This superb bureau à cylindre formed part of two of the most famed collections formed in the nineteenth century, those of Prince Anatole Demidoff (d.1870) in Florence and the French Rothschilds at the Chateau de Ferrières.
PRINCE ANATOLE DEMIDOFF
In 1828, Anatole Demidoff inherited the immense fortune amassed by his father, comte Nicolas Demidoff, principally through mining interests in the Ural Mountains and the manufacture of arms. Along with this fortune, he came into possession of the estate near Florence where his father had started building a house the previous year and which he enriched and enlarged, transforming it into a palace. In the 1830s, he stopped living in Russia entirely and settled in western Europe. It was during this time that he acquired considerable amounts of furniture, works of art and paintings. In 1837, for instance, he took part in the sale of the duchesse de Berry where he purchased no less than thirteen Dutch pictures. He also commissioned on a vast scale paintings and sculpture from contemporary artists such as Eugène Delacroix, Paul Delaroche and Auguste Raffet. In 1840, he married princess Mathilde, the daughter of Napoleon Bonaparte's brother Jérôme, and they lived in Florence as well as in Paris at 109 rue Saint-Dominique. It was in this same year that he received the title of prince of San Donato from the grand duke of Tuscany. After the dissolution of his marriage in 1846, and for the following three decades, Demidoff remained in Florence. He began selling his collection at auction in 1863 and in 1870 there was a series of sales that took place in Paris at no. 26 Boulevard des Italiens, selling in large part the contents of his fourteen drawing rooms at San Donato. The remaining contents of San Donato were sold ten years later on the premises by his nephew Paul Demidoff.
This bureau à cylindre was included in the 1870 sale, lot 285, described as:
Grand et beau bureau à cylindre, du temps de Louis XVI, en bois de rose, garni d'ornements en bronze ciselé et doré, et avec dessus en marbre blanc. La frise supérieure est ornée de draperies; le cylindre présente un médallion ovale, en marqueterie à quadrilles, et les parties cintrées sont ornées de lauriers en bronze ciselé et doré Haut., 1 mèt. 26 cent.; larg., 1 mèt. 45 cent.
BARON ALPHONSE DE ROTHSCHILD
Baron Alphonse de Rothschild (1827-1905), head of the French branch of the family, bought massively in the 1870 sale. Along with the bureau à cylindre, he acquired a good amount of Sèvres porcelain and other splendid Louis XVI furniture, including the suite of lacquer furniture by Riesener (49,000 FF). The Riesener suite, formerly in the Paris hotel of Queen Hortense of Holland, had been bought by Demidoff in Paris from Maelrondt in 1824 and was most recently sold from the collection of Akram Ojjeh; Christie's, Monaco, 11-12 December 1999, lot 35.
The origins of the French Rothschild wealth and art collections originated with Alphonse's father, Baron James (1760-1868), the youngest of the five brothers, or 'arrows,' of the second generation of Rothschilds. It was James who helped found MM de Rothschild Frères in Paris in 1817 and who, after the death of his London-based brother Nathan in 1836, became primus inter pares, the foremost member of his generation in the family. His marriage to the highly intelligent, cultured and beautiful Betty in 1824 coincided with the purchase and development of major properties in and around Paris. It was probably the château de Ferrières that was James's most majestic construction. Purchased in 1829, it was transformed between 1853-1863 by Joseph Paxton. The design of the interior was left to Eugène Lami who worked closely with Baroness Betty -- grand portraits in the hall, Gobelins tapestries in the gallery above, 17th century painted leather panels from Pommersfelden in the Salon des familles, placed within frameworks and fixtures of Languedoc marble, antique Pyrenean granite, natural and ebonized woods, all embellished with commissions from living artists such as the sculptor Cordier and the painter Rousseau, helped to create an extraordinary environment redolent of the Renaissance and Louis XIV. Ferrières became more of a palace than a château and reflected James's rise to the height of French society.
On James's death in 1868, Alphonse inherited not only the management of the Rothschild concerns in France which he ran with his brothers, but also his father's financial and political skills. He inherited also the château de Ferrières as well as his Paris residence at 2 rue Saint-Florentin where he had been living since 1857, the year of his marriage to his English cousin Leonora. Although Alphonse bought a certain number of Dutch 17th century and French 18th century pictures, it was towards the decorative arts that he concentrated his most assiduous pursuits. The extent and continuity of Alphonse's purchasing is borne out by the comptes courants, or accounts ledgers, of the French Rothschilds from 1870-1905 which show that Alphonse continued to add to his collection with as much energy as in the last years of his life as he did in earlier years.
This bureau à cylindre uses various juxtaposed parquetry patterns divided by ormolu banding and centered by a raised oval medallion characteristic of Ferdinand Bury. Bury (1740-1795) became maître in 1774 and worked in the faubourg Saint-Antoine, on the rue de Charonne. In October 1789, he had to file for bankruptcy. The accounts reveal a medium-sized workshop with a small stock of around twenty pieces, the most expensive being 'un secrétaire en bois jaune orné, 450L' (a citron secretaire embellished with bronze). The papers filed at that point reveal that he employed the fondeur Antoine-André Ravrio for the bronzes of his furniture. They further reveal that he retailed furniture through marchands-merciers such as Bonnemain, Mathieu Law, Gavanet and Jean-Baptiste Tuart.
The absence of a trade register or debts from private clients confirm that Bury was working exclusively with the trade and his fellow ébénistes. The stamp of Riesener can be found beside his own on some pieces, including a very similar commode now at the Louvre which bears the Royal brand of Versailles (D. Alcouffe, Furniture Collections in the Louvre, Dijon, 1993, p. 269). The existence of both stamps on the Versailles commode and the commode's distinct resemblance to Bury's oeuvre is intriguing, suggesting that it was Riesener who sub-contracted the work to Bury.
As marchand Bury flourished under the patronage of the prince of Nassau, the marquis de Marigny, the marquis de Mailly-Nesle and the duc de Brissac. The rich ormolu mounts on the bureau resemble mounts used by Carlin, suggesting that Bury possibly also worked for the same marchand-mercier as Carlin, namely Dominique Daguerre.
Several bureaux à cylindre that are stamped by Bury also bear the stamp of Jean-Baptiste Tuart (one example in the Espirito Santo collection, sold Christie's, London, 12 December 1996, lot 99, and another anonymously, Sotheby's, Monaco, 17 June 1988, lot 733), who was not only a marchand, but also an ébéniste in his own right. A pair of related commodes bearing his stamp from collection of Luigi Anton Laura was sold Sotheby's, Poulain Le Fur, Paris, 27 June 2001, lot 72, and a further example is illustrated in P. Kjellberg, Le Mobilier Français du XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1989, p. 126.