The Randon de Boisset pier tables were commissioned circa 1770 by Paul-Louis Randon de Boisset (d.1776), Louis XVI's Receveur général des finances for his recently refurbished Parisian hôtel in the rue Neuve des Capucines. Almost certainly designed under the direction of his architect Antoine-Mathieu Le Carpentier (d.1773), the architecte du Roi. They are first mentioned in the inventory taken of the hôtel following the fermier général's death, dated 9 December 1776.
For this inventory, the expert Pierre Remy valued the pictures and sculptures and the celebrated marchand Claude-François Julliot was employed to value the works of art. These pier tables are listed as:
'n.85, item deux tables de serpentin chantournées sur les bouts de vingt huit pouces de long sur leur pieds à quatre gaines à serpents tournans prisées ensemble la somme de trois cent livres cy. 300'
Consequently, in the sale of Paul-Louis Randon de Boisset's collection on the 27th February 1777, the tables are described under lot 817:
A note following the long description drew the particular attention of 'amateurs' to both the quality and the remarkable design of the stretchers :
They were sold for 1106 livres and 19 sols to the fermier général Lebas de Courmont.
In the foreword of the sale of Paul-Louis Randon de Boisset, the expert Julliot clearly notes the high quality of the gilding used on the pier tables, resembling gold with a matt finish:
"on prévient qu'ils (leur piètement) sont de bois sculpté avec le plus grand art, quand à la dorure rien n'y a été négligé, elle a l'éclat et le ton mat presque de l'or massif"
Louis-Marie Lebas de Courmont displayed these pier tables in the petit cabinet of his new hôtel in the rue d'Artois. L.A.Thierry described them in his Guide des Amateurs et des Etrangers voyageurs à Paris where he remembered having seen 'deux superbes tables de serpentin antique'. At the height of the Revolution the régisseur général de Courmont was guillotined and the pier tables were seized in 1795 by the commission des Arts, which mentions:
'n.84 deux tables de serpentin antique de 27 pouces sur 14, épaisseur 15 lignes placées sur des pieds de bois à 4 consoles à serpens doré 500 francs'
They were subsequently returned to the heirs and are still recorded with the family at the time of his widow's second marriage. When she died in the rue de Provence in 1835, the inventory taken of her salon following her death records:
'170, deux consoles en bois doré à dessus de marbre d'Italie'
Although the last description is insufficiently distinct to allow a comprehensive identification with the serpent pier tables, the 'deux consoles' were subsequently sold with the rest of the furniture on the 10 October 1835, and her daughter, Madame de Goncourt, bought 1551 francs of furniture in that sale.
Finally, the pier tables are recorded at the end of the 19th Century in the collection of either Comte Antoine-Alfred de Gramont or of his son Antoine-Arnaud de Gramont (1861-1923), father of Diane Corisande, wife of the 11th duc de Cadaval (1888-1935).
ANTOINE-MATHIEU LE CARPENTIER
The very unusual design of the supports of these neo-classical consoles would suggest the intervention of either a designer or an architect. Pierre-Louis Randon de Boisset acquired the hôtel Dodun in the rue Neuve des Capucines in December 1768 and immediately embarked on an extensive building scheme, almost certainly commissioning the celebrated architect Antoine-Mathieu Le Carpentier and his atelier to execute these works. It is highly possible that Le Carpentier may have designed these pier tables himself, as the accounts of the deceased architect record payments of:
'2000 livres reçue le 2 avril 1774 de M. De Boisset pour parfait paiement de ce qu'il devait au défunt (Le Carpentier) pour ouvrages et conduite d'architecture...'
This implies that Le Carpentier was not only involved with the refurbishing of the rooms but most probably, at least in part with the design of the furnishings as well.
Antoine-Mathieu Le Carpentier was indeed one of the most active architects that the 18th Century produced. His architectural oeuvre included the hôtel Bouret in the rue Grange Batelière and various hôtels and châteaux, and he was closely involved with the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Feuillet (d.1806), Director of the Academy of Saint-Luc, who became an executor of Carpentier's will and was responsible for the catalogue and sale following the death of the 'architecte du Roi'. Feuillet mentions in the introduction of this catalogue:
'les amateurs y trouveront de quoi enrichir leur collections dans les genres qu'ils affectionnent...'
The same sale listed 45 red chalk ornamental designs executed by l'Huillier.
As far as the menuiserie, carving and gilding is concerned, these tables probably represent the collaboration of different craftsmen working in the atelier of Le Carpentier in 1770s. This comprised the sculptors Boiston, Cardon, Lachenait, the above l'Huillier and especially Honoré Guibert, who executed a related table bearing the marks of Marie-Antoinette's Garde-meuble which is now conserved in the Petit Trianon.
PAUL-LOUIS RANDON DE BOISSET
Originally from a dynasty of marchands-lainiers, Paul-Louis Randon de Boisset became fermier général and subsequently acquired the post of receveur général des finances, a less lucrative job than that of fermier général but one that allowed more time for his collecting.
Having visited Italy twice and Flanders once accompanied by the painter François Boucher, the eternal bachelor - as he was described in the 1777 Almanach des Artistes - brought back from Italy :
'les marbres les plus rares. Il possède une grande collection des dessins de tous les maîtres, des gouaches, des figures, bustes, vases de marbre, de bronze, des effets très précieux du célèbre Boule, des porcelaines anciennes et modernes du plus beau choix'
The antique or Roman serpentine which originally surmounted these pier tables was almost certainly acquired during one of his Italian tours, and formed part of his collection of rare marbles which was described in the Almanach des Artistes.
Some of the furniture and objects of art once owned by Paul-Louis Randon de Boisset are now conserved in such prestigious collections as:
The J.P. Getty Museum, Malibu 77D190.1-2
The Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris n.144
The Wallace Collection, London inv.F413
THE DESIGN'S SYMBOLISM
The tables have serpent legs derived in part from those of antique altar-tripods dedicated to the sun-god Apollo. The form of the serpents, recalling the caduceus or wand of happiness and riches that Apollo presented to Jove's messenger Mercury -the god of Merchants- celebrates Randon de Boisset's role as the King's Receveur général des finances. Furthermore, the laurel-enriched friezes have column-hermed legs comprised of entwined and addorsed-headed serpents that echo Jove's spiralled-thunderbolts set beneath the festive thyrsus-finialled and fluted vase of the voluted stretchers. This ornament would also have harmonised with that of Randon de Boisset's collection of furniture by André-Charles Boulle furniture.