These spectacular appliques, elaborately modelled with ribbon-suspended lyres headed by Apollo's mask and wrapped with fruiting laurel branches and acanthus leaves, are the work of Pierre-François Feuchère, one of the most prominent ciseleurs-doreurs of the late 18th century, and once formed part of the celebrated collections of the dukes of Leuchtenberg.
THE LEUCHTENBERG PROVENANCE
These magnificent wall-lights are stamped with a capital ‘M’ beneath a closed crown, the Imperial crown Maximilien de Leuchtenberg was allowed to use from 1839, when Tsar Nicolas granted him the title of Imperial Highness, as well as a capital ‘L’ for the Palais Leuchtenberg, built between 1839 and 1842 in the grounds of the Tsar’s summer residence Peterhof outside St Petersburg. They are furthermore numbered 351 and 353 respectively, suggesting they would have been part of a larger set.
The celebrated Leuchtenberg collection had largely been assembled by Eugène de Beauharnais, 1st Duke of Leuchtenberg, the son of Joséphine Bonaparte, Empress of the French by virtue of her marriage to Napoléon Bonaparte. Eugène was the son of Alexandre, vicomte de Beauharnais, a general and political figure who died under the guillotine during the reign of Terror. Adopted by Napoléon, Eugène served as a commander in the Imperial army and proved to be the most capable of the Emperor's relatives in official posts.
His second son, Maximilian, 3rd Duke, married Grand Duchess Maria, daughter of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia (and niece of Napoléon's opponent, Alexander I of Russia). Granted the style of His Imperial Highness by Nicholas in view of his Imperial descent, Maximilian was portrayed in one of Karl Briullov's most dashing half-length portraits (1849), and is thought to have moved the collection from Munich to Saint Petersburg, where he built the elegant neo-classical Palais Leuchtenberg and where his descendants settled as members of the highest circles of Russian nobility.
THE FEUCHERE ATTRIBUTION
The attribution to Feuchère is based on a virtually identical pair, formerly in the collection of Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, Vienna, which is signed 'FEUCHERE’ (illustrated H. Ottomeyer/P.Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, Munich, 1986, vol. I, pl. 4.16.16). Further pairs of appliques of this model are known, with one pair in the collection of the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey (illustrated T. Monnington, France in the eighteenth century, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London, 1968), which was probably acquired in the late 18th century by Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford (1765-1802).
Pierre-François Feuchère (1737-1823) was a member of a prominent family of gilders who, along with his father, supplied gilt-bronzes to various members of the Royal family. Feuchère was sworn into the guild of ciseleurs-doreurs in 1767. The Feuchères survived the vicissitudes of the Revolution and continued their successful business through the Empire and Restoration periods, selling stock from their manufactory in 1824 and 1829.