A native of Steinbach, Germany, Charles-Guillaume Diehl (d. 1885) settled in Paris in 1840. He established a large atelier at 39, rue Saint-Sébastien, where by 1870 he employed no less than 600 craftsmen. Diehl simultaneously manufactured all kinds of coffrets - liquor cabinets, games boxes, jewellery caskets - as well as small furnishings - lady's work tables, games tables and meubles de marriage. His production included both ordinary pieces and deluxe objects, among them those executed especially for the various international exhibitions.
This centre table is a rediscovered addition to Diehl's catalogue of remarkable néo-grec style furniture led by pieces shown at the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle. Diehl's medal-winning stand at the 1867 exhibition included the 'Triomphe de Mérovée' cabinet à médailles (purchased by the Louvre in 1973 and now on display in the Musée d'Orsay, OA10440, and of which there is another example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and the Coffret Impérial à bijoux for Princesse Mathilde (Château Compiègne). The following pieces where shown in the genre Grec: a bijouterie cabinet (Philadelphia Museum of Art), the 'Aurora cabinet' (Musée d'Orsay Paris, OAO992) and a centre-table with 'chimères' supports (private collection). Two further examples of the 'Aurora cabinet' are recorded in private collections, one of which sold Christie's, New York, 24 Apr 2002, lot 13.
The present lot compares closely to the 'chimères' centre table shown in the above engraving. Similar in overall form with an eared rectangular top centred by an Etruscan-style citron marquetry panel by E. Varlot, and on projecting legs joined by a rail. Notably it shares the same frieze mount of a Corinthian helmet-like roaring mask. The stylized paterae and stiff-leaf frieze mount also features on the Aurora cabinets and the Grecian hermai are also used on a pedestal by Diehl sold Christie's, New York, 20 April, 2005, lot 52.
These néo-grec style pieces are a collaboration between Diehl, Kowalewski, his chief ébéniste, and the industrial designer Jean Brandely. Described as "a bold, strange artist...an enterprising man with spontaneity" (Auguste Luchet in L'Art Industrielle á l'Exposition Universelle de 1867: Mobilier, vêtement, aliments, Paris, 1868), Brandely provided plans for furniture and designs for both marquetry and bronze applications. He is credited specifically for designing the Mérovingien medal cabinet and 'chimères' centre table (J. Mesnard, Les Merveilles de l'Exposition Universelle de 1867, Paris, Tome I, p. 183). Brandely would therefore have been responsible for the distinctive and identical mounts replicated on the pieces.
Diehl was praised for being artistic and original. His work was favourably distinguished from the output of many of his contemporaries who produced fashionable furniture in the 'Louis revival' style copying 18th century pieces from the Garde-Meuble royal.:
'M. Diehl n'aime pas le banal; par tempérament, par goût, par réflexion et par l'effet des études approfondies qu'il a faites de toutes les questions se rattachant à son art, la fabrication des meubles de luxe, la grande et la petite ébénisterie, M. Diehl a des préférences pour le nouveau, pour l'original [...] Sa fabrication embrasse tout le mobilier artistique, depuis la boite à épingles à 2 francs jusqu'au grand meuble de 70 000 francs. Il a le mobilier ordinaire et courant, et le mobilier de prix.'
J. Mesnard, Les Merveilles de l'Exposition Universelle de 1867, Paris, Tome II, pp. 129-135