Little has been recorded for posterity about the haut luxe ébéniste A. Gouverneur. However he is likely a descendent of the important gaineur merchant of the Garde Meuble de la Couronne established at 59, quai de l' Horloge du Palais circa 1825. Ledoux-Lebard states that circa 1862, the latter had to leave his business to his sons and the company became known as 'Gouverneur Frères fabricant de meubles'.
The present monumental cabinet was exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exposition universelle and is illustrated in G. Armand (op. cit.) as part of a ‘Salon Louis XIV’ credited to Cacaut, 68 rue Saint-Sabin. An F. Cacaut is recorded at this address as exhibiting a sculptural group entitled ‘La Grève’ in the category of objets d'art at the 1889 Exposition universelle. It is probable therefore that F. Cacaut is the sculptor responsible for the figural group to the door of the present cabinet. The high relief-cast figures are of a warrior in the arms of a robed nymph. They possibly depict the story of the crusader Rinaldo who is held as lovesick prisoner in an enchanted garden by the beautiful sorceress Armida.
Cacaut was presumably the resident designer or sculptor working for A. Gouverneur, because Armand in La Décoration et l'Ameublement à l'Exposition de 1900 also records A. Gouverneur at 68 rue Saint-Sabin under ‘Ameublement…, meubles-bronze genre ancien. Sièges. Décoration. Ateliers d’ébénisterie, menuiserie, sculpture. Travaux à facon.’ An elaborately carved giltwood bureau and cartonnier in the high rococo style, reputedly presented to Joseph-Hippolyte Guibert, Archbishop of Paris, is recorded to be signed F. Cacaut. A closely related commode en tombeau by A. Gouverneur, possible a companion piece to the present lot, sold Sotheby’s, New York, 15 April 2011, lot 301 ($182,500).
The 1900 Expostion universelle was the crowning achievement of the 19th century, the largest and most ambitious of all the World Fairs since their inception with the 1851 Crystal Palace in London. Buildings were cleared to make space for the 1,500 acres occupied by hundreds of magnificent pavilions displaying the wealth of human achievement. An astonishing fifty million visitors attended the Exhibition: uniting nations on a scale unimaginable fourteen years later when the old European order was torn apart by the cataclysmic Great War and the shockwave from the Russian revolution. The present cabinet is symbolic of European confidence and wealth at the turn of the 20th century. Befitting the magnificence of the Exhibition and France’s artistic superiority, this magnificent cabinet is Gouveneur’s chef-d'oeuvre and a defining object of the age.