Of spectacular scale and extraordinary design, these magnificent candelabra are among the finest works of French decorative art produced in the early 20th century and are at once a splendid celebration of the legacy of their creator – the 'Compagnie des Cristalleries de Baccarat' – and the dazzling elegance of the Warner Bros. films in which they appeared. Distinguished by their glittering history which unites the most renowned crystal producer in France with the storied studios of Burbank, these exceptional candelabra have appeared on film sets graced by many of Hollywood’s most legendary actors including Judy Garland and Charlton Heston, and have therefore become, as Michaela Lerch suggests, 'un véritable objet de légende', (M. Lerch, Baccarat: la légende du cristal, Exhibition catalogue, 15 October 2014 – 4 January 2015, Paris, p. 66). They demonstrate Baccarat’s absolute mastery of crystal and the glamour of the silver screen at its finest.
BACCARAT: L’ART DE VIVRE À LA FRANÇAISE
Founded by royal decree of Louis XV in 1764, Baccarat’s origins lay in a desire for France to compete with its European rivals in the delicate and complex field of crystal making. The factory was built in the Lorraine town of Baccarat whose name the firm would ultimately assume after a series of acquisitions and organizational changes in the 19th century. In 1816, Aimé-Gabriel d’Artigues acquired the manufactory at Baccarat and oversaw the operation of its first oven for the creation of crystal, a material distinguished from glass by its density, durability and its highly reflective qualities, and one for which the firm would become world renowned.
In 1823, Baccarat participated in the Exposition nationale des produits de l’industrie française at the Palais du Louvre in Paris, the first of their many celebrated displays in the great national and international exhibitions of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In these exhibitions, Baccarat showed many of their most important works including chandeliers, candelabra, table services, vases and other objets d’art in grand form. These showcases were the venues in which many of the firm’s most illustrious patrons first admired its works and ultimately led to numerous commissions. From the beginning, Baccarat’s production garnered royal accolades with the Bourbon monarchs Louis XVIII and Charles X both ordering extensive table services, foreshadowing the many celebrated patrons who would enter the firm’s ledgers in the years to come.
Baccarat's luxurious objets d’art became synonymous with 'l’art de vivre à la française’ and, as such, were avidly acquired throughout France and by the visiting international elite who came to Paris in search of the finest works of art the capital of taste could offer (M. Lerch, Baccarat: la légende du cristal, op. cit., p. 19). In 1832, Baccarat opened its first showroom on the rue de Paradis in Paris. These immense rooms – a permanent manifestation of their exhibition displays – quickly became a destination for the world’s royalty and nobility who hastened to commission works from the celebrated manufactory. As their renown spread, in addition to the ever-changing rulers of 19th century France, Baccarat created splendid works of art for the Shah of Persia, the Sultan of Turkey, the Queen of Siam and the Emperor of Japan. Few patrons, however, were more important to the firm’s success than the Russian Imperial family and nobility who commissioned many thousands of works from Baccarat to furnish their residences in the grand French style from the mid-19th century.
A RUSSIAN FASCINATION FOR BACCARAT
In 1867, Tsar Alexander II visited Paris where he admired works on Baccarat’s stand at the Exposition universelle including a twenty-four-light candelabrum of smaller scale than present lot, a guéridon and a fountain, all of which would be named in honor of his wife, Tsarina Maria Alexandrovna (M. Lerch, 'Baccarat et la Russie’ in Moscou, Splendeurs des Romanov, Exhibition catalogue, 11 July – 13 September 2009, Monaco, p. 215). It was upon this visit that Tsar Alexander II first commissioned works from Baccarat: those named after his wife for use in her private apartments. Over the subsequent decades, thousands of objects were created for the Romanovs, notably Nicolas II, who ordered grand decorations for his palaces in St. Petersburg.
In addition to the Tsars and Tsarinas, many members of the Romanov and great Russian noble families commissioned works from Baccarat, including Grand Duke George Alexandrovitch, brother of Tsar Nicolas II, and Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich, the Tsar’s cousin. Baccarat also counted the Prince Orloff and Prince Paul Demidoff among its clients as well as Ivan Abramovich Morosoff, whose legendary townhouse was the scene of many of the early 20th century’s most glamorous Muscovite soirées (M. Lerch, 'Baccarat et la Russie,’ op. cit., p. 218). So important were the Russian commissions that by the turn of the 20th century, Baccarat employed 1000 artisans to work exclusively on Romanov orders and one of the three crystal ovens in operation at the factory was dubbed the 'four russe’, as it was entirely reserved for the Russian court. The present model of candelabra is among the grandest works by Baccarat associated with the Romanov’s patronage, and fully evokes their taste for the most magnificent French works of art.
'CANDÉLABRE DIT DU TSAR': THE CRYSTAL OF KINGS
Conceived on the grandest of scales, the present lot fully demonstrate Baccarat’s mastery of crystal, innovation in artistic design and exceptional skill in engineering. Their bulbous finials give way to four tiers of lights and finely molded arms supporting candle branches and draped with carefully faceted drops which refract the glittering light of the electric bulbs ingeniously interwoven into the overall design. The central stems are carefully assembled from many sections of crystal each cut to the interior with an intricate pattern creating a three dimensional effect and issued from an imposing base molded with foliage. Despite their monumental size, these objects retain an exceptionally delicate quality with the entirety of the complex support structure encased in crystal and a minute attention to detail afforded to all elements regardless of scale: from the largest portion of the base to the smallest crystal beads dangling from the upper-most tiers.
First shown by Baccarat at the Paris Exposition universelle of 1878 fitted with seventy-nine wax candles, this model is listed in the Baccarat archives as a 'variant of the CE 7 form.’ Tsar Nicolas II admired this model during his visit to Paris in 1896 and it would henceforth be known as the 'candélabre dit du Tsar’ (the Tsar’s candelabrum), owing to the sovereign’s enduring interest in the form. In an 1898 photograph of Baccarat's rue de Paradis showroom, four such candelabra are visible, attesting to the model’s early popularity. Between 1903 and 1907, this model with electric lights was commissioned for Tsar Nicolas II to adorn his palaces in St. Petersburg. Several additional candelabra were created for export to Russia in the following years.
A pair of 'candélabre dit du Tsar' was subsequently shown at the Exposition Internationale de l’Est de la France in Nancy in 1909 where they are easily recognizable among the largest and grandest works by Baccarat on the stand. Today, these candelabra are part of Baccarat’s collection patrimoniale. One was shown and its history described at length in the recent exhibition celebrating Baccarat's 250th anniversary at the Petit Palais in Paris (M. Lerch, Baccarat: la légende du cristal, op. cit., pp. 66-7). A further pair of the 'candélabre dit du Tsar' is in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne (D22.1-1982), having formerly been installed in the city’s Capitol Theater. This pair was commissioned for the theater after the 1925 Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes de Paris. Finally, elements of the present model have been identified among the wreckage of the Kursk, a ship which sank in 1912 on its way to St. Petersburg from France (M. Lerch, Baccarat: La légende du cristal, op. cit., p. 66). It is believed that approximately five or six pairs of 'candélabre dit du Tsar' were created in the early 20th century, with the present lot distinguished by its extraordinary history in the sparkling films of Warner Bros.
BACCARAT ON THE SILVER SCREEN
Few works of French decorative art have enjoyed as much time on the silver screen as the present pair of candelabra. Likely acquired by Warner Bros. in the early 20th century to enrich their glittering movie sets, the present candelabra were featured in the company’s and other studio’s films and fully evoke a bygone era of Hollywood glamour and sophistication. Warner Bros. was founded in 1923 by the brothers Warner: Albert, Sam, Harry and Jack, and has consistently been at the forefront of innovation in cinema. Producing the first synchronized-sound feature film in 1927, The Jazz Singer, Warner Bros. also revolutionized modern productions in genres such as gangster pictures and westerns, developing cinema in new markets and starting a television channel. In its storied history, Warner Bros. films have collected numerous Academy Awards and featured each generation’s most beloved actors. From Casablanca (Warner Bros., 1942) to The Great Gatsby (Warner Bros., 2013), Warner Bros. ambitions have known no bounds, and it is, therefore, not surprising that the brothers, sought to enrich their films with the finest works of art created by a firm whose commitment to excellence was in line with their own.
As Michaela Lerch’s research reveals, the present lot made their on-screen debut in the 1937 film Hollywood Hotel by Busby Berkeley starring Dick Powell and Rosemary Lane. From this point forward, they regularly graced the sets of Hollywood productions for several decades. In 1941, a single candelabrum played a central role in the Academy Award-nominated short film La Gaîté Parisienne with many of the principal scenes performed by the celebrated Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Perhaps their most famous appearance, however, was that alongside Judy Garland in A Star is Born (1954), a grand full-scale production displaying Hollywood at its finest which garnered critical acclaim for the studio and earned Garland an Academy Award for Best Actress. In this film, the candelabra feature most memorably in a shimmering awards ceremony scene, which bespeaks the silver screen at its most glamorous and legendary (M. Lerch, Baccarat: la légende du cristal, op. cit., p. 66). In Paris When it Sizzles (Paramount, 1964), starring Audrey Hepburn, a series of glittering Baccarat candelabra, including ‘candélabre dit du Tsar’, anchor a stage set with a colonnade and opulent furniture. In the following decades, the candelabra appeared alongside celebrated actors such as Charlton Heston in The Omega Man (Warner Bros., 1971) and Steve Martin in All of Me (Universal, 1984).
With their grand scale and refined details, these candelabra scintillate as brightly as the stars by whom they were surrounded in so many films. Their exceptional form which was so appreciated by Russia’s final Tsar makes them a tour de force of French artistic design. They are thus equally illustrative of Warner Bros. and Baccarat’s productions at their finest, and a bona fide masterpiece of early 20th century French decorative art.
Christie’s wishes to thank Michaela Lerch, Curator, Director of Brand Heritage, Baccarat, for her assistance in the research for the present lot.