A FRENCH ‘JAPONISME’ GILT AND PATINATED-BRONZE AQUARIUM AND PEDESTAL
A FRENCH ‘JAPONISME’ GILT AND PATINATED-BRONZE AQUARIUM AND PEDESTAL
A FRENCH ‘JAPONISME’ GILT AND PATINATED-BRONZE AQUARIUM AND PEDESTAL
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A FRENCH ‘JAPONISME’ GILT AND PATINATED-BRONZE AQUARIUM AND PEDESTAL
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Specified lots are being stored at Crozier Park Ro… Read more THE AQUARIUM REVEALING NATURE'S MARVELSPROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION
A FRENCH ‘JAPONISME’ GILT AND PATINATED-BRONZE AQUARIUM AND PEDESTAL

BY FERDINAND BARBEDIENNE, PARIS, THE DESIGN ATTRIBUTED TO ÉDOUARD LIÈVRE (1828-1886), CIRCA 1880

Details
A FRENCH ‘JAPONISME’ GILT AND PATINATED-BRONZE AQUARIUM AND PEDESTAL
BY FERDINAND BARBEDIENNE, PARIS, THE DESIGN ATTRIBUTED TO ÉDOUARD LIÈVRE (1828-1886), CIRCA 1880
The later spherical glass bowl within a gilt-bronze bamboo frame modelled with miniature turtles and surmounted by a pierced foliate rim supported by three bamboo trellis handles centred by Chinese-character shou roundels, raised on three dragon-headed (bixi) turtles carrying baby turtles on their backs, the pedestal with circular top flanked by two geometric bamboo-form handles and ornamented with three bixi, the columnar central support modelled as rope-tied bamboo, flanked by climbing mythical dragons on three bejewelled elephant head feet, signed to the base 'F. BARBEDIENNE'
61 ¾ in. (157 cm.) high, overall
30 in. (76 cm.) wide, overall
Provenance
Property from the Estate of Maxine Sanders;
sold Weschler's, Washington, 12 October 1991, lot 254, where aquired by the present owner.
Literature
COMPARATIVE LITERATURE:
'Édouard Lièvre', Connaissance des Arts, N° 228, Paris, 2004, S. 28 ff.
C. Lorenzi, ‘L’“aquarium-mania,”’ Exhibition Catalogue, Les origins du monde: Linvention de la nature au XIXe siècle, Paris, musée d’Orsay, 2020, p. 94. A. McQueen, '
Power and Patronage : Empress Eugénie and the Musée chinois', Twenty-first-century Perspectives on Nineteenth-century Art, Newark, 2008, pp. 153-161.
P. Thiébaut, 'Contribution à une histoire du mobilier japonisant: Les Créations de l´Escalier de Cristal', Revue de l'art, 1989, N° 85, pp. 76-83.
R. Rodriguez, Optima Propagare Edouard Lièvre. Créateur de meubles & objets d'art, Paris, 2004.
Special notice

Specified lots are being stored at Crozier Park Royal (details below) or will be removed from Christie’s, 8 King Street, London, SW1Y 6QT by 5.00pm on the day of the sale. Christie’s will inform you if the lot has been sent offsite. If the lot has been transferred to Crozier Park Royal, it will be available for collection from 12.00pm on the second business day following the sale. Please call Christie’s Client Service 24 hours in advance to book a collection time at Crozier Park Royal. All collections from Crozier Park Royal will be by pre-booked appointment only. Tel: +44 (0)20 7839 9060 Email: cscollectionsuk@christies.com. If the lot remains at Christie’s, 8 King Street, it will be available for collection on any working day (not weekends) from 9.00am to 5.00pm

Lot Essay

AQUARIUM-MANIA
In the mid-nineteenth century a new phenomenon hit France – ‘aquarium-mania.’ The invention of the aquarium is attributed to marine biologist Jeanne Villepreux-Power as she collected data for her 1860 publication Observations et experiences physiques sur plusieurs animaux marines et terrestres. The exciting advantages of being able to view the movements of undersea creatures who had always previously been hidden were immediately appealing and although originally produced for the scientific community, by 1861 the first public aquarium opened to French public at the Jardin d’acclimatation and an obsession took hold (see C. Lorenzi, ‘L’“aquarium-mania,”’ Les origins du monde: Linvention de la nature au XIXe siècle, Paris, 2020, p. 94). Soon thereafter the aquarium became one of the most luxurious must-have decorative objects for the home, as seen in the refined craftsmanship and sophisticated design of the present lot.
Initially the primary focus of the first aquariums were the contents of the tanks, serving as both a great point of interest and discussion as the specimens and fish placed inside the aquarium became themselves decorative objects, acquired for their rarity and often carefully researched (op. cit., p. 94). The more unique, the more apparent one's status, and the ‘amateur aquarium’ thus became a privilege known almost entirely to the upper classes. This new interest in the natural world perhaps explains the great attention to detail Lievre and Barbedienne took to designing and casting the present creatures, mythical though they are, which crawl across the aquarium frame. As one contemporary periodical plainly noted, ‘Pour un aquarium d’ornement … il faut choisir des poisons de couleurs et de formes variées. Les plantes doivent être nombreuses… (‘Les Aquariums d’Amateurs,’ Journal de la Marne, Paris, 10 March 1895, p. 10). Many articles were also written at the time explaining the key aspects of taking care of marine life, including cleaning the tank and providing enough nutrients to its inhabitants. What is particularly unique to the present aquarium is the extant oxygenating rod, which sits in the centre of the bowl and would have been the height of the technological sophistication.

LIEVRE, BARBEDIENNE, AND ‘LE STYLE JAPONAIS’
The beauty of the marine life on display would have been otherworldly to those who first sat in front of the present aquarium, the swimming creatures becoming a type of living painting to those voyeuristically looking in (C. Lorenzi, ‘L’“aquarium-mania,”’ pp. 94-95). However, as a focal point of any bourgeois salon, the furniture which would have held this magical universe aloft should not be overlooked nor outdone. This is clearly demonstrated by the present aquarium, which is a rare and superb example of the imaginative designs of Édouard Lièvre’s le style japonais et chinois and the refined technical prowess of the renowned bronzier Ferdinand Barbedienne. Referencing another world recently revealed to the West, the aquarium is a clear nod to the arts of Japan.
Following the loosening trade restrictions and the restoration of the Meiji Emperor, Japan began to participate in the West’s International Exhibitions and promote its nation’s products. Fascinated by this influx of new aesthetic vocabulary of these Eastern cultures, Western artisans began to study these Eastern forms and techniques, creating their own works by adopting and reinterpreting this new found source of inspiration. In doing so these designers created a constructed view of the East, an amalgamation of Eastern and Western influences, which anticipated the organic forms of Art Nouveau and Aestheticism. Lièvre, one of the most talented draughtsmen and prolific industrial designers of the second half of the 19th century, became one the preeminent tastemakers of this enthusiasm and style, coined ‘japonisme. To execute his exacting designs Lievre is known to have collaborated with one of the most distinguished bronziers of the nineteenth century, Ferdinand Barbedienne.
The present aquarium is a recent re-discovery, having been held in private collection since its acquisition by the current owner at auction in 1991. Only two other examples of this aquarium and stand are known: one similarly gilt and patinated-bronze example in a Private Collection and illustrated in 'Édouard Lièvre', Connaissance des Arts, N° 228, Paris, 2004, pp. 30-31; the second, a silvered-bronze example sold in these rooms 29 July 2020, lot 36 (£350,000), previously from a Private collection at the Cartier Mansion, New York, USA and sold Sotheby’s, London, 27 September 1991, lot 23.
Strong comparisons can be made to the following prestigious works by Barbedienne, almost certainly all in collaboration with Lièvre:
- The present stand, with its symmetrical dragons flanking the bamboo shaft over the te d’éléphant feet is identical in form a gilt-bronze pair surmounted Chinese Qing dynasty cloisonné enamel vases with Barbedienne mounts, sold 'Japonism'; Christie’s, Paris, 15 November 2018, lot 9 (€355,500, with premium).
- The base of a jardinière stand known to have been designed by Lièvre and cast by Barbedienne in the collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris (inv. 2004.187.1) contains the same turtle shell-backed dragons, known in Chinese mythology as bixi, as those mounted to the feet of the present aquarium bowl, with nearly identical snarling heads and smaller bixi clambering on the larger figures’ backs. The bowl to the same jardinière actually comprises an amalgamation of Japanese bronzes, including a dragon to the base which is believed to be either Japanese or an exact cast of a Japanese model by Barbedienne, further illustrating both how influence and intertwined the works of Lièvre and Barbedienne were those of the Far East. One might imagine that such a Japanese bronze model might have inspired Lièvre's designs.
- Compare the te d’éléphant feet with those supporting a chinoiserie bronze and enamel gueridon by Barbedienne, the enamel by Louis Constant Sevin, and the design quite possibly by Lièvre, at the musée Conde Chantilly, acquired in 1886 le duc d'Aumale and placed in the la grande singerie (inv. OA 325)

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