This spectacular and unique exhibition panel is an extraordinary tour de force, uniting the latest forward-thinking technology of dazzling imitation hardstones with a romantic celebration of the Bourbon monarchy in the guise of a high Gothic stained glass rose window rivaling the glories of Notre Dame and Chartres cathedrals.
Jean-Baptiste-Pierre-Laurent Douault-Wieland (1786-1834) trained originally as a sculptor and chaser but is now best known as a jeweler who took the medium of paste jewelry to unparalleled heights. He was probably introduced to this craft as a result of his marriage to Colombe Thérèse Wieland, the daughter of an established manufacturer of strass. His father-in-law Monsieur Aviéland exhibited at the 1806 Exposition des Produits de l’industrie, according to exhibition records, the fourth iteration of the fair and the last of the Napoleonic era.
Paste jewelry became popular in the mid-18th century as a means of creating an affordable alternative to hardstones and semi-precious stones. Georg Friedrich Strasse was an 18th century Alsatian jeweler, and is widely considered to be the father of imitation gemstones. He invented the rhinestone, also known as strass, in the 1730s. He was appointed the King’s jeweler in 1734, and was in great demand at Louis XV’s court.
While Douault-Wieland was not the only Parisian jeweler working in this medium, he certainly should be credited for advancing production with his extensive research in the field. In 1820, he wrote a report detailing the chemistry and his technique for producing various types of strass. Certain minerals were combined to create the appearance of topaz, ruby, emerald, sapphire and aquamarine. The levels of purity in the minerals leant themselves to the distinctive sheen and sparkle found in these stones. Furthermore, his technique for the production of the glass was revealed in great detail, highlighting further the incredible advances his works represented. The mémoire was circulated and published throughout Europe.
In 1819, he created a replica of the 140-carat diamond, Le Régent, considered then as well as now to be one of the most beautiful and purest diamonds in the world. This feat impressed the French public and nobility alike, and became a great source of pride as the French worked to surpass Germany as the leaders in artificial stone production. That year, he received awards from various exhibitions, including the fifth Exposition des Produits de l’industrie in which he won a silver medal for a ruby, topaz, and emerald strass vase.
THE EXPOSITIONS DES PRODUITS DE L'INDUSTRIE
Between 1798 and 1849, the Exposition des Produits de l’industrie was held eleven times. The purpose of the exposition was to promote the various branches of French industry and highlight the technical advancements being made. With nationalism on the rise, after the first iteration of the fair only French products could be exhibited.
Douault-Wieland exhibited in the sixth exposition in 1823, and caught the eye of King Louis XVIII who requested a private demonstration of his craft. Louis XVIII also purchased a vermeil monstrance with strass rays from Douault-Wieland for an incredible 15,000 francs, which he donated to the Treasury of Notre Dame Cathedral. Sadly, that work - one of the only other known examples of a strass worked signed by Douault Wieland - was stolen. His manufactory supplied France, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Russia. Reportedly, Czar Alexander I asked Douault Wieland to open a factory in Russia but he declined, conceivably due to his allegiance to his country.
THE 1827 EXPOSITION AT THE LOUVRE
In 1827, at the seventh, and last exposition under the Bourbon monarchy, Douault-Wieland unveiled this dazzling piece on the first floor of the Louvre, which throughout was a spectacle of French innovation and advancement. Composed of 1108 pieces of strass connected by thin bands of silver, which are marked by Douault-Wieland’s poinçon, this exhibition panel is a striking homage to the Bourbon kings and its design emblematic of the gothic revival, so fashionable in France in the 1820s. The portraits are after medals, some signed by the artists: Barre (Louis Antoine), Caqué (Charles X, duc du Berri), Dubois (duchesse du Berri, Mademoiselle, duc de Bordeaux), Du Vivier (Louis XVI), B. Duvivier (Henri IV [Winner of the Prize of the Academy of La Rochelle, 1768], Louis XV), Gayrard (Louis XVIII), and Puymaurin (Charles X, Louis Antoine, duchesse du Berri). Puymaurin’s name appears alongside the name of another sculptor, either as a collaborator or because of his position as Master of the Paris mint from 1816-1830.
As he had in previous exhibitions, Douault-Wieland was hopeful his submission would catch the attention of the sovereign, Charles X, whose son was on the jury. The report of the jury was gushing in its praise of the panel, describing it as a ‘…magnifique composition’ and emphasizing how Douault-Wieland '..continue à occupier le permier rang dans la fabrication du strass’ while referring to the ‘…immenses progress de cette industrie’. However, while the Duc d’Angoulême was impressed, awarding Douault-Wieland a silver medal, the monarch did not purchase the screen, which in the wake of the Duc du Berry’s murder and the imminent conflict may have been considered an imprudent extravagance.
The execution of the present lot is only matched by its scale. Douault-Wieland’s experience as a sculptor likely allowed him to manipulate the strass to produce such an impressive piece over such a wide expanse.
It is evident that Douault Wieland was inspired by medieval and gothic architecture, as featured in the emerging troubadour style of design which was particular theme of the 1827 exposition. The central medallions and the four corner rosettes call to mind the rose windows of France’s great cathedrals, while this panel is also perhaps directly inspired by the famous 'Chosroès' cup (also known as the 'Tasse de Salomon'), an Iranian treasure in rock crystal and coloured glass from the 6th-7th century with the same radiating pattern of medallions, originally part of the Treasury of the Abbey of St. Denis and now in the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (illustrated here). The exuberant troubadour style, famously championed by the Duchesse du Berry, emerged in response to the sober, rigorous neo-classical taste popular under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, as French liberals worked to strengthen the constitutional monarchy and preserve the Bourbon regime.
ATTRIBUTION OF THE EBENISTERIE
The 1827 exhibition also served to illustrate the feats in furniture design and production. The use of lighter wood with veins, burls and speckled surfaces combined with intricately designed bronze or dark wood inlay, and characteristically curvilinear forms become synonymous with the reign of Charles X, and was another favorite style of the Duchesse du Barry. The cabinet-maker François Baudry (1791-1859) exhibited several pieces, including a heart-shaped back chair and the ‘Nacelle’ bed which earned him a bronze model, both now in the collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. While the designer of the stand is still unknown, it is obvious by the delicate arms and beautifully executed inlay that this was accomplished by someone with great technical skill. Another possibility could be Jean-Jacques Werner (1791-1849), one of the most important ébénistes of the Restauration period who made a particular speciality of using indigenous French woods, for instance on the celebrated cabinet made by him in 1819 with bronzes by Denière, eventually acquired by Charles X and now in the Grand Trianon (for other works with related inlay by Werner, see D. Ledoux-Lebard: Le Mobilier Français du XIXe Siècle, Paris, 1989, pp. 630-631).
This panel was produced at the height of Douault-Wieland’s career. If not for his untimely death in 1834 at the age of 48, he likely would have continued to excel, and to further his perfection in the art of artificial hardstones. Very few examples of his work are preserved, and none compare to the present lot in its scale and ingenuity. It serves to illustrate a peak of progress, ingenuity and nationalism.