The united magnificence of all the cities of Europe could but equal Petersburg. There is nothing little or mean to offend the eye: all is grand, extensive, large, and open. The streets, which are wide and straight, seem to consist entirely of palaces.
Dr. Edward Daniel Clarke, 1799
Three of the following six lots have an Imperial St. Petersburg provenance. The city, located on the Neva, was founded by Zsar Petr I (1672 - 1725) on 16 May 1703 when he laid the first foundation stone to the Peter and Paul Fortification. Prior to that Russia had been without a port that was free of ice during winter and was thus prevented from becoming a serious contender on the oceans. The recapture of the lands along the Neva presented an opportunity for Peter to fulfill his desire for Russia to become a naval power. St. Petersburg rapidly grew to become the most important port of the Baltic Sea and became the capital and residence of the Imperial family in 1712.
Peter actively promoted St. Petersburg and it wasn't long until the first large houses and palaces for functionaries and followers of the court were built. When Peter died in 1725, the city had grown to 70,000 inhabitants and was undoubtedly the trading and industrial center of Russia.
Peter was very keen on establishing St. Petersburg as a center for the sciences and arts and sent two diplomats to Italy to buy works of art. Further functionaries were sent to Paris to find artists such as Carlo Bartolomeo Rastrelli, Jean-Baptiste Leblond and Louis Caravaque.
By the late 18th century the 'Jacob Style', relating to the brass-mounted mahogany furniture, in Russia was popularised by David Roentgen and his pupils who supplied the Russian court. During the reign of Catherine II the need for furniture grew tremendously due to the enlargment of the buraucracy and the expansion of the administration of the government. In addition many private residences now set aside space for offices and libraries that needed more functional and simpler furniture that needed to be comfortable, rational and, if possible, beautiful. During the 18th century the capacity of the local ébénistes could not suffice demand which in someway accounts for Roentgen's success. Apart from Christian Meyer who supplied the court as early as 1787 with a large quantity of furniture, Heinrich Gambs (1765 - 1831), a student of Roentgen, established the first true competitive atelier in 1795. Shortly thereafter a number of cabinet-makers followed suit such as V. Bibkov, K. Scheibe, F. Vitepaz and F. Gagemon. Ivan Baumann finally established a large and highly successful workshop in the second and third decade of the nineteenth century. All of these ateliers not only manufactured expensive objects, but also relatively modest ormolu-mounted mahogany furniture.
(L. Tarasova, N. Guseva, et al., St. Petersburg um 1800, exhibition catalogue, Recklinghausen, 1990)
A PAIR OF RUSSIAN NEOCLASSIC ORMOLU AND PATINATED-BRONZE RHINOCEROS-FORM INKWELLS
Each in the form of a rhinoceros, the hinged back lifting to reveal a central dished well and brush flanked by a covered shaker and inkwell, on a step-molded rectangular plinth with laural leaf-tip cast edge, each faintly etched with a Cyrillic inscription reading 'Peterhof/N110/ANV', the inset mahogany bases of a later date
7in. (18cm.) high, 8¼in. (21cm.) wide, 5in. (12.5cm.) deep (2)
Peterhof Palace, St. Petersburg.
Acquired from Geoffrey Bennison and Christopher Hodsoll, London, during the mid-1970s.