A PAIR OF LATE LOUIS XVI ORMOLU-MOUNTED EBONY AND EBONIZED ETAGERES
A PAIR OF LATE LOUIS XVI ORMOLU-MOUNTED EBONY AND EBONIZED ETAGERES
A PAIR OF LATE LOUIS XVI ORMOLU-MOUNTED EBONY AND EBONIZED ETAGERES
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A PAIR OF LATE LOUIS XVI ORMOLU-MOUNTED EBONY AND EBONIZED ETAGERES
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Please note lots marked with a square will be move… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION FORMED FOR THE CRESPI ESTATE, DALLAS, TEXAS
A PAIR OF LATE LOUIS XVI ORMOLU-MOUNTED EBONY AND EBONIZED ETAGERES

BY BERNARD MOLITOR, CIRCA 1790

Details
A PAIR OF LATE LOUIS XVI ORMOLU-MOUNTED EBONY AND EBONIZED ETAGERES
BY BERNARD MOLITOR, CIRCA 1790
Each surmounted by a later rectangular grey-veined white marble top, above a three-quarter scrolling foliate frieze, flanked to each side by a patera, supported by four quivers, circular to the front, square to the back, joined by two square lower shelves, on tapering fluted feet, on acanthus sabots; one stamped B. MOLITOR, JME to the reverse; the marble tops glued down
37 ½ in. (95.3 cm.) high; 16 ¼ in. (41.3 cm.) wide; 16 in. (40.6 cm.) deep
Provenance
Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 21 March 2002, lot 32.
Special notice

Please note lots marked with a square will be moved to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS in Red Hook, Brooklyn) on the last day of the sale. Lots are not available for collection at Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services until after the third business day following the sale. All lots will be stored free of charge for 30 days from the auction date at Christie’s Rockefeller Center or Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS in Red Hook, Brooklyn). Operation hours for collection from either location are from 9.30 am to 5.00 pm, Monday-Friday. After 30 days from the auction date property may be moved at Christie’s discretion. Please contact Post-Sale Services to confirm the location of your property prior to collection. Lots may not be collected during the day of their move to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS in Red Hook, Brooklyn). Please consult the Lot Collection Notice for collection information.

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Lot Essay

Bernard Molitor, maître in 1787.

These elegant étagères, with a refined combination of delicate arabesque gilt bronzes on a sober ebony ground, represent that distinctive stylistic moment in the 1790s, the last flowering of the taste of the ancien gime before the development of the sober republican taste of the new ‘antique’ styles of the Directoire and Consulat periods. Their discovery is a fascinating addition to the oeuvre of Bernard Molitor, one of the most innovative cabinet-makers of the period, who, almost uniquely among his confrères, managed to achieve success both during the ancien régime and the Empire, right through to the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy following the fall of Napoleon.

The slender uprights with feathered tops suggesting quivers of arrows and the delicate floral garlands reflect the goût étrusque promoted by influential designers of the 1780s and 1790s such as Jean-Démosthène Dugourc. The combination of spiral-fluted ebony uprights with finely chased gilt bronze mounts can also be seen on a side table of circa 1790-1800 attributed to the designer Pierre-Louis-Arnulphe Duguers de Montrosier (sold Christie’s, London, 12 June 1997, lot 50, and subsequently sold from the collection of Lily and Edmond Safra, Sotheby’s, New York, 18-21 October 2011, lot 755). A further pair of side tables of closely related design, probably adapted from a single large table, was sold from the collection of Charles de Bestegui, château de Groussay; Sotheby’s and Poulain-Le-Fur, 2 June 1999, lot 223The use of such delicate naturalistic garlands recurs elsewhere in Molitor’s œuvre, for instance on a secrétaire of circa 1787-9 executed for the duc de Choiseul-Praslin and later in the collection of Alphonse de Rothschild (illustrated in U. Leben, Molitor Ebéniste from the Ancien Régime to the Bourbon Restoration, London, 1992, p. 27, fig. 14 and cat. 47, p. 186). The interlaced ivy and rose buds of the frieze recall the ivy-wrapped column-uprights of some of Molitor’s finest pieces, for instance on a secretaire and commode which formed part of the Choiseul-Praslin commission (see Leben op. cit., pp. 30-31, figs. 17 and 18, the secretaire now in the Cleveland Museum of Art) and on a lacquer commode acquired in Paris for the Prince Regent which remains in the British Royal collection (Leben op. cit., p. 87, fig. 75). Similar interlaced garlands to the frieze in combination with bold rosettes to the corners also feature on a restrained mahogany commode stamped by Molitor of circa 1790-1792 (Leben op. cit., p. 28, fig. 15). The interlaced garlands of the frieze also recall the ornament on a series of chimney pieces with gilt bronzes by Pierre Gouthière supplied to Mme Du Barry for the château de Louveciennes circa 1771-3 (illustrated in C. Vignon and C. Baulez et al., Pierre Gouthière Virtuoso Gilder at the French Court, exh. cat., New York, 2016, pp. 250-7). The astonishing naturalism of the floral mounts on some of Riesener's finest work from the 1780s (which have been associated with the bronzier François Rémond) must also have been an influence (as seen for instance on the celebrated lacquer commode and secretaire supplied to Marie-Antoinette in 1783, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

The ‘useful’ model of a shelved étagère (the ‘whatnot’ in England) was a new, innovative form for the period and reflects the taste for inventive boudoir furniture promoted by marchands-merciers such as Dominique Daguerre and which was a particular specialty of Molitor. A double-shelved ‘table étagère’ by Molitor in mahogany of circa 1788-92 is illustrated in Leben op. cit., cat. 139, p. 202. Interestingly, a shelved ebony console supported by simple pillars was part of the celebrated Choiseul-Praslin set of ebony and lacquer pieces supplied by Molitor circa 1796-1803 (see Leben op. cit., cat. 91, p. 194). These étagères, with their square uprights to the rear and unfinished backs, are designed to go against a wall, so must have been intended for quite a specific placement by the original client for whom they were created.

Christie’s is very grateful to Ulrich Leben, noted specialist on the work of Bernard Molitor and Associate Curator of the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.



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