléans’s survived periods of revolution and the state’s regular need for emergency cash, when the privileged were expected to donate their silver to the mint for coinage. Somehow it also survived the meltings due to changes of fashion, described in the mid-18th century as ‘ces fonts déplorables étaient extrêmements fréquents et on peut affirmer que les orfèvres de Louis XV ont détruit presque autant d’objects qu’ils produisirent’3.
The Penthièvre-Orléans service is an amalgamation of the product of various Parisian Goldsmiths including Thomas Germain, Claude Ballin II, Edme-Pierre Balzac, Robert-Joseph Auguste and Antoine Sebastian Durant, covering a period from circa 1728 to circa 1770. It includes such well-known pieces of French dining silver as the tureens by Thomas Germain with boar’s head handles of 1733-34 (fig.9), the dish covers by Durant from the early 1750’s (fig.5 to 8) and the tureens by Balzac of 1757-59 which were the model for Odiot’s 19th century additions (fig.10), when the Orléans arms were added by Louis Philippe (King of the French 1830-1848).
fig.9. A silver tureen, cover, liner and stand, Thomas Germain, Paris, 1733-34 © Sotheby’s, New York, 13th November 1996, lot 3.
fig.6. A circular silver cloche, Antoine-Sébastien Durant, Paris, 1756-57 © Private collection.
fig.8. A large oval silver dish cover, Antoine-Sébastien Durant, Paris, 1754-55 © Courtesy of the Callouste Gulbenkian museum, Lisboa.
The Hunting Imagery
Sculptural hunt-related finials, including animals and vegetables, were a regular feature of the best French silver of the mid-18th century, and Durant was one of its great exponents. Amongst the evidence for this beyond the Penthièvre-Orléans service are the tureens made for the King of Denmark, in 1749-50, one of which includes a hooded falcon perched on a duck similar to the present example.4 The dish cover with its hunting theme was an appropriate acquisition for the duc de Penthièvre, who became Grand Veneur de France [master of the Royal Hunt] in 1737, one of the great offices of the Maison du Roi. Louis XV, his godfather hunted whenever possible, both on horseback and with the gun. So large were the bags that on one day, 19th August 1738, one thousand seven hundred head of game were killed on the Plaine de St Denis, north of Paris.5 Just as the king loved to hunt he loved to look at pictures of hunting and filled his palaces with images by the official painters, Alexandre Francois Desportes (1661-1743) and Jean Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755).
fig.10. A silver soup tureen, liner and cover, Edmé-Pierre Balzac, Paris 1757-59 and stand probably Edmé-Pierre Balzac, Paris 1763-64 © Sotheby’s, Monaco, 20th June 1992, lot 23.
Both painters produced images combining silver objects with game, fruit and vegetables. Desportes’s silver tureen with peaches, (fig.10) probably depicts items from the Penthièvre-Orléans service. Oudry’s connections to the artistic world of the goldsmith are well known6 and images from his paintings can be directly related to existing silver items such as Loup pris au piège from 1732 (Statliches Museum, Schwerin Inv. G213). This image is repeated on a silver surtout (Nicholas Roettiers, 1734-35. Louvre), made for Louis XIV’s grandson the duc de Bourbon (1692-1740). It seems likely that Roettiers saw the painting in Oudry’s studio, as it was not sold by the artist till 1739.7 Oudry’s influence on the Penthièvre-Orléans service can be plainly seen in the fox and cockerel finial, on one of the Durant dish covers (see fig.7). This is modelled after his Fox in the Poultry Yard of 1748 (Wallace collection, London).
Fig. 7. A circular silver cloche, Antoine-Sébastien Durant, Paris, 1755-56 © Private collection.
The traditional spelling of the goldsmith’s family name Durand, is considered by the most up to date research to be incorrect, at least in terms of the goldmsith’s own wish. The silver tureens for the Danish crown are signed Durant and in his marriage contract, where the notaire has written Durand, in each instance the last d has been replaced with a t. Considerable biographical information on Antoine-Sébastian Durant (1712-1787) has been uncovered, including his traumatic early life and influence of his sister Anne and her husband the goldsmith J-B Tripart; This and information on his career, wealth and clients can be found in a Communication by Françoise Arquié-Bruley, Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art Français, 1995, pp. 165-185.
Penthievre ownership and earlier
The origin of the service has not been fully resolved. It is first documented in an inventory of Louis XIV’s grandson, the duc de Penthièvre (Fig.2 in family tree), taken in 1794, subsequently passing down the generations of Bourbon and Orléans royal family members. The duc de Penthièvre was one of the richest men in France, deriving his wealth, as heir to two legitimized sons of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan; his father and his uncle, respectively the comte de Toulouse and the duc de Maine. He inherited his uncle’s wealth, because the latter’s son the comte d’Eu died without issue leaving the duc de Penthièvre as his heir.
Louis Jean Marie de Bourbon, Duc de Penthièvre (1725 – 1793) (Grandson of Louis XIV), after Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766).
An inventory of the duc de Penthièvre’s plate taken in 1757, records thousands of marks of silver, but none of it including the surviving Penthièvre-Orléans service. This suggests that it was not inherited from his father who had died in 1737.8
His cousin and legator, the comte d’Eu was still alive at the time and although no documentary record has been published to prove it, appears to have been the conduit for the silver. This is supported by circumstantial evidence which suggest that the comte d’Eu purchased elements of the service from a certain Henry Janssen or his heirs.
The Penthièvre’s arms
The evidence for this purchase includes the existence of an earlier coat of arms on the cloche by Durant in the Musée Royaux d’art et d’Histoire in Brussels, identified as that of Janssen; it includes the association of Janssen with the boar’s head tureens by Thomas Germain in the service. Models for these were kept by Germain’s son Francois-Thomas and are recorded in his workshop in 1765 as ‘M de Janssin [sic]'9; And finally an account written around 1803 of the life of the duc de Penthièvre which records that his uncle the comte d’Eu had purchased a service for 50 persons from ‘un Anglois nomme le comte de Jansin qui avoit l’honneur d’être admis a sa cour’10. Madame Guénard's account contains some inconsistencies in terms of chronology, but is a relatively contemporary account which should be taken seriously.
Louis Charles de Bourbon, comte d’Eu (1701 – 1773), French school © RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles) / Daniel Arnaudet / Gérard Blot.
Her story goes that Henry Janssen was a member of the court of the Comte d’Eu. Like many others he had been ‘invited’ to give up his silver to the melt of 1759 (to help finance the Seven year’s War) and was about to lose his recently completed service for 50 persons for which he had provided the silver metal. He would still have to pay the goldsmith a large sum for its fashioning. He appealed to the Comte d’Eu who stepped in to help, taking the service (and presumerably his tax obligation) off him, in return for a life annuity. When the comte d’Eu died in 1775 without issue, his cousin and heir the duc de Penthièvre inherited ‘la belle argenterie Jansin’ but also magnanimously offered to pay the Janssen family for the value of the metal. There are inconsistencies in the detail of Madame Guénard’s account, but it is known that at Henry Janssen’s death in 1766, his silver at the Hotel de Lassay which he rented and shared with his brother Robert, although unspecified, weighed nearly 300 kilos and had been given as surety for debts. It is also recorded that shortly after Henry’s death, the comte d’Eu agreed to pay an annuity of 7200 livres against a principal of 72,000 to Henry’s brother Robert who was his heir11. This sum of money is in keeping with the cost of a large and elaborate service of the time.
The Duke of Penthièvre, Louis-Jean-Marie de Bourbon (1725-1793), and his daughter, Louise-Adelaïde soon to be Duchess of Orléans, by Jean Baptiste Charpentier le Vieux (1728-1806) © RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles) / Gérard Blot.
An article by Maureen Cassidy-Geiger has suggested that items from the Penthièvre-Orléans service (including the boar’s head tureen) were indeed purchased by the compte d’Eu but via another source, having belonged to the Saxon minister count Brühl who himself had purchased it from the estate of the Fermier Genéral of France François Joly de Fleury.12
While there appears little evidence in this article to doubt that the comte d’Eu bought the service from Janssen or his heirs, the Joly de Flory story confirms that spectacular services were on the market soon after they were made, and that people at the very top of society, to whom the impact of a great silver service was an essential part of being a great person, were prepared to buy them second hand rather than wait out the long process of commissioning a new one.
The surviving elements of the service are known from three inventories. Two of these were made in 1794 after the duc de Penthièvre’s death in 1793 and the third in 1850 when it was listed as Service no 1, following the death of Louis-Philippe at Claremont house in Surrey. This house had been lent by Queen Victoria after he was deposed in the revolution of 1848. In the latter inventory it is possible to identify the plate with the Odiot additions.13
Soon after the duc de Penthièvre’s death, at the Chateau de Bizy in Normandy, his silver was confiscated by the government from his daughter and heir Louise Marie-Adélaïde. The original intention had been to melt the silver, which was taken to the Hotel Mondragon in Paris where an inventory was made dated 9 Floreal an II (April 28, 1794) before taking it on to the mint.14This recorded nearly 370 kilos of silver and included all the known pieces of the Penthièvre-Orleans service, surviving today.
The inventory also recorded how the various items were to be stored in leather cases ‘in order not to damage them in case it be decreed that some pieces be preserved’.15 ‘Decreed’ it was, and the best pieces of the Penthièvre silver were kept back for amalgamation into a Grand Service destined eventually for use by the Directoire executif, in the Luxembourg palace. These were recorded in an inventory also of 1794 entitled Etat et poid du Grand Service, where the 18th century elements of the Penthievre-Orleans service including the present cloche, can again be identified.16
The Directoir never had use of the Grand service of which the Penthièvre silver was intended to form such an important part. In 1797, the duc de Penthièvre’s daughter and heir Louise Marie Adélaïde whose husband the duc d’Orléans (Philippe-Egalité) had been guillotined and herself imprisoned, won the right to have her silver returned under the terms of a law of June 28th.17 This amounted to nearly 230 kg of silver and created a dramatic hole in the Grand service, to the extent that theDirectoir executive wrote to the Minster of finance protesting at its return and describing the silver as ‘precieux par son execution’.18 Although the Directoir’s letter did not have its desired result, the silver was in jeopardy again 16 days after the duchess took possession, when she was exiled to Spain following the revolution of September 4th, 1797. Yet again it was returned to the duchess after the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in July 1814 and yet again it was confiscated during the 100 days, finally returning after the king’s restoration in July 1815. On the death of the duchess d’Orléans, her two elder sons having predeceased her, the service was inherited by her third son Louis-Philippe duc d’Orléans (King of the French 1830-48) who had his coat of arms applied and extended it.19 He was deposed in 1848 and took refuge in England where he died in1850. As an exile his widow was unable to make a will in France but did sign an act of settlement which allowed her to leave what was then called the Service no 1 to her eldest surviving son, the duc de Nemours (1814-96).20 Later wills are not available to follow the subsequent descent of the service, but sales were made by the family of the duc de Vendôme (1872-1931), great grandson of Louis-Philippe in the mid-20th century.
ouis Philippe Ier, king of the French (1773 – 1850), printed after François Nicolas Louis Gosse (1787 – 1878) © Sotheby’s, Paris, 29th September 2015, lot 89.
The Duke of Vendôme Emmanuel d’Orléans, his wife the princess Henriette de Belgique and their children.
Henry Janssen (1701-1766) was of Dutch extraction whose ancestor the Baron Janssen de Heez had lost his life and estates during the Dutch wars of liberation from Spain. His grandfather Theodore Janssen de Heez made a fortune in France, and his father also called Theodore brought this fortune to England, where he was naturalised and prospered, becoming a baronet in 1714 for services to the crown. He died there in 1748 leaving five sons. Of these Henry Janssen’s brother Stephen Theodore became Lord Mayor of London in 1754, while Henry himself and his brother Robert were naturalised citizens of France in 1741 and 1740 respectively, living in the Hotel de Lassay which they rented from 1738. His notice of death records him as ancient ‘Capitaine aux Gardes Anglois’ and a naval captain thought to be Henry Janssen is mentioned in 1744, as master of the Corsair ‘La Palme’ escorting two vessels into Dunkirk ‘Le Neptune’ and ‘La Bonne Esperance’ laden with wine, eau de vie and syrop for merchants in Ostende and Bruges.21 Henry is satirically referred to by the poet Alexander Pope in The Dunciad vol 4, first published in 1728, as someone responsible for the financial education of Youth. While in England he had relieved the young 3rd Duke of Bedford (1708-32) of £30,000 during a card playing session lasting 24 hours.22 He is mentioned in the same vein in letters between Horace Walpole and Sir Horace Mann where the latter referred to him in France as ‘that sharper’ taking money off the rich Englishman, who ‘every now and then will present himself to be eased of his thousands.23
Portrait group thought to be Sir Theodore Janssen, 1st Bt. (1654/58?-1748) and his five sons, including Henry Janssen (1701?-1765) and Robert Janssen (1709 ?-1780) © Guildhall Art Gallery, London.
Jacques Favre de Thierrens
Jacques Favre de Thierrens (1895-1973), from a Franco-Swiss aristocratic family was a celebrated French fighter pilot, secret service agent and painter
The Favre de Thierrens family can be traced back to the 12th century from the Swiss Canton of Vaud, where they were granted the ‘mestralie’ of Thierrens by the Dukes of Lombardy. Some members of the family moved to France to follow Calvin, to Avignon in 1789 and then Nice in 1820. Jacques Favre de Thierrens was born in 1895 in Nimes, and after a short stay at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts de Paris, he joined the Military Air School of Estampes, created in 1910 by Louis Blériot. During the First World Ward, he became an aviateur de combat. One of only 182 official Air Aces (As) in French fighter command, a designation he shared with such other illustrious aces as Guynemer, Hérisson, Navarre, Nungesser, and Paul Tarascon who despite an amputated foot was credited with 10 confirmed and 12 probable `kills’. Favre de Thierrens became commander of the famous squadron 62 Escadrille des Coqs.
Before the Second World War, he had joined the secret service, liasing, during it, with his counterparts in Great Britain to recruit agents for the Resistance
One of his most famous exploits was to burglarise the office of the German Ambassador to the Vichy goverment Otto Abetz, He also saved, in extremis in 1942 almost half the archives of the French secret services, weighing around 20 tons and transporting them to the family estate at Ledenon (Gard). The house is nowadays the town hall in which a plaque has been fixed to commemorate this act.
These archives were seized by the Nazis in 1943, then passed onto Russia who finally returned them in 1991. This restitution was announced by the then French president Francois Mitterand who had worked under the orders of Jacques Favre de Thierrens during the war.
After the war, Jacques concentrated on his life-long passion for painting. His work depicts the colourful landscapes of the South of France, and is imbued with a sense of peace and freedom in contrast to the troubled times of the war. He exhibited regularly in Paris between 1955 and 1966, as well as in the main towns of France, Geneva in 1961, Lausanne in 1965, Chicago and New York in 1962.
Silver was his second passion and he became a great expert on the identification of date letters and makers’ marks. His great friends in this venture were the celebrated experts and collectors J-Henri Baur, David David-Weil and Jacques Helft. Paris marks were his speciality, while Helft concentrated on the provinces. He was principal organiser of the first important silver exhibitions in Geneva in 1948 and then in Aix-en-Provence in 1954.
Jacques Favre de Thierrens was awarded: Croix de Guerre 1914-1918, Medaille de l’Aeronautique, Croix de Guerre 1939-1945, Medaille de la Resistance a La liberation, Grand officier de la Legion d’Honneur, Chevalier de l’Ordre militaire et Hospitalier de Saint Jean de Jerusalem, Chevalier de l’Ordre National de Merite and Officier des Arts et des lettres.
Sotheby's gratefully thanks the Favre de Thierrens family for their help in creating this note.
Jacques Favre de Thierrens (1895 – 1973) as an aviateur de combat (Family Archives)
1. Gérard Mabille, ‘Le Service Penthièvre-Orléans’ from exhibition catalogue Versailles et les table royales en Europe XVIIème-XIXème Siècles, Chateau de Versailles, 3 November 1993-27 February 1994, p.275
2. the recorded pieces composing the Penthièvre-Orléans service are:
- A pair of wine coolers, 1727-28 (Louvre).
- Two pairs of three-light candelabra, (one pair in a private collection, 1732, the other location unknown).
- A pair of ragout dishes, 1733-34 (one in the Louvre; the other in a private collection, see Sotheby’s Monaco, June 20, 1992, lot 24).
- A pair of tureens on stands, with boar’s head handles 1733-34 (one in Detroit Institute of Arts; the other in a private collection, see Royal French Silver, the property of George Ortiz, Sotheby’s New York, Wednesday, November 13, 1996, lot 3).
- Another pair of tureens on stand (the tureens location unknown; the stands, 1729-30, in private collection, see Sotheby’s, op. cit., 1996, lot 5).
- A pair of salts, 1734-36 (Louvre).
Claude Ballin II
- A pair of wine coolers, 1744-45 (Sotheby’s, op. cit., 1996, lot 4).
- A pair of tureens on stands, 1757-59 (one without stand 1992, Metropolitan Museum of -Arts; the other with stand, 1763-64, Louvre, Sotheby’s, op. cit., lot 23).
- A pair of wine coolers, 1757-60 (private collection, Sotheby’s, Monaco, June 24, 1976, lot 51).
- A matching pair of wine coolers, 1759-60 (Louvre).
- Two pairs of pots à oille, 1758-59 (one pair in the Louvre; the other one in private collection).
- Four cruet stands (one, 1760-61, in a private collection; three location unknown).
- A pair of oval dish covers, 1750-51 (Musée Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels).
- A circular dish cover, 1750-56 (Musée Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels).
- A matching circular dish cover, 1750-56 (Louvre).
- Another, matching, 1750-51 (Robert de Balkany Collection, to be sold Sotheby’s Paris, 20 September 2016).
- A large oval dish cover, 1754-55 (Gulbenkian Foundation).
- A pair of circular dish covers surmounted by a fox and a stone marten respectively, 1756-57 (private collection).
- A pair of salts, 1758-59 (one in the Louvre; the other Philadelphia Museum of Art).
- Four stands, 1770-71, for the pots à oille by Balzac (Louvre; and private collection).
3. Lazar Duvaux, Marchand Bijoutier ordinaire du roi. From Alexander von Solodkoff, ‘The rediscovery of a 1754 ‘‘Machine d’Argent’’ by François-Thomas Germain’, Studies in the Decorative Arts, vol. 13, no. 2 (2006) p.59 footnote 17)
4. It is not known which Danish King ordered these tureens as the first record of them in Danish inventories is in 1796. See: Exhibition catalogue, A King’s Feast, Kensington palace, 5 June-29 September 1991 p. 101 and no. 72. For another Durant tureen with elaborate bird and vegetable finial; and for biographical information on the goldsmith see: Sothebys Paris, 18th December 2002, separate catalogue for lots 134, 135 and 136, Exceptional ensemble d’Orfèvrerie par Antoine-Sébastian Durant.
5. Exhibition catalogue, Vincent Droguet et al. Animaux d’Oudry, Collection des ducs de Mecklembourg-Schwerin, Musée national du château de Fontainbleau, 5 November-9 February, 2004, p. 15.
6. See for example his role in the acquisition of a silver centrepiece in Alexander von Solodkoff, ‘A Lost “Machine d’Argent” of 1754 by François-Thomas Germain for the Duke of Mecklenburg,’ Studies in the Decorative Arts, The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Bard Graduate Centre, Spring-Summer, 2000, pp. 122-135.
7. Vincent Droguet, 2004, p. 108.
8. Sothebys New York, Royal French Silver, the property of George Ortiz, November 13, 1996, p. 39 footnote 2. Much of the research on the origins of the Penthièvre-Orléans service was undertaken by Stéphane Boiron and published in that catalogue, and in Sotheby's Monaco, June 20, 1992, lot 23.
9. Christiane Perrin, François Thomas Germain, orfèvre du rois, Saint-Rémy-en-L’eau, 1993, p.58.
10. Elisabeth Guénard, Vie du duc de Penthievre, t II, Paris, 1803, pp.125-127.
11. op. cit, Sotheby's 1996, p.39 footnote 12.
12. Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, Ein neues silbern Französisches Tafel Service: Linking the Penthièvre-Orléans service to Dresden, Silver Studies, 2007, pp. 123-152)
13. Op. cit. 1996, p. 42 footnote 26.
14. The document was discovered by Madame Gaborit-Chopin in the Bibliotèque Nationale. Op.cit, 1996, p. 41 footnote 19.
15. Op.cit. 1996, p. 41 footnote 19.
16. Op.cit. 1996, p. 54 footnote 3.
17. Op. cit. 1996 p. 42 footnote 22.
18. Op.cit. 1996 p. 54 footnote 1.
19. Op.cit. 1996 p.42 footnote 24.
20. Op. cit. 1996 p. 42 footnote 27.
21. Mercure de France, May 1744 p. 1053. Christine Perrin connects this incident and the`prises anglaises du capitaine Janssen' (also mentioned in the Mercure de France), with Henry Janssen, op. cit., p. 109
22. Georgiana Blakiston, Woburn and the Russels, London, 1980, p.98.
23. The Yale edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, September 5 and 17, 1741.
Carpets for the Sun King
The French carpet manufacture was instigated by Henri IV and in the late 17th century, was revived to unparalleled heights by Louis XIV. Testament to one of the most ambitious and important projects of the Sun King's patronage of the decorative arts are two carpets commissioned by Louis XIV as part of the colossal refurbishment of the Palais du Louvre. The whole project was a statement to the world on the power of the King and the State. Both carpets incorporate royal emblems, allegorical depictions of virtues and allusions to auspicious attributes to the reign of the Louis XIV, as well as those to the arts and sciences. The first was designed for the Grande Galerie and delivered in 1678 (est. £300,000-500,000/ €390,000-650,000/ $439,000-735,000); the second, coming from the collection of Sir Howard Hodgkin CH CBE, is a fragment of a carpet probably woven between 1664-1666 for the Galerie d’Apollon (est. £80,000-120,000/ €104,000-156,000 / $117,000-176,000).
Lot 9. A Louis XIV Savonnerie Carpet. Estimate £300,000-500,000/ €390,000-650,000/ $439,000-735,000. Photo: Sotheby's.
comprised of two symmetrically joined horizontal sections, each with the main field depicting a large frame pattern lobed reserve enclosing monochrome blue and white allegorical bas-reliefs, one depicting Aeolus (honoured by Zeus to become Keeper of the Winds), the other Juno (Goddess and protector of women; and in allegories of the four elements is the personification of Air) with her attribute the peacock (associated with Pride), each bas-relief with a floral swag sweeping from the centre of the inside of the frame and held in the corners of the main field by peacocks perched on exuberant and colourful scrolling rinceaux, the reserves supported by adorsed eagles centred by the motif of the winged helmet of Mercury (Messenger of the gods: Jupiter), the eagles (sacred to Jupiter; also attributed to Pride) flanked on each side by further scrolling rinceaux incorporating a brightly feathered parrot, the wide border of frame pattern design with repeat pattern of yellow oval blind cabochon alternating with two white interlocking foliate motifs against a black ground, with a yellow fleur-de-lys in each corner, with a yellow, cream, salmon and black narrow outer guard stripe with guilloche pattern and a narrow yellow and black inner guard stripe with palmette pattern:
approximately 445 by 420cm; 14ft. 7in., 13ft. 9in.
designed for the Grande Galerie, Palais du Louvre, from the Chaillot workshop of the Lourdet family, according to a scheme by Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) and/or Louis Le Vau (1612-1670, premier architect du Roi 1654), after a design by François I Francart (1622-1672) and Beaudrin Yvart le père (1611-1690), and delivered 10 June 1678
Provenance: Ordered by Louis XIV for the Grande Galerie of the Palais du Louvre, delivered 1678
French Royal Collection (Royal Inventory No 191)
Raymond Bourdillon, acquired 26 July 1797
Hôtel Drouot, Couturier Nicolay, Paris, 19 November 1981, lot 227, anonymous
Sotheby’s Monaco, Bel Ameublement, 4 December 1983, lot 122, anonymous
Christie’s, New York, Important French Furniture from a Private Collection, 21 May 1996, lot 358
Literature: Jules Baudouin, Iconologie ou Nouvelle explication de plusieurs images, emblems, et autres figures hyerogliphiques des vertues, des vices, des arts, des sciences, des causes naturelles, des humeurs differentes, des passions humains / tire des recherches et des figures de Cesare Ripa, Paris, 1677; translation from the original Italian manuscript, Cesare Ripa, Iconologia, Perugia, 1593;
Charissa Bremer-David, French Tapestries and Textiles in the J. Paul Getty Museum, J.Paul Getty Museum publication, Los Angeles, California, 1997, Savonnerie Manufactory, pp.129-161, No.14.,Carpet for the Galerie du Bord de l’Eau, Palais du Louvre, pp.138-145;
Wolf Buchard, “Savonnerie Reviewed: Charles Le Brun and the ‘Grand Tapis de pied d’ouvrage a la Turque’, woven for the Grande Galerie at the Louvre”, Furniture History, Vol.XLVIII (2012), pp.1-43; for discussion of the series and comprehensive appendix of subsequent carpets and fragments which have emerged since Verlet’s publication in 1982, and p.39, for specific reference to carpet 50 (191), Air themed, with the central section of the Four Winds, and the two matching bas-reliefs (892 by 446cm);
Marie-Noël de Gary, Musée Nissim de Camondo, La demeure d’un collectionneur, Paris, 2007, pp.87, 111 & 299; illustrated with complete overview, and separately in situ within interior of the Grande Salon in the museum in 1935;
Chantal Gastinel-Coural, Les Manufactures de Tapisserie, Colbert 1619-1683, exh.cat. (Hôtel de la Monnaie, Paris, 1983), pp.155-158, for discussion of Le Brun’s influence on the royal manufactories;
Jules Guiffrey, Inventaire Général du Mobilier de la Couronne sous Louis XIV (1663-1715), Paris, 1885-1886 (2 Vols), vol. 1, pp.392-409, p.401, No.191); transcription of Inventaire du Mobilier de la Couronne, compiled in 1697 by Gédéon du Metz, contrôleur general des Meubles de la Couronne; and Jules Guiffrey, Comptes des Bâtiments, vol. 1.;
Madeleine Jarry, The Carpets of the Manufactory de la Savonnerie, Leigh on Sea, 1966, p.30, fig.17;
Albert Pomme de Mirimonde, ‘Le symbolisme musical dans les tapis de la Grande Galerie du Louvre’, Revue du Louvre, 1973-2, pp.95-104, and 1973, pp.161-168, for study of the musical instruments in the designs of Air (on the 50th carpet);
Sarah B. Sherill, Carpets and Rugs of Europe and America, New York, 1995, Chp. 3, France, pp.58-109, Savonnerie of Louis XIV, pp.61-73;
Jean Vittet, 'Contribution à l’histoire de la Manufacture de la Savonnerie au XVIIe siècle: l’atelier de Simon et Philippe Lourdet d’après les minutes notariales', Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art Français (1995), pp. 99-118;
Pierre Verlet, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor: the Savonnerie, 1982, The Catalogue: Section II: Carpets for the Long Gallery of the Louvre, pp.172-213; Appendix A: List of the carpets woven for the Long Gallery of the Louvre, p. 486, Air, 50th carpet (No.191); together with a diagram representing layout of the carpets for the Long Gallery, numbered according to the Royal Inventory (1-93);
Frank John Bagolt Watson, The Wrightsman Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1966, Vol.2, Savonnerie Carpet, no. 277, pp.495-499
Notes: When Louis XIV (1638-1715) ascended to the throne in 1661, it was decided with his chief minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert, that a refurbishment of the Louvre was necessary to make a statement to the world manifesting the power of the King and the State. This was an appealing plan to Colbert as it would promote the arts, and build up the French carpet industry. The manufacture of carpets was instigated by Henri IV and revived to unparalleled heights by Louis XIV. The carpet maker Pierre Dupont (ca.1577-1640) introduced the technique of making knotted pile carpets ‘in the manner of Turkey and the Levant’, into France under Louis XIII, producing especially floral and rinceaux designed carpets. Then Dupont’s apprentice Simon Lourdet (ca 1595-c.1667) established the workshop in the former soap factory (savonnerie) in Chaillot, from which Louis XIV commissioned various carpets for different palaces. In 1664-1666, there was a special commission for thirteen carpets for the Galerie d’Apollon - Gallery of Apollo - (see lot 11 in this sale), which served as an initial trial for the particularly grand and challenging suite of ninety three carpets to follow for the Galerie du Bord de l’Eau (known as theGrande Galerie), Palais du Louvre, predominantly between 1670 and 1685.
In both execution and design, this series of Grande Galerie carpets should be seen as one of the most ambitious and important projects of Louis XIV’s patronage of the decorative arts. Louis XIV ultimately never completed the overall interior scheme, as he moved the court to Versailles in 1682, however the weaving of this large number of carpets was completed.
The creator of the scheme is not mentioned specifically in the records of Comptes des Bâtiment du Roi, however as premiere peintre de Roi (and director of the Savonnerie manufactory from 1665), Charles Le Brun would have been involved, as would Louis Le Vau, as premier peintre du Roi. Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683) became Surintendant des Bâtiment du Roi in 1664 and he called on the talents of the Petit Conseil group of artists and architects, including Le Vau and Le Brun. There are records of payments to three of painters of the carpet cartoons, which included François I Francart (1622-1672), Beaudrin Yvart le père (1611-1690) and Jean Le Moyne Lemoine dit le Lorraine 1638-1713), for smaller sized works related to the project. Noted scholars, including Charissa Bremer-David, have considered that other artists would have been involved. Verlet comprehensively recorded the history of the Savonnerie Manufactory, including the Grande Galerie carpets which included a listing, brief description and layout plan for each carpet, as well as the known history of ownership for each piece (Pierre Verlet, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor: the Savonnerie, 1982). This seminal study has been complemented by Buchard with further examples discovered since 1982 (Wolf Buchard, “Savonnerie Reviewed: Charles Le Brun and the ‘Grand Tapis de pied d’ouvrage a la Turque’, woven for the Grande Galerie at the Louvre”, Furniture History, Vol.XLVIII (2012).
The scheme overall was a visualisation of the Sun King’s political agenda and personal aspirations, through the designs of the carpets and with their amalgamation of diverse themes, which emphasised the grandeur of the Sovereign. The Louvre carpets were profusely decorated with a combination of royal symbols, including the arms of France and Navarre, interlaced ‘L’s, fleur-de-lis, suns, crowns, globes, wreaths and trophies together with natural elements, landscapes, literary and allegorical symbols and figures; alluding to the whole earth coming to life in honour of the King. Despite their variety each carpet forms a part of a coherent overall concept; each piece having bold classical architectural framing, a large central section, often with allegorical symbolism, such as Air, Water, Earth, Fire, balanced by a bas-relief at each end, alternating with either landscapes or distinctly and effectively rendered monochrome allegorical figures in the bas-reliefs, with a field of exuberant acanthus leaves and the rinceaux against a dark brown/black ground (fond-brun – which in the 17th century was a rich black or deep blue colour), and with a unifying complementary border design. The alternating bas-reliefs represented twenty-seven aspects of Louis XIV’s gloire, each identified in the Inventaire de Mobilier de la Couronne. The iconography was influenced by Cesare Ripa’s, Iconologia, Perugia, 1593 (and widely disseminated and translated). In addition to the rich allusions and iconography, a programme of colour theory and symbolism was a further enhancement to the effect, with contributions from the Petit Académie, which were used in the royal festivals of the 1660’s. Yellow alluded to gold and the colour of the sun, and grey/white alluding to silver, associated with the moon and symbolic of royal dignity.
The whole is an extraordinary paean in honour of Louis XIV, a sort of symphony with a flourish of trumpets and clashing of cymbals, which acts as an accompaniment to the cipher and the arms of the King. A series of heroic couplets is unfolded on those carpets in the second part of the gallery that are decorated with bas-reliefs. The Elements, the Virtues, Good Government are lauded. As far as one can judge from the apparent order of the carpets, the scheme did not include a carefully planned development, but they spread the glory of the King, as it were, at our feet. (Verlet, p.197).
Apart from the central Galerie d’Apollon carpet, most were woven as pairs, and would have been conceived to complement each other and in some of their design elements allude to symmetry between the two halves of the gallery. They correspond to the elaborate designs for the ceiling and the layout of the gallery with the window alcoves alternating with trumeaux or blind bays. The length of the carpets was fixed by the width of the gallery, which was 7¾ aunes (922cm) in the Galerie d’Apollon and 7½ aunes (892cm) in the Grande Galerie. The widths of the carpets did vary dependent on the architectural design. The gallery ran from the Salon Carré next to the Galerie d’Apollon, along to the Pavillon de Flore adjoining the Palais Tuileries. The total length of the gallery (based on the widths of the carpets) would have been around 226/227 toises,approximately 442m, with one side overlooking the river. This was a testament to the extraordinary skill of the weavers involved. Colbert arranged in 1665 for the construction of particularly wide looms, with the greater dimensions of the carpets dictating the width of the loom, which was contrary to past manufacturing processes. The wide loom resulted in short warping, and allowed for more weavers working together along the longest dimension of the carpet, which considerably reduced the time taken to produce the enormous carpets individually, let alone as a group. The Lourdet family produced sixty carpets of the completed series (delivered between 1670-1685), and the Dupont family (who moved from the Louvre to the Chaillot Savonnerie in 1671) delivered thirty-two, between 1673-1683.
The numbering of the carpets in the Royal Inventory for the carpets in this scheme run from Nos.142 – 234. In Verlet the carpets are 1-93 (and numbered as such in his schematic layout of the Long Gallery, Fig. 1, based on those in the Archives Nationales). The Grande Galerie was divided into two unequal parts by a pavilion crowned with a lantern, and the first section was to contain carpets 1–35 (Royal Inventory - Nos.142-176 - 177 never woven), the second section carpets 37-93 (Nos. 178-234). The carpets for the Galerie d’Apollon were entered in the Royal Inventory as carpets 67–79 (Nos. 208-220).
The present carpet is part of one of the ninety-three carpets for the Grande Galerie du Palais du Louvre. The carpet offered here originally formed the two end sections for the 50th carpet in the series (No. 191), width 3¾ aunes (446cm) and is recorded as having been delivered by Dupont to the Louvre on 10 June 1678. From production and delivery records kept by Dupont, it is noted that he was responsible for thirty-two of the carpets and that the current example is the twelfth carpet he produced for the Grande Galerie commission. Dupont’s production and delivery notes also make particular mention of the four peacocks seen in the corners of this piece (Verlet, op. cit. p.179, notes 25-41, p.486).
The original central section of the carpet is in the Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris (Cat.No.176: approximately 515 by 434cm), with the theme of an Allegory of Air. The design format is of a polyangular outer panel on a white ground with the Arms of France in four cartouches linked by floral swags, with a distinctive central medallion enclosing the four-winds blowing horns and oboes linked by elaborate ribbon ties, with a butterfly motif surround, the four corners with elements of the distinctive rinceaux against the black ground, now interrupted by the border, with the yellow (golden) cabochon design incorporating the corner fleur-dy-lys motifs, of the design used for the series (Fig. 2). The carpet would have been longer, with the present two halves of the carpet at each end. This central section of carpet 50 (No.191) from the series, was one of the most important works acquired by the banker Moïse de Camondo, in the late 19th century, to decorate the mansion he had built in 1911 for his collection of 18th century furniture and art objects, which included Savonnerie carpets woven for the Grande Galerie. The house and collection was bequeathed to Les Arts Décoratifs and opened as the Musée de Camondo in 1935 (Fig. 3). Moïse de Camondo had previously been the tenant of the l‘hotel Heimendahl, rue de Constantine, which in turn had been the apartment of M. et Madame Heimandahl, which they rented from the Princesse de Sagan; "Etat descriptif des objets mobiliers appartenant à M. et Mme Heimendahl et garnissant l'hôtel que leur a loué Mme la princesse de Sagan rue de Constantine, n°21" (10 Octobre 1891).
The complete carpet was described on its arrival in 1678 in the Grand-Meuble as:
Le cinquantiesme: un tapis fonds brun, representant l’air, sur lequel il y a un grand compartiment fonds blanc remply des armes de France dans quatre cartouches couronnez et soutenues des aisles de la Renommee, et accompagnees de festoons de fleurs et dans le milieu d’un rond fonds bleu entoure de papillons dans lequel sont representez les Quatre Vents, aux deux bouts deux bas-reliefs bleus representant Eole et Junon, long de 7 aunes ½ sure 3 aunes ¾ de large.
When an inventory was drawn up in 1789 those from the Long Gallery had been preserved and their condition noted. Even with changing political events Louis XV, Louis XVI and Napoleon carefully administered the loans and movement of the carpets they had inherited and appreciated. Then during the Revolution and the Directoire some pieces were dispersed to government officials or used to pay governmental debts. The current piece was acquired from the Directoire by Raymond Bourdillon on 26 July 1797. Bourdillon received forty-four Savonnerie carpets, including twenty-seven others from the Grande Galerie series, as payment for horse fodder he supplied the revolutionary army. When Bourdillon received the carpets, the condition for the original complete carpet was noted as follows:Tapis frais comme neuf, avec medaillon en bas-relief aux deux bouts et un grand milieu, fond blanc et bleu, orne de trophees de musique et de 4 grands ecussons couronnes, 1600F (AN 02 / 464).
Many of the Grande Galerie carpets were altered, reduced in size or fell into general disrepair through neglect. Some were mutilated due to the inclusion in some of overtly royal motifs. Verlet, (ibid. p.208) specifically mentions how lost carpet fragments have been found, and married up, and he recalls seeing the present carpet of the two joined sections, in the house of a famous collector, and being able to confirm that they were the bas-reliefs to the central section of the Nissim Camondo carpet.
Despite the dispersal of many of the Grande Galerie carpets after the revolution, the Mobilier National retains the largest collection of them (around forty). There are other complete examples, central sections, bas-reliefs and fragments in International museums and private collections. It is unlikely that the carpets were ever laid out in entirety during the reign of Louis XIV, and it is of great significance that the intended effect was created when twenty-four of the carpets from the Mobilier National were stitched together on the occasion of the Signing of the Treaty of Versailles on the 18th June 1919, in the Galerie des Glaces.
[It is] “….. impossible to exaggerate the importance of the weaving of the carpets for the Long Gallery – one of the most persistently pursued projects of the reign – in the history of the decorative arts of the seventeenth century. The whole future of the Savonnerie factory, its very existence and its characteristic style were based on them” (Verlet, p.211).
Lot 11. A Louis XIV Savonniere Carpet Fragment. Estimate £80,000-120,000/ €104,000-156,000 / $117,000-176,000. Photo: Sotheby's.
woven depicting a radiant sun (attribute of Truth personified, as 'all is revealed by its light'), with vestiges of a the rim of the crown above, enclosed by an upward scrolling golden cornucopia tied with acanthus and laurel (associated with Victory and Virtue; attributes of Apollo, the Sun God) and bound with pink ribbon tied bow, with a snake entwined around the cornucopia tempted by the fruit cascading from it (snake being the symbol of Prudence personified; attribute of Minerva, the goddess of Wisdom, and alluding to the victory of Apollo over the python), within an arc of a golden band surround enclosing golden flowerheads tied together with blue ribbon, with a larger foliate motif from which emanates exuberant acanthus leaves, with an ivory outer surround,
Mounted on stretcher: approximately 135 by 113cm; 4ft.5in, 3ft. 8in.
probably from a carpet for the Galerie d’Apollon, Palais du Louvre, Paris, Chaillot workshop of the Lourdet family, according to a scheme by Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) and/or Louis Le Vau (1612-1670, premier architect du Roi 1654), after a design by François I Francart (1622-1672) and Beaudrin Yvart le père (1611-1690)
Provenance: probably from a carpet ordered by Louis XIV for the Galerie d'Apollon or Grande Galerie, Palais du Louvre
Francesca Galloway, London
Daniel Katz, London
Christie’s, London, The Niall Hobhouse Collection, 22 May 2008, lot 167
Literature: Charissa Bremer-David, French Tapestries and Textiles in the J. Paul Getty Museum, J.Paul Getty Museum publication, Los Angeles, California, 1997, Savonnerie Manufactory, pp.129-161, No.14., Carpet for the Galerie du Bord de l’Eau, Palais du Louvre, pp.138-145;
Wolf Buchard, Savonnerie Reviewed: Charles Le Brun and the ‘Grand Tapis de pied d’ouvrage a la Turque’, woven for the Grande Galerie at the Louvre, Furniture History, Vol.XLVIII (2012), pp.1-43, for discussion of the series and comprehensive appendix of subsequent carpets and fragments which have emerged since Verlet’s publication;
Jules Guiffrey, Inventaire Général du Mobilier de la Couronne sous Louis XIV (1663-1715), Paris, 1885-1886 (2 Vols), vol. 1, pp.392-409, p.401, No.191); transcription of Inventaire du Mobilier de la Couronne, compiled in 1697 by Gédéon du Metz, contrôleur general des Meubles de la Couronne; and Jules Guiffrey, Comptes des bâtiments du roi sous le règne de Louis XIV, Paris, 1881-1901 (5 Vols), Imprimerie Nationale; Madeleine Jarry,The Carpets of the Manufactory de la Savonnerie, Leigh on Sea, 1966;
Sarah B. Sherill, Carpets and Rugs of Europe and America, New York, 1995, Chp. 3, France, pp.58-109, Savonnerie of Louis XIV, pp.61-73;
Pierre Verlet, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor: the Savonnerie, 1982, pp.474-496;
Frank John Bagolt Watson, The Wrightsman Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1966, Vol.2, Savonnerie Carpet, no. 277, pp.495-499
Notes: The savonnerie carpets commissioned by Louis XIV for the Galerie d’Apollon and the Galerie du Bord de l’Eau (known as the Grande Galerie), in the Palais du Louvre, represented an extraordinarily, ambitious and innovative decorative scheme through which the gloire of the Sun- King was to be celebrated.
The design of the carpets incorporated royal emblems, allegorical depictions of virtues and allusions to auspicious attributes to the reign of the King, as well as those to the arts and sciences. The motifs were incorporated within a classical layout of dominant central sections, flanked at each end by bas-reliefs, and all were within a unifying border type.
On the 7th October 1667 Philippe Lourdet, Head of the Chaillot workshop delivered thirteen savonnerie carpets for the Galerie d’Apollon at the Louvre Palace, which had been woven between 1664-1666. This marked the first stage of the elaborate scheme and the Galerie d’Apollon carpets served as an initial trial for the very grand and challenging suite of ninety three carpets to follow for the Grande Galerie, which were produced between 1670 and 1685. Apart from the central carpet in theGalerie d’Apollon, all were woven as pairs, to complement each other and assert complete symmetry between the two halves of the gallery and correspond to the architectural interior designs. The Grande Galerie was divided into two unequal parts by a pavilion crowned with a lantern, and the first section was to contain carpets 1–35 (Royal Inventory - Nos.142-176-177 never woven), the second section carpets 37-93 (Nos.178-234).
The carpets for the Galerie d’Apollon were entered in the Royal Inventory as carpets 67–79 (Nos. 208-220). The weaving of the commission for the Galerie d'Apollon took approximately two years to complete, with carpets being delivered between the years of 1667 and 1669. From production and delivery records kept by Dupont, we know today that he was responsible for thirty-two of the Grande Galerie carpets and the Lourdet workshops for the remaining sixty. The artistic vocabulary found in the present lot reflects that which was found in the carpets of the Galerie d'Apollon. It is extremely difficult to determine which carpet in the series this fragment is taken from, although it is similar to one of the first carpets woven in the series, which was to be placed in the middle of the gallery under the bay of the vault which was later decorated by Delacroix in 1849. Both the present fragment and that carpet employed the Royal emblem of the crowned radiating sun although the majority of the crown above the present example is missing, Pierre Verlet, op. cit, London, 1982, pp.182-3, fig.114.
Seven of the original ninety-three carpets designed for the Grande Galerie had a central sunburst, recorded in Verlet, ibid.,pp. 474-496, Nos. 3, 6, 12, 18, 32, 52 and 82, with an additional ten of the Louvre carpets employing sun motifs elsewhere in the design scheme.
For another carpet incorporating the unusual motif of the snake entwined around the cornucopia, see an important Louis XIV Savonnerie carpet fragment, from the Galerie d'Apollon, Sotheby's, Milan, 21 October 2003, From the Estate of a Milanese Lady, lot 420 (see Fig. 1). The carpets for the Galerie d’Apollon were entered in to the Royal Inventory as numbers 67 – 79. One of the ways of differentiating those woven for the different galleries was the design of the border, which for the Galerie d’Apollon was narrower and classical in design with a secondary line of cabled fluting, changing for the Grande Galerieborders and becoming a more stylised cabochon design of wider format, and the fleur-de-lys turned outwards on the ninety-three carpets as opposed to inwards on the earlier thirteen. The border type of this carpet is the Galerie d'Apollon design, and the piece could have been the end section of carpet no.78 or 79.
Fig.1. A Louis XIV carpet fragment, from the Galerie d’Apollon, Palais de Louvre, Sotheby’s, Milan, 21 October 2003, lot 420
This is an interesting comparison as it suggests the present fragment probably being from a carpet from this initial scheme of carpets for the Galerie d'Apollon, with the overt symbolism of the sun god and the comparable use of the snake entwined around the cornucopia. The fragment is particularly evocative, with the motif of the radiating sun, from a unique grand scheme of carpets commissioned in in honour of the Sun King, Louis XIV.
To show the influence of the exceptional Louvre designs of the carpets of the Galerie d'Apollon and Grande Galerie of the 17thcentury, on the future carpets produced in France, see a similar design motif to the present fragment, with the sun motif, surrounded by fruit and flower-filled cornucopia joined by ribbon ties and laurel leaves, on an azure blue ground, and within a surround with rosettes and blue ribbon, in a savonnerie style carpet, from the late 19th century, sold Sotheby’s, New York, 10 November 2006, lot 156. The carpet is clearly inspired in design by the series commissioned for the Louvre, having the sun god allegorical elements and the same border type, although departs from the prototype designs, in having an ivory field overall, and an overall exuberant rinceaux design free of architectural ornament.
Treasures of Innovation
The sale also will also present treasures of innovation, including one of the first practical recording barometers (barograph) built by its inventor Alexander Cumming for his own use in 1766 (est. £400,000-600,000/ €520,000-780,000 / $585,000-880,000). Of the four longcase barograph regulators made by Cumming, only three retain their mechanisms. Of those, two remain within the collections of their original owners, including the first barograph ever created by Cumming, in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace since it was commissioned by King George III). The present example is being offered for sale for only the second time, having last been sold privately in 1814 to Luke Howard - the father of modern meteorology. This sale therefore represents an extraordinarily rare opportunity to purchase one of the earliest extant barographs owned and used by two of the greatest innovators of their time.
Lot 28. Alexander Cumming. A George III mahogany longcase barograph regulator, London, dated 1766, the case probably by Thomas Chippendale. Estimate £400,000-600,000/ €520,000-780,000 / $585,000-880,000. Photo: Sotheby's.
¾-inch silvered central dial signed Alexr. Cumming, London, 1766, with outer minute ring, hours sector and seconds dial with open centre revealing the escapement, the whole surrounded by an annular ring engraved with the names of the principal stars and a further ring twice engraved from I to XII for sidereal time, the whole enclosed by a barograph ring printed with an annular calendar of 17¼-inch diameter, the reverse engraved with the cypher of King George III, the movement with eight turned baluster pillars, footed plates, Cumming's gravity escapement, high count wheel train with pivots running in jewelled chatons, Harrison's maintaining power and driven by two fusees and chains both gearing with the centre wheel, the separately suspended pendulum with bi-metallic rod and Ellicott-type pendulum bob with Cumming's 'improvements', the barograph pencil mounted on a slender mahogany rod above a mahogany and ivory cage mounted with a thermometer and running within ivory rollers above the ivory cistern, the double siphon barometer with two mercury tubes concealed within a pair of fluted Corinthian columns, the case with glazed drum hood above gadrooned mouldings and flanked by crisply carved foliate corbels, the double break-front trunk with broken-arch cornice, glazed door and sides above further well carved corbels, the interior with mirrored back, the plinth decorated in the Neo-Classical manner with central water-leaf patera below ribbon-tied trailing husks and with outswept sides carved with similar decoration, a band of ebony dividing the trunk and the plinth; together with a used 19th century barograph recording disc from the collection of Luke Howard. 218.5cm. 7ft. 2in. high
Notes: The barograph is a recording barometer and was initially devised by Robert Hooke towards the end of the seventeenth century. Other attempts were made to produce recording barometers but none now survives. It was Alexander Cumming who successfully combined an accurate timekeeper with a barometer and revolving disc capable of continuously recording changes in atmospheric pressure. Of the four longcase barograph regulators made by Cumming, only three retain their mechanisms. Of those, two remain within the collections of their original owners and this present example is being offered for sale for only the second time, having last been sold privately in 1814. This sale therefore represents an extraordinarily rare opportunity to purchase one of the earliest extant barographs that was owned and used by the father of modern meteorology.
Alexander Cumming © Worshipful Company of Clockmakers’ Collection, UK / Bridgeman Images.
Alexander Cumming FRSE was born in Edinburgh circa 1733. Little is known of his early life but it is said that he was apprenticed to an Edinburgh watchmaker. He was clearly extremely talented as, by the early 1750s, he and his brother John were engaged by the Duke of Argyll to supply an organ and clock for his new castle at Inveraray. It is not known exactly when Cumming moved to London but he was already established near Bond Street when, in 1763, he was appointed as an expert in the matter of John Harrison’s marine timekeeper.
A mathematician, horologist and inventor, Cumming’s early association with the Duke of Argyll bought him into contact with the Duke’s nephew, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1793). The earl had moved from his Scottish estates to London in 1745 and had become a close friend of Prince Frederick, father of the future King George III. Following the death of Prince Frederick in 1751, the earl became tutor to Prince George and eventually became Prime Minister when the Prince became King in 1760.
King George III commissioned Alexander Cumming to design and build the first practical recording barometer (barograph). This spectacular instrument combined a longcase regulator with a mercury barometer to record the daily trend in barometric pressure on an annual chart. Housed in an elaborate ormolu-mounted case designed by Sir William Chambers, architect to George III, it was delivered in February 1765 at a cost of £1,165 plus an annual maintenance fee of £150. An extraordinary sum when, at the time, a new longcase clock could be bought for approximately £50. The barograph remains in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace.
Cumming also built a regulator in a mahogany case attributed to Thomas Chippendale for the 3rd Earl of Bute. That barograph remains in the collection of the Marquis of Bute at Mount Stewart on the Isle of Bute. Another longcase barograph regulator was built for the Earl’s son-in-law James Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale although it no longer has its mechanism. It was sold from Lowther Castle in 1947 and was, from 1968-1970, on exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It was offered for sale by R A Lee in 1971. A further, simpler wall-hanging example was sold by Sotheby’s, New York, on 25thJanuary 1997, Lot 60.
In 1766 Cumming built the present barograph regulator for his own use and it remained in his possession until his death in 1814. It is interesting to speculate why the barograph ring of this instrument bears the King's cypher and it may be that there was some overlap in the construction of all of the regulators. In the same year that he built this barograph, he published his great work; The elements of clock and watch-work, adapted to practice, in which, along with his many other horological findings, he described in detail both his gravity escapement and his improvements on John Ellicott’s pendulum. This work was dedicated to the King stating “Your bounty has afforded me the leisure to pursue my researches”.
In October 1777 Thomas Bugge (1740-1814), professor of mathematics and astronomy at the University of Copenhagen, visited Cumming at his premises in New Bond Street. In the journal of his of his travels that year  he describes how Cumming showed him his barograph clock and he also sketched details of the dial and barograph mechanism.
Having taken his nephew, John Grant, into the business, both Cumming and Grant were made honorary Freemen of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in 1781.
In 1783 Cumming was a founding member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and was made a Fellow.
His successes in his horological business enabled him to invest in property in the development of Pentonville and, in later life he lived in some comfort at Penton Place, close to Cumming Street.
Alexander Cumming died at the age of eighty two on 8th March 1814 and was buried at St James Chapel, Pentonville.
Luke Howard © Royal Meteorological Society
Luke Howard FRS (1772-1864) was born in Red Cross Street, London, the son of Robert Howard, a successful Quaker tin plate manufacturer and his second wife Elizabeth. At the age of eight Luke was sent to the Quaker school at Burford, Oxfordshire for seven years where, according to his own account, he learned more Latin than he was able to forget but little science or mathematics. It was whilst at school in the spring of 1783 that his attention was drawn to the “Great Fogg”. This was a haze of dust in the atmosphere caused by volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Japan that created dramatic skies and cloud formations. From that moment, at the age of just eleven, Luke was hooked and, for the rest of his life, the study of clouds and weather patterns was an abiding passion.
On the 25th February 1788 Luke was apprenticed for seven years to Ollive Sims, a Quaker chemist and pharmacist of Stockport, Cheshire and, at the same time found the time to study French and botany as well as continuing his weather observations. Returning to London in 1795 he was able, with the help of his father, to set up business as a pharmaceutical chemist in Fleet Street. In 1796 he married Mariabella Eliot, the daughter of Quakers John and Mary Eliot. They had eight children. However, shortly after his marriage, a serious accident caused him to abandon his business enabling him to resume his study of botany and the weather. He became friends with William Allen, one of the founders of the Askesian Society, and in 1798 they became business partners, with Luke managing a new manufacturing laboratory in Plaistow.
One of the rules of the Askesian Society, a scientific debating club, was that members had to present a paper or pay a fine. Little did Luke Howard realise at the time that his own paper, ‘On the Modification of Clouds’ presented to the Society in 1802, would define many of the cloud names still in use in the twenty first century and forever link his name with meteorology. Despite his misgivings regarding his knowledge of Latin, he had clearly retained enough to use it for his cloud names of Cirrus, Cumulus and Stratus. He later combined these into four further types of Cirro-cumulus, Cirro-stratus, Cumulostratus and Cumulo-cirro-stratus or Nimbus.
In 1805 the partnership between Howard and Allen was dissolved and Luke set up on his own account at Stratford as a manufacturing chemist. His business was successful and he was able to indulge in his passion for meteorological observation. From 1806 he kept a strict record of barometer and thermometer readings combined with a narrative of weather observations which he published in The Climate of London, Vol 1, 1818, Vol 2, 1820 and re-published with a third volume in 1830. He was clearly delighted that, on the death of Alexander Cumming in 1814, he was able to purchase the barograph regulator that provided him with a constant record of barometric pressure. In Volume 1 he writes:
“I have possessed for some years an eight-day astronomical clock, having a barometer connected with it, made in 1766 byAlexander Cumming, and which, on the decease of that excellent mechanic, his family allowed me to purchase by valuation. This curious instrument records, by means of a pencil supported on the quicksilver, and traversing a revolving scale, the movements of the barometer throughout the year; requiring for this purpose little more attention than the regular winding up of the clock. When I bought it, there was a latent defect in the bearings of the escapement, which for a long time gave me considerable trouble, the false beat which it occasioned coming on at uncertain intervals, during which the going was incorrect. This I have at length discovered and remedied; as I can now put full confidence in the reports of this automaton, I shall probably give them to the public at intervals, with remarks.”
In 1847 Luke Howard published Barometrographia, a lavish folio of prints taken from the circular charts of the Cumming barograph regulator and annotated with meteorological observational comments for London and Ackworth.
On 8th March 1821 Luke Howard was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and he joined the British (now Royal) Meteorological Society on 7th May 1850, only one month after it was founded. A deeply religious man, he became a minister in 1815. He was actively involved in the anti-slavery movement and supported the relief of distress in Germany following the European wars with Napoleon. Having moved to Tottenham in 1812, by 1830 he had handed over the running of his company to his sons, John Eliot Howard and Robert Howard. He purchased a second home at Ackworth in Yorkshire and spent much of the following twenty years there where he moved away from the Quakers in favour of the Plymouth Bretheren. He and Mariabella returned to Tottenham in 1850 having outlived two of their unmarried daughters who had joined them at Ackworth.
Luke Howard died at the great age of ninety one at his son Robert’s home, 7 Bruce Grove, Tottenham on 21st March 1864 and is buried in the Quaker's burial ground at Winchmore Hill. In April 2002, the BBC weather presenter Michael Fish unveiled an English Heritage blue plaque on the house simply titled “Luke Howard, 1772-1864, Namer of Clouds, lived and died here”. His name may now be little known outside meteorological circles but his legacy in the names of the clouds has certainly endured.
In the 18th century, high quality novelty clocks made in London proved very popular in the upper echelons of Chinese society, especially the Qing court. At the end of the century, Chinese workshops began to make their own versions of these elaborate clocks, although, initially, they still relied on the import of English clock movements. The sale features a magnificent ormolu and enamel musical automaton "jardinière" table clock whose case was probably made by Chinese workshops at Guangzhou and the movement was signed by the London clockmaker, Robert Philp, circa 1785 (est. £400,000-600,000/ €520,000-780,000 / $585,000-880,000).
Lot 32. An ormolu and enamel musical automaton 'jardinière' table clock, the case Chinese, Qianlong, probably Guangzhou; the movement by Robert Philp, London, circa 1785. Estimate £400,000-600,000/ €520,000-780,000 / $585,000-880,000. Photo: Sotheby's.
5½-inch enamel dial with centre seconds, paste-set bezel, the rear wound three train chain fusee movement with verge escapement, rack striking on a bell, the musical train playing one of four tunes at the hour on a nest of eight bells with eight hammers and supplying the driving force for the automaton, the case with canted scroll corners, urn finials, pierced scroll side panels, and friezes and inset with panels of blue basse-taille enamel decorated in green and gilt with trailing leaves and flowers, the rectangular jardinière on boldly cast sunflower feet and set with similar enamel panels and containing a leafy tree surmounted by an automaton pomegranate and butterfly,
83cm. 32¾in. high
Provenance: Private European Collection.
Notes: The 17th and 18th Centuries saw an explosion of European interest in all things Chinese. The import of goods such as tea, silks and porcelain from China grew rapidly but it was a one-way trade with the Chinese showing little interest in English commodities. The East India Company found that trading conditions were never easy and it was often essential to present lavish gifts in order to facilitate deals. High quality novelty clocks and watches made in London proved popular gifts and, as they filtered into the upper echelons of Chinese society, demand for these 'sing-songs' increased. Ian White in his bookEnglish Clocks for the Eastern Markets explains in detail about the growth in this trade and collecting in China. In England there was a drive to make more accurate time keepers, often housed in fine quality though plain cases. In China there was little interest in time keeping but a fascination with musical and automaton functions. The English merchants and some clockmakers capitalised on this desire by making evermore elaborate and fanciful clocks and many of the finest examples were acquired by the Qing Emperors.
At the same time, Chinese workshops began to make their own versions of these elaborate clocks although, initially, they still relied on the import of English clock movements. The workshops at Guangzhou became particularly adept at producing enamel panels in the Swiss style but, to begin with, they struggled to replicate the fine surface finish that the Swiss had perfected. The Qing court appears to have been particularly fond of clocks that incorporated planted jardinières and examples are known from both English and Chinese workshops. Five Chinese examples were shown in an exhibition in Hong Kong in 1987 entitled Tributes from Guangdong to the Qing Court. Two further examples were included in the Nezu Museum Sale, Christies, Hong Kong, 27th May 2008, Lots 1505 and 1509. It is interesting to note the angled scroll corners to the case of the present clock. This is a feature particularly found on English Chinese market cases by Henry Borrel, John Mottram and Robert Philp and several examples are illustrated by Ian White, op.cit., pp. 223-230.
Robert Philp is recorded in directories as working as a musical clock maker at 6 New Court, St John Street, Clerkenwell between 1776 and 1800. Philp is known to have supplied clocks for the Chinese market and, most importantly, he supplied musical clock movements to be cased in the Chinese workshops at Guangzhou. An example with a movement by Philp was sold Christies, London, 6th July 2001, Lot 40.
Exceptional English, Italian, German and French Furniture
Highlights also include exceptional English, German, Italian and French furniture in the sale. The taste for lacquer was imported into Europe by the Portuguese in the late 16th century. It burgeoned following the Embassy of the King of Siam’s mission to the court of Louis XIV at Versailles in 1686. The sale will present a superb and unusual pair of gilt-bronze mounted ebony commodes incorporating precious takamakie Japanese lacquer panels, attributed to Etienne Levasseur, late 18th century (est. £250,000-400,000/ €325,000-520,000 / $366,000585,000).
Lot 30. A pair of Louis XVI gilt-bronze mounted Japanese lacquer and ebony commodes à vantaux, attributed to Etienne Levasseur, late 18th century, the lacquer 17th century. Estimate £250,000-400,000/ €325,000-520,000 / $366,000-585,000. Photo: Sotheby's.
the later inverted breakfront black marble tops above an acanthus cast frieze over a pair of cupboard doors with takamakie Japanese lacquer panels depicting mountainous landscapes within a leaf cast border and divided by scrolled mounts filled with husks, each enclosing a single adjustable shelf, the pilasters framing the doors with chandelles-filled stop-fluting, the sides decorated with geese and exotic landscapes, above a plinth with a berried laurel edge on circular tapering and fluted gilt-bronze feet headed by leaf collars, one commode stamped DC to the underside - 85.5cm high, 130.5cm wide, 42.5cm deep; 2ft. 9¼in., 4ft. 3¼in., 1ft. 4¾in.
Provenance: Comte Henri de Beaumont (1923-2005);
sold Christie’s London, Important European Furniture, Sculpture and Carpets, 1 December 2005, lot 136 (£456,000)
Comparative Literature: Thibaut Wolvesperges, Le Meuble Français en Laque au XVIIIe Siècle, Brussels, 2000, pp. 365 and 367;
Alexandre Pradère, Les Ébénistes Français de Louis XIV à la Révolution, Paris, 1989, pp. 309-317
Notes: Etienne Levasseur received maître in 1767.
This superb and unusual pair of gilt-bronze mounted ebony commodes once formed part of a rare suite of three, consisting of this pair and a larger commode. Incorporating precious takamakie Japanese lacquer panels, items such as these were among the most luxurious pieces of furniture available in the late eighteenth century.
The taste for Japanese lacquer
Imported into Europe in the late sixteenth century by the Portuguese, the taste for lacquer burgeoned following the Embassy of the King of Siam’s mission to the court of Louis XIV at Versailles in 1686. Japanese lacquer was particularly rare in France as the Dutch had replaced the Portuguese as the main importers owing to their privileged trading position with Japan. Japanese lacquer was considered superior to its Chinese counterpart; treasured for its innate beauty, unrivalled craftsmanship and rarity. Furniture incorporating Japanese lacquer was exceptionally rare and collectors spent vast sums obtaining them. The panels were obtained from breaking up exported screens and trunks that were then transformed into luxury pieces by the leading ébénistes and bronziers of the day before being sold on by the marchand-merciers to an elite clientele desperate to acquire the latest fashions. Indeed, it is said that Madame de Pompadour spent over 110,000 livres on her collection of Japanese lacquer objects alone. Another avid collector of Japanese lacquer at court was Queen Maria Leszczyinska, who is recorded purchasing a commode incorporating Japanese lacquer panels by BVRB in 1737 from the dealer Thomas-Joachim Hébert for her cabinet de retraite at Fontainbleau and now in the collection of the Louvre, Paris (inv. OA 11193). The craze for Japanese lacquer continued well into the reign of Louis XVI and some of the most importantébénistes including Levasseur, Carlin, Riesener and Weisweiler all executed pieces using this extraordinary material.
The design and attribution
The relative shallowness of the present commodes suggests that they were designed with a specific place in mind. In fact, most 18th century collectors appear to have concentrated their lacquer furniture in purpose built rooms, sumptuously decorated in the oriental taste (Wolvesperges, op. cit., pp. 365 and 367). Whilst the commodes cannot be pin pointed to a particular commission or maker, a stylistic analysis of the commodes supports an attribution to Etienne Levasseur (1721-1798).
The influence of André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732) in their design is evident and Levasseur was a key proponent of the Boulle revival in late 18th century Paris. Renowned for adapting and restoring Boulle pieces under the aegis of the dealer Julliot, Levasseur was often commissioned to create furniture in the style of Boulle. This is well illustrated by a pair of commodes stamped Levasseur circa 1770, which incorporate the panels of an interior of a Japanese cabinet and is indebted to Boulle’s architectural style. They appeared in the 1777 sale of financier Randon de Boisset collection and were latterly part of the collection of Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton and sold Sotheby’s New York, The Jaime Ortiz-Patiño Collection, 20 May 1992, lot 85 ($1,705,000) (fig. 1). Interestingly, the present commodes are also raised on feet cast entirely of gilt-bronze, a Louis XIV practice introduced by Boulle that only a few prominent furniture makers of the late 18th century adopted, such as Garnier, Dubois, Montigny and of course, Levasseur.
fig. 1. One of a pair of commodes stamped Levasseur, circa 1770, which appeared in the 1777 sale of financier Randon de Boisset’s collection and were latterly in the collection of Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton.
The restrained rectilinear form and strong architectural features of the design are also hallmarks of Levasseur’s oeuvre, allowing the Japanese lacquer panels to have the most dramatic impact. In this respect, the design of the present pair relates closely to a commode stamped Levasseur formerly in the collection of the Earl of Rosebery at Mentmore and sold Sotheby’s Monaco, 3 July 1993, lot 160 (FF 6,660,000) (fig. 2). While the fluted pilasters and the gilt-bronze chandelles on the present commodes features on a number of other stamped pieces by Levasseur (Pradère, op. cit., fig. 359) they also bear similarities with pieces by Carlin, Riesener, Leleu and Beneman among others. One of the most distinctive features on the present commodes are the gilt-bronze heart shaped enrichments which boldly divide cupboard doors. Intriguingly, these mounts are very close in design to those found on a guéridon attributed to Pierre Garnier and formerly in the collection of Karl Lagerfeld (sold Christie's Monaco, 28-29 April 2000, lot 57).
fig.2. Detail of a late 18th century commode stamped Levassuer, formerly in the collection of the Earl of Roseberry at Mentmore.
Henri de Beaumont (1923-2005)
These magnificent commodes, together with their companion (sold Christie’s London, Important European Furniture, Sculpture and Carpets, 1 December 2005, lot 137 once formed part of the collection of Comte Henri de Beaumont's residence in Rome. Born and raised in France, Beaumont spent many years in the United States as a diplomat, and later divided his time between his many residences that included a chateau in Fontaine l'Abbé, a Sardinian beach house, a villa in Marlia and his palazzo in Rome where he lived with his Italian wife Graziella Pecci Blunt. Beaumont inherited most of his collection from his family, particularly his uncle Comte Étienne de Beaumont (1883- 1956), cultivating an exceptional collection of paintings, French furniture and objets d’art. He lived with his uncle during his formative years at the magnificent Hotel Masseran, enjoying a sophisticated and cultured milieu surrounded by such luminaries of the artistic world as Picasso, Braque, Cocteau and Buñuel.
Never seen on the market before, a George II Carved Mahogany Secrétaire Cabinet has remained in the family of Francis Seymour-Conway, 1st Marquess of Hertford (1718-1794) ever since it was made for Ragley Hall, Warwickshire, circa 1755. Straddling the divide between the heavy architectural style of Palladianism and the lighter Rococo style, this bookcase cabinet is a wonderful example of Vile and Cobb furniture recognisable through its references to the popular styles of the time (est. £180,000-250,000/ €234,000-325,000 / $263,000-366,000).
Lot 26. A George II carved mahogany secrétaire cabinet, attributed to William Vile and John Cobb, circa 1755. Estimate £180,000-250,000/ €234,000-325,000 / $263,000-366,000. Photo: Sotheby's.
The broken triangular pediment above a cavetto cornice and arched mirrored door enclosing one adjustable shelf flanked by fielded panels and egg and dart moulded doors, enclosing two further adjustable shelves each, separated by swagged pilasters with volute capitals, the base with a fitted secrétaire drawer flanked by cupboards with a Greek key frieze over four egg and dart moulded and fielded panelled doors on a plinth, with a later mirror plate and later Bramah locks, fitted between 1800 - 1813 as known by their markings J BRAMAH / 124 Piccadilly beneath a crown; 253cm. high, 165cm. wide, 50cm. deep; 8ft. 3½in., 5ft. 5in., 1ft. 7¾in.
Provenance: Almost certainly supplied to Francis Seymour, 1st Marquess of Hertford (1718-1794), for Ragley Hall, Warwickshire;
Thence by descent.
Literature: Ragley Hall, Warwickshire, The Home of the Marquess and Marchioness of Hertford, Country Life, 1-8 May 1958, pp. 938 - 941 & 1006 - 1009).
G C Tyack, Country House Building in Warwickshire, 1500-1914.
Desmond Fitz-Gerald Ed., Georgian Furniture, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1969, pl. 35.
Notes: Ragley Hall and the Undocumented Commission
Ragley Hall owes its origins to the 2nd Viscount Conway, Governor of three of the counties of Ulster in 1674 and one time Secretary of State to Charles II who commenced building 'the most ambitious house in late 17th century Warwickshire.....on a hilltop sight to "command the prospect", well away from the nearest village' (Tyack, op. cit.). On his death in 1683, the house was left an empty shell for more than fifty years until 1749 when Francis Seymour-Conway, 2nd Lord Conway of the second creation, and later Marquess of Hertford, decided to revive the interiors to match Horace Walpole’s comments of 1751 declaring that he was ‘much struck with Ragley, the situation is magnificent, the house far beyond anything I have seen’. (Ragley Hall, Country Life, op. cit.).
The west façade of Ragley Hall, circa 1958 © Country Life
The 1st Marquess of Hertford was a member of England’s most senior nobility and a man of ‘unblemished morals’ (Horace Walpole quoted in Debrett's Peerage, 1968, pp. 571, 1036). Having being created Earl of Hertford in 1750 Conway began a long and prosperous political career. Starting as Lord of the Bed Chamber to both George II and George III from 1751 to 1766 he quickly rose to become a Privy Councilor and Ambassador to Paris in 1763 – where he witnessed the last days of his close friend Madame de Pompadour. In 1765 he took his final and greatest political post as Viceroy of Ireland where as a conservative religious man he was well regarded and implemented an effective administration.
Francis Seymour-Conway, 1st Marquess of Hertford, Private Collection
Running in tandem to the Earl’s political career was his artistic patronage. A fervent supporter of the arts the young Earl undertook the complete interior renovation of Ragley with considerable vigor and understanding. The main achievement of the 1750s was the decoration of the Great Hall to the designs of James Gibbs with superb plasterwork by Giuseppe Artari, who also appears to have worked on several other rooms at the same time. Following Gibbs’ death in 1754 the Marquess of Hertford continued his internal renovations of Ragley, conforming to the resurgent Palladian tastes which would eventually lead to the west side of the house being newly built under the direction of James Wyatt, the exuberance of the earlier rococo decoration being superseded by a more refined neo-classical style.
It was at this point in Ragley’s long history that the present lot most probably entered the collection. Various account books, detailing the Earl’s expenditure from 1755 - 1764, kept in the Warwick Record Office reveal a very interesting commission. Unfortunately the accounts do not detail exact pieces; however, numerous payments are made to a Mr. Vile Upholsterer from 1758 – 1762. On 25th July 1758 the Earl paid £55 16s. to Vile this was followed by a payment on 6th June 1759 of £350 5s (fig. 5) and a payment on 20th March 1762 of £97 9s. (Hertford Papers, CR114A/201C). Given the quality of the furniture thought to have entered the collection between these dates, including the celebrated Ragley lacquer Commodes (also attributed to Vile and Cobb), it is highly likely that the Mr. Vile in question is William Vile (1700 – 1767) the partner of John Cobb (1710 – 1778). The steady flow of payments throughout these years and substantial total point to a sizeable commission from Vile and Cobb, in line with the then Earl of Hertford’s decoration.
Vile and Cobb
The partnership of William Vile and John Cobb was first listed in the London Directory in 1750 and continued with great success until 1764 when William Vile retired with John Cobb continuing to trade until 1778. William Vile is considered the principle cabinet-maker and business keeper of the two, while John Cobb is often seen as the primary designer. This arrangement was typical of the period for furniture makers. Contemporarily considered to be Thomas Chippendale's greatest rivals their work of the period is arguably some of the finest English made furniture produced in the mid-18th century, although having never produced a book of designs the firm does not have the same celebrity as Chippendale. Favoured by George III and Queen Charlotte, a great deal of their work was by Royal commission. Backed by the great cabinet-maker and later court gentleman William Hallett the pair were also patronised by a number of Hallett’s former clients including the Duke of Beaufort and the Earl of Leicester. Commissions are also recorded from the 2nd Duke of Cleveland of 19 St James’s Square, the 1st Lord Harrowby of Sandon Hall, the 6th Earl of Coventry of Croome Court, and Sir Lawrence Dundas of Moore Park, Arlington Street and Aske Hall. Vile’s name, together with his partner’s, was included in the Great Wardrobe accounts for the first time in the quarter ending Lady Day, 1761, the accounts for the period 1761-65 being filled with details of their work for King George III.
Although no published designs exist for the firm and they did not mark their furniture, known pieces produced by Vile & Cobb provide a visual guide to the characteristics they typically employed. The architectural form of this imposing yet refined secrétaire-cabinet is clearly imbued with the spirit of the architect, designer and influential tastemaker William Kent (c. 1685–1748). Straddling the divide between the heavy architectural style of Palladianism as executed by William Kent in the 1730s and 40s and the lighter and more feminine Rococo style of Thomas Chippendale gaining popularity in the 1750s, Vile and Cobb furniture is recognisable through its references to the popular styles of the time but also by its extraordinary quality.
The triangular segmented and cross banded veneers to the fall-front secrétaire and flanking cupboards in the present lot can be seen in a range of furniture attributed to Vile and Cobb. A cabinet on stand of similar scale in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, shows the same technique employed on its central panel (W. 75-1962). Whilst a small cabinet on stand attributed to Vile, possibly a medal cabinet, of quite diminutive scale has its entire front veneered in this manner (now in the Art Institute of Chicago (1993.155)). The carved pilasters headed by corbels are also symptomatic of Vile and Cobb’s output. Inspired by the work of William Kent, as seen in a similar cabinet formerly in the collection of The Dukes of Northumberland of more austere form (fig. 3), Vile and Cobb used the Romanesque form and decoration to ground their work in the neo-Palladian style which was coming back into fashion, especially in this commission as a pre-cursor to Wyatt’s neo-Palladian extensions at Ragley. This decorative motif can further be seen in a large bookcase (fig. 4.) attributed to Vile and Cobb (sold, Sotheby’s, New York, 5 April 2007, lot 160) as well as an organ cabinet in the Royal Collection originally executed by Benjamin Goodison and re-designed by Vile in the early 1760s (RCIN 1366).
fig. 3. Book case after a design by William Kent, formerly in the collection of the Dukes of Northumberland
fig. 4. A similar cabinet formerly in the collection of Sir William Beauchamp-Proctor at Langley Park
However, the most pertinent comparison to the present lot is one of strikingly similar form and execution formerly in the collection of Sir William Beauchamp-Proctor at Langley Park, Norfolk (fig. 4). Previously thought to be by Thomas Chippendale in 1994 (sold Sotheby’s, New York, 1994, lot 44) it bears identical segmented veneers to the fall front of the secretaire and very similar carved floral swag decoration. Archival research at the Norfolk record office has uncovered that both William Hallet and Vile and Cobb worked at Langley Park for the Beauchamp-Proctors (BEA 305/71). The link between the two cabinet making firms has been established above and Vile and Cobb often continued to work for clients that William Hallet formerly supplied furniture to. The bills paid to Mr Vile are in 1754, just pre-dating the commission at Ragley. One can suggest that it was at commissions such as Langley Park that Vile and Cobb began to perfect their own identity and style - which can be seen in the present lot.
Boasting exceptional provenance is a highly sculptural rococo silvered armchair, circa 1744-46 which was most likely commissioned by King Frederick the Great (1712-1786) as part of his ambitious project to revitalise Prussia’s architecture and interior decoration, which started in 1740 (est. £80,000-120,000/ €104,000-156,000 / $117,000-176,000).
Lot 22. A German Rococo Silvered Armchair, Attributed to Johann August Nahl, Potsdam, circa 1744-46. Estimate £80,000-120,000/ €104,000-156,000 / $117,000-176,000. Photo: Sotheby's.
with an oval-shaped cartouche padded back and seat upholstered in later light blue damask silk, the carved moulded back frame with shaped pedimented crest rail topped by a pomegranate above a shell, the pronounced out scrolled arms with padded rests and gadrooned carved ends on S–shaped supports, the seat frame carved and pierced with foliage and s-scrolls, all on cabriole legs with carved acanthus and volute knees and ball raised leaf-carved feet; 111cm. hide, 72cm. wide, 62cm. deep; 3ft. 7¾in., 2ft. 4¼in., 2ft. ¼in.
Notes: This highly sculptural armchair was most likely commissioned by King Frederick the Great (1712-1786) as part of his ambitious project to revitalise Prussia's architecture and interior decoration, which started in 1740. The best results of this undertaking were to be seen in the newly constructed Sanssouci and in the Neues Palais, near Potsdam, as well as in the Stadtschloss, in the city centre. Rebuilt between 1744-52, Johann August Nahl (1710-1781) was in charge of the interiors, including the furniture, and this impressive armchair probably comes from this palace.
Stadtschloss, Potsdam, 1773, in a painting by Johann Friedrich Meyer
A group of armchairs formerly at Stadtschloss, and now at Sanssouci, provides us with a parallel to the present lot. During the five years of his tenure as ‘Directeur des ornements’ for the King, Nahl seems to have conceived at least two relevant models of armchairs, both silvered and sharing the same overall playful outline, bold carving, organic lines to the arms and legs, and the same rococo ornamental language, but with variations to carving, namely to the legs, and with different solutions applied to the crest rail.
The present lot is distinguished by a gadrooned rococo pediment, the Sanssouci model (fig. 3) by a narrower form and more floral motifs; the strikingly carved S-shaped arm-end on both perfectly embodies the ‘continuing curve’ of Rococo, defying its own function as support.
fig. 3. An armchair of the same suite of the present lot, formerly in the Schlossmuseum, Berlin (Schmitz, 1923).
A design for a room by Nahl dated 1745 and therefore from his Potsdam years, now in the Cooper-Hewitt collections (fig. 4), not only exemplifies the style then employed, it also provides an interesting comparable between the uprights of the chimney-piece and the legs of the present armchair. Nahl conceived his rococo interiors as whole, and this impressive armchair would certainly fit cohesively in the royal palace, mirroring the motifs used in the walls, ceilings and upholstery, all certainly in a silvered tone, as seen for instance in the royal bedroom.
fig. 4. Bedchamber of Frederick the Great, Stadtschloss, Potsdam, with armchairs of a related model.
Two further examples of the current armchair model are known: the first, with a stated provenance from the Stadtschloss, Potsdam, published in Kreisel’s seminal Kunst des deutschen Möbels (1970, ill. 785), while the second illustrated in Schmidt (1923, p. 139, fig. 5) was in the Schlossmuseum, Berlin, in what had been the former Royal Palace, devastated by bombing during the Second World War and later demolished. A third model of chairs by Nahl from the Stadtschloss, now at Sanssouci, has a similar feel, although with a different solutions to the arms.
JOHANN AUGUST NAHL
One of the most influent personalities of 18th century German art, Johann August Nahl (1710-1781) was an ornemeniste, sculptor and stucco worker, the son of Johann Samuel Nahl, court sculptor to Frederick I of Prussia. After an extensive tour of Europe, he settled in Strasbourg, to be summoned in 1741 to work in Berlin for Frederick II, who appointed him ‘Directeur des ornements’. His first project there was the New Wing at Schloss Charlottenbourg, where, in decorating the King’s first apartment, including the Silver Anteroom, he developed a highly personal and distinctive style.
Nahl’s next project was the renovation of the Royal apartments in both the east and west wings at the Stadtschloss in Potsdam, for which he also provided gracefully fluid designs. On the first floor of the palace he designed the western suite, intended for Royal guests. His masterwork, however, was arguably in the organic decoration of the Winter Apartments, comprising of six rooms, including the concert room and the sumptuous bedroom (fig. 5).
fig.5 Detail from a design for a wall panel with fireplace by Johann August Nahl, 1745. © The Cooper-Hewitt Collections, New York
His final project for Frederick II was the concert room at Sanssouci, although here the designs were carried out by the Hoppenhaupts, Nahl having fled to Strasbourg in 1746 because of the burdensome conditions imposed on him by the King. In his later years, Nahl travelled extensively from court to court, although much of his work is concentrated in Berne and Kassel.