Having fallen out of fashion following the French revolution, the French royal styles of the Ancien Régime enjoyed a revival during the 1860s, under the rule of Napoleon III. Promoting this reawakening of appreciation for the art of the Bourbon dynasties was Empress Eugénie, who was fascinated by Queen Marie Antoinette and began collecting works of art in the Louis XVI style.
As a result, from the second half of the 19th century through to the 1920s, the style of the French royal court became the preferred revival style for furnishing the homes of the wealthy, with furniture supplied from Paris gracing mansions from Newport to Siam and everywhere in between.
The Beurdeley family
A French ormolu and porcelain cartel clock and barometer. By Emmanuel-Alfred (dit Alfred II) Beurdeley, Paris, late 19th century. Estimate: £50,000-80,000. This work is offered in the Opulent Eye sale on 30 September at Christie’s London
The Beurdeley family were among the finest French manufacturers of furniture and objets d’art in the French royal styles, famed for producing pieces of such quality that they were almost indistinguishable from the unique originals crafted for the Bourbon kings. The cartel clock and pendant barometer in bronze doré, shown above, are inset with jasperware porcelain plaques, made by Beurdeley after the originals attributed to the bronzier Gouthière, formerly at the Château de Saint-Cloud and now in the Musée du Louvre.
An Important French ormolu-mounted kingwood and bois satiné cabinet by Emmanuel-Alfred (dit Alfred II) Beurdeley, Paris, dated 1894. Estimate: £150,000-250,000. This work is offered in the Opulent Eye sale on 30 September at Christie’s London
The cabinet, above, designed in the Chinoiserie style of the high rococo represents a masterpiece of the Beurdeley workshop. The cabinet is known as ‘La Music Chinoise’ after the central ornament of a seated Chinese figure playing a mandolin. Conceived by Emmanuel-Alfred (known as Alfred II) Beurdeley, it was not made for sale, but as a personal tribute to the family’s legacy and displayed at Beurdeley’s hôtel particulier at 79, rue de Clichy, Paris.
A pair of French ormolu and painted metal five-light candelabra. By Emmanuel-Alfred (dit Alfred II) Beurdeley, late 19th century. Estimate: £20,000-40,000. This work is offered in the Opulent Eye sale on 30 September at Christie’s London
Also by Beurdeley and dating to the late 19th century, these candelabra recall the ‘Goût grec’ style of French neoclassicism fashionable in the 1760s. They combine tôle, enamelled or painted sheet metal (here painted blue) and ormolu or gilt-bronze from the French ormoulu meaning ‘powdered gold’. Beurdeley is renowned for the fine quality of their ormolu which is distinguished by the superior detail to the casting and ciseleur — referring to how the metal is ‘chased’ or carved with detail by the bronzier.
Charles Adrien Prosper d’Epinay (1836-1914)
The 19th century witnessed the greatest flourishing of marble statuary since antiquity. In France, the most gifted painters and sculptors competed for an annual bursary, the Prix de Rome, which allowed them to study in Rome for five years under sponsorship from the French state.
The sculptor Prosper d’Epinay (1836-1914) benefited from this scholarship, traveling to Rome in the early 1860s where he moved in elevated circles amongst European aristocracy and the artistic elite and immersed himself in study of the art of antiquity. Like many of his contemporaries d’Epinay established an atelier sourcing marble, as in the times of Ancient Rome, from the mines at Carrara. He also travelled to London where he was inspired by the marbles from the Parthenon bought to London from Athens at the turn of the 19th century.
An Important over-lifesize French marble figure of Penelope, entitled ‘Bonne Renommée’. By Charles Adrien Prosper d’Epinay (1836-1914), Paris, circa 1880. Estimate: £100,000-200,000. This work is offered in the Opulent Eye sale on 30 September at Christie’s London
The larger than life marble statue, shown above, recalls figures from the Parthenon frieze. The subject is Penelope, the wife of Ulysees from Homer’s The Odyssey, who is shown with her distaff spinning a yarn of thread, weaving as she awaits the return from the Trojan War of her husband Ulysees. Penelope is thus a symbol of wedded fidelity which hints at the other title by which this statue is known: Bonne Renommée from the French proverb: ‘bonne renommée vaut mieux que ceinture dorée’ (a good reputation is worth more than great riches).
This proverb suggests that Bonne Renommée was conceived by Prosper d’Epinay as a pendant figure to his other great work, a marble female nude holding a golden belt titled La Centure Dorée. Bonne Renommée is the only marble version of the subject executed by d’Epinay but various versions, of different sizes, of La Centure Dorée where produced including this reduction, below left. The sale also offers a statue of Cleopatra by Prosper d’Epinay, below right.
A French marble figure, entitled ‘La Ceinture Dorée’. By Charles Adrien Prosper d’Epinay (1836-1914), Paris, last quarter 19th century. Estimate: £5,000-8,000. This work is offered in the Opulent Eye sale on 30 September at Christie’s London
A French marble figure of Cleopatra. By Charles Adrien Prosper d'Epinay (1836-1914), Paris, dated 1874. Estimate: £30,000-50,000. This work is offered in the Opulent Eye sale on 30 September at Christie’s London
Maison Barbedienne was the most prolific and famous French manufacturer of bronze sculpture and works of art during the 19th century and an understanding of its production provides the best example of how luxury objects were made in the period.
Maison Barbedienne empolyed four hundred workers and twenty artists, with twenty industries under one roof at the factory at rue de Lancry, including a design studio for the drawing, study and composition of models; a sculpture studio for plaster, wood, marble etc.; a workshop for the mathematical reduction and replication of sculpture; a workshop for furniture, and for marble. But above all Barbedienne was a foundry of bronze, silver and gold.
Principally, Barbedienne perfected the pointing system by which exact measurements of a sculpture could be taken so as to replicate it to produce an edition of bronze casts in various sizes. The costly bronze casting process was very complicated and required many man hours.
If a sculpture was favourably received on public exhibition at the Paris Salon, the artist would either engage Barbedienne to produce an edition for sale, or Barbedienne would buy the rights to make the edition. Throughout the 19th century, bronze was an expensive medium and bronze reductions of this type were costly luxury objects, with large bronze statuary being especially expensive.
A French patinated-bronze figure of Penelope. Cast by Barbedienne, Paris, from the model by Pierre-Jules Cavelier (1814-1894), late 19th century. Estimate: £15,000-25,000. This work is offered in the Opulent Eye sale on 30 September at Christie’s London
The bronze statue of a sleeping classical maiden, above, was cast as a bronze edition from the marble shown at the Paris Salon of 1849. The subject is again Penelope from Homer’s The Odyssey, and the skill of the Barbedienne foundry was such that the exceptionally fine detailing of her hair, robes, and the chair on which she sits is wrought in bronze so as to capture exactly the realism carved in marble by the sculptor.
Maison Barbedienne also designed works of art to demonstrate the design skill and capabilities of their workshop. Such works of art, principally decorative tableware, vases, urns, candelabra and other lighting, were often shown at the Great Exhibitions of the day such as the Crystal Palace in London in 1851.
A pair of Napoleon III gilt and silvered-bronze-mounted rouge griotte marble vases and pedestals by Ferdinand Varbedienne, designed by Louis-Consant Sévin, the enamel by Claudius Popelin, Paris, last quarter 19th century. Estimate: £100,000-150,000. These works are offered in the Opulent Eye sale on 30 September at Christie’s London
These monumental bronze and enamel-mounted vases on pedestals designed by Barbedienne’s head of design Constant Sévin are recorded as dating to 1867 and it is probable that they were shown at the Paris Great Exhibition of that year. By the 1880s they are photographed in the Picture Gallery of John T. Martin’s mansion at 28 Pierrepont Street, Brooklyn, New York. John T. Martin (1816-1897) was typical of the great class of American art collectors of the 19th century who made their fortunes from railroads, manufacturing and banking and created a ‘Golden Moment’ of American wealth. Today, the period is best evoked by the Gatsbyesque mansions of ‘The Gilded Age’.
For more features, interviews and videos, visit Christie’s Daily