JOSEPH-EMMANUEL ZWIENER AND LÉON MESSAGÉ:
Combining the cabinetmaking excellence of Joseph-Emmanuel Zwiener with the inspirational designs and sculptural brilliance of Léon Messagé, this highly expressive cabinet celebrates the Neo-rococo style championed by the ébéniste at the height of the Belle Epoque.
Zwiener’s Paris-based atelier executed elegant pieces of furniture replicating royal models from the Garde-Meuble National of France, most notably the celebrated bureau de Roi by Jean-Henri Riesener and Jean-François Oeben. Working mainly in a dynamic interpretation of the French Rococo style, Zwiener's furniture is, as here, often inlaid with the finest bois de bout marquetry, vernis Martin panels and ambitiously-modeled ormolu mounts. The 1889 Exposition Universelle witnessed the zenith of Zwiener’s career as he was awarded the a coveted medaille d’or for his undulating vernis Martin-decorated serre-bijoux, which subsequently entered the collection of Empress Maria Feodorovna at Gatchina prior to its sale at Christie’s, London, 17 March 2011, lot 409 (£623,650).
The present cabinet, one of only two presently known, presumably accompanied Zwiener’s serre-bijoux on his award-winning stand, as indicated in reports of the fair:
This splendid piece of work adorned with bronzes of magnificent character. The set is completed by a buffet and book-case conceived in the same style, and particularly worthy of note'
(The Art Journal, Paris Exhibition 1889 supplement, p. xx).
The hammer-wielding and helmeted putti, which ‘even the great architect Meissonier, the father of the rocaille style would not have disowned’ (op. cit.), reappear on the spectacular cabinet-on-stand, sold Christie's, New York, 24 April 2001, lot 256 ($534,000) and on a monumental régulateur, sold Sotheby's, New York, 29 October 2010, lot 147 ($722,500). An identical cabinet, now attributable to Zwiener, was offered at Sotheby's, London, 27 September 1991, lot 56.
His frequent collaborator, Léon Messagé, was equally lauded for the design and application of the ormolu mounts, which celebrated the asymmetry of rocaille popularized in the 1720s by the aforementioned Parisian designer J.-A. Meissonnier:
‘Enfin les bronzes modelés par un artiste de mérite, M. Messager, sont d'une facture tout à fait supérieure. Ils se composent de figures en ronde bosse, représentant de petits génies, de masques, d'attributs, de palmes, de rinceaux et de fleurs, le tout ciselé avec une grande franchise et une souplesse vraiment remarquable.
(Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1889, Vol. II, p.192)
It is while providing sculptural designs for Zwiener's more exuberant furniture that Messagé appears to have come into contact for the first time with François Linke, with whose association he is best remembered. Linke's Grand Régulateur, exhibited on his stand at the 1900 Paris exhibition again features the hammer-wielding putto, which although differing to fit its respective case, clearly derives from the same design.