Édouard Lièvre (d. 1886) was one of the most talented and prolific industrial designers of the second half of the 19th century, with a broad repertoire that included ‘sinojaponais’ and neo-Renaissance style furniture and ceramics. Trained initially as an illustrator under Thomas Couture, from 1870 Lièvre was fully immersed in decorative art providing designs for manufacturers and marchand-éditeurs; an early important work was a vase persan, designed for Christofle in 1874 and exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1878, 1889 and 1900. Lièvre also had a number of private clients for whom he supplied luxurious furniture including the actress Sarah Bernhardt (a monumental cheval mirror), the courtisane, Louise-Emilie Valtesse de la Bigne, (an impressive bed, now in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, DO 1981-19), Albert Vieillard, director of Bordeaux's ceramics factory (a cabinet now in the Musée d'Orsay, OAO555), and Édouard Detaille, the famous military artist for whom Lièvre supplied an étagère-vitrine and console d'apparat.
In the 1870s, Edouard Lièvre designed a small group of furniture in ‘le style japonais et chinois’ for important private clients and for editors of luxurious furniture and objects. His designs were made by the silversmith Christofle and bronzier Barbedienne, and by the ébéniste Paul Sormani. However, Lièvre is most often associated with the marchand-éditeur and retailer of haut luxe furnishings L'Escalier de Cristal, which was established in 1802 by Madame Désarnaud, supplying clocks, lamps and other objets d'art to important European families. Acquired in 1839 by M. Lahoche, the firm passed to his son-in-law, Emile Pannier circa 1864-66. In 1885, Georges and Henry Pannier succeeded their father and, much in the tradition of the 18th century marchands-merciers, often commissioned Lievre, Gabriel Viardot and their contemporaries to create ‘sinojaponais’ decorations incorporating enamel, Baccarat glass and other exotic materials.
Lièvre's sketches and their reproduction rights were sold in 1890 and a large number of the designs were purchased by George and Henry Pannier. Lièvre's eclectic designs, coupled with the superiority of the craftsmanship, explain the high prices that his pieces commanded in their elegant showrooms. According to Henry Pannier, prices for Lièvre’s designs were up to six times higher than those of other designers, including his contemporary, Gabriel Viardot. Fascinatingly, some pages from Henry Pannier’s account book survive which list a number of orders for L'Escalier de Cristal alongside simplified pen and ink designs for étagères, console tables and Japanese-inspired cabinets (P. Thiébaut, ‘Contribution à une histoire du mobilier japonisant: Les Créations de l´Escalier de Cristal’, Revue de l’art, 1989, No. 85, p. 78).
This rare and imposing étagère-vitrine is related to two known examples of similar composition, all of which pre-date Lièvre’s death, his subsequent estate sale in 1887 and the 1890 sale of his designs to L’Escalier de Cristal:
-Bibliothèque japonisante, sold Catalogue des Meubles d’Art de la Succession de feu M. Édouard Lièvre, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 21–24 March 1887, lot 58. Private Collection, Paris.
-Etagère-vitrine, commissioned circa 1877 for Édouard Detaille (d. 1912), offered 10-11 March 1913, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, and subsequently sold Lempertz, Cologne, Germany, 20 November 2009 (€440,000).