Decorated with scenes of fêtes champêtres and cloud-borne putti, the present piano is a fine manifestation of the works of art created by the renowned Parisian firm, Jules Allard et Fils. Son of a cabinetmaker, Jules Allard (1832-1907) transformed his father’s company into an international design and decoration firm, capable of realizing whole interiors from boiseries to seat furniture based on celebrated French 18th century works of art. Allard created grand interiors for a global clientele including celebrated European families and great American industrialists, such as the Vanderbilts, for whom he decorated New York residences and two Newport homes, the Breakers and Marble House. Allard also created sumptuous interiors for the King of Egypt at Ras al-Tin Palace in Alexandria.
The present piano, with a movement by Erard – noted in their ledgers as no. 62,616 'Décoré sur les indications de M. Allard par son décorateur’ – is enriched with vibrant panels of Vernis Martin. In keeping with Allard’s designs, which were heavily influenced by works of art from the ancien régime, the figures are inspired by several paintings by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) including Les Plaisirs du Bal (c. 1715-1717, Dulwich Picture Gallery, DPG156) featuring a dancing couple closely related to the two central figures on the present piano lid and L’Accord Parfait (1719, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, AC1999.18.1) with two seated figures very similar to those on the left side.
By tradition, the present piano was formerly in the possession of the French de Montebello family. Given his close association with Jules Allard, the de Montebello in question was almost certainly Louis-Gustave Lannes, comte and subsequently marquis de Montebello (1838-1907), a career French diplomat and member of Allard’s elevated social circle in the City of Light. In addition to French ambassadorships in Brussels and Turkey, the marquis de Montebello was also the French Ambassador to Russia from 1891 to 1902, and was instrumental in forming important ties between the two countries. The marquis de Montebello’s attendance at Allard’s funeral in Paris in 1907 – noted in an edition of the publication, Gil Blas, of the same year – attests to their friendship. In addition, the de Montebello provenance is further referenced in a letter from Gaveau-Erard concerning this piano, dated 22 January 1969.