With its combination of rich ebony veneers, sumptuous lacquer panels and finely chased ormolu mounts, this splendid meuble à hauteur d’appui perfectly evokes the eclectic mid-19th century taste for furniture that appropriated the designs of generations past whilst simultaneously imbuing them with new life and functionality. Guillaume Grohé, the author of the present work, presided over a distinguished atelier which created works in a wide variety of styles. His patrons included Louis Philippe, Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie, and he exhibited at the international exhibitions of the era to great acclaim.
The Second Empire saw the revival and intermingling of numerous styles of furniture production under the Ancien Régime of which the present cabinet incorporates three major currents: rich ebony veneers referencing the cabinetry of André-Charles Boulle, lacquer panels recalling the costly and precious furniture made under the patronage of the marchands-merciers and neoclassical mounts reprising the furniture inspired by Antiquity. The intricate lacquer panels – especially the central door decorated with an exotic bird – reflect the continued fascination with the material, which was imported at great expense from Japan and China and mounted on elaborate cabinetry during the Ancien Régime and through the 19th century.
The superb bronze mounts on the present cabinet – perhaps its most impressive feature – recall the neoclassical bronzes on cabinetry by the celebrated ébéniste, Adam Weisweiler. Grohé’s powerful caryatid angle mounts, each grasping billowing folds of drapery and crowned with ionic capitals, reference Weisweiler’s delicate supports, and are here substantially enlarged to suit the grandeur of the present cabinet. The intricate swags centred by portrait medallions to either side of the central door recall the arabesque decoration associated with the neoclassical period, and the frieze mounts above the lateral panels are a reference to furniture by Jean-Henri Riesener. Interestingly, the shaped foliate apron mount appears to individual to Grohé as it can be found on a number of works by the cabinetmaker including a meuble d’entre-deux formerly in the collection of the Empress Eugénie and illustrated in D. Ledoux-Lebard, Le Mobilier Français du XIXe Siecle 1795-1889, Paris, 1989, p. 239.
A similar cabinet by Grohé was exhibited at the 1867 Exposition universelle in Paris, where it was engraved and illustrated in The Illustrated Catalogue of the Universal Exhibition Published with the Journal by Virtue and Co, p. 211. The same cabinet was again exhibited in The Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition where it was engraved and illustrated in W. Smith, The Masterpieces of the Centennial International Exhibition – Industrial Art, p. 440.
A preparatory drawing for a cabinet by the Parisian dealer Philippe-François Julliot dated 1784 and today in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris (25180), resembles the present work with its tripartite façade, panels of arabesque decoration and caryatid supports, and could possibly have served as inspiration for the exhibition model, as well as the present cabinet. While Grohé was not alone in his intermingling of Ancien Régime styles, this cabinet displays his remarkable innovation and careful attention to detail, whilst asserting the grand ambitions of the Second Empire in France. Indeed, as Le Figaro remarked of Grohé in 1884, 'Il a assuré la prépondérance du goût français dans l’ameublement de luxe et les modèles que son beau talent a créés assurent pour longtemps à notre pays cette glorieuse suprématie artistique’ (D. Ledoux-Lebard, op. cit., p. 239).