Martin Carlin, maître in 1766.
With its delicately-painted soft-paste Sèvres porcelain plaques, fine mahogany and sycamore marquetry and unusual gilt-bronze supports, this jewel-like table by the celebrated ébéniste Martin Carlin is an incredibly rare example of the most luxurious and fashionable furniture of the Louis XVI period produced by the marchand-merciers, almost certainly by Dominique Daguerre. This gueridon was according to family tradition, acquired by Baron Gustave de Rothschild (1829-1911) from a member of from the Spanish Royal family.
The unusual gilt-bronze supports of this gueridon or table chiffonière closely relate to those found on a gueridon now at the Frick Collection, New York (Acc. Num. 1918.5.61), which in turn corresponds almost exactly in form and decoration to a water-colour drawing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [see illustration]. The latter is inscribed 'Une jolie table ou chiffonnière a deux plateau de porcelain de France tous les ornements son ten bronze doré au mat sans aucun bois elle est de forme ovale' ; it was one of many provided by the marchand-mercier Daguerre to Duke Albert of Sachsen-Teschen and his wife Maria-Christina. As Charles Parker has convincingly argued, the highly-finished character of these drawings suggests they were made as 'sales material' for the dealers' clients rather than as working designs for an ébéniste (C. Parker et al., The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, May, 1960, p. 281 and F.J.B. Watson, The Wrightsman Collection, New York, 1966, vol. I, p. 284). This is further confirmed by an entry in the Mémoires of Marie-Christine of Sachsen Teschen in 1786, where she writes: 'Nous sommes allé voir au reste encore quelques uns des autres magasins d'ouvrages les plus remaquables alors en cette ville, comme ceux d'ébénisterie et de bronze de Mrs Arnault, D'Aguerre et Frost, celui de porcelaine de Japon et Lac des Indes d'un nommé Joulliot’ (see T. Wolversperges, 'Les achats parisiens de Charles-Alexandre de Lorraine (1712-1780)', in Collectionner dans les Flandres et la France du Nord au XVIIIe siècle, 2005, pp. 183-201). The present table shares with the Frick example related audacious gilt-bronze legs although the frieze and under stretcher are inlaid with dot-trellis parquetry, a feature characteristic of Carlin.
The ormolu supports cast with leaves and mille-raie motifs are also closely related to the uprights of a commode attributed to Martin Carlin, mounted with Sèvres porcelain plaques and chinoiserie-painted mirror panels, sold at Christie’s, London, 25 March 1971, lot 69. This commode, incorporating a variety of luxurious materials such as the present piece, is a typical assemblage of the marchand-mercier Daguerre.
The date of 1782 of the upper Sèvres porcelain plaque of the Rothschild guéridon clearly indicates a special commission of the marchand mercier Daguerre, the successor to Simon-Philippe Poirier, who in these years had a monopoly on the porcelain plaques from the Sèvres manufactory. At Carlin's death, Daguerre owed the ébéniste the very important sum of 3117 livres demonstrating a substantial collaboration.
Small tables or table en chiffonière mounted with Sèvres porcelain plaques were first developed in the rocaille style by Poirier in circa 1760 as a collaboration with ébénistes such as Bernard II van Risen Burgh, dit BVRB, and Roger Vandercruse, dit Lacroix. Neoclassical-shaped tables with circular Sèvres tops seem to have been invented in 1771, when the marchand-mercier Poirier acquired from the Manufacture Royale de Sèvres: ‘3 quarts de cercles 15l...45l’. The table for which those plaques was intended may be identified with that in the Metropolitan Museum which, exceptionally, displays plaques with the date letter for 1771 (illustrated in F.J.B. Watson, The Wrightsman Collection, Vol.III, New York, 1970, pp.52-4, no.297).
Daguerre continued to supply objéts de luxe in the latest fashion to the French Court and, increasingly during the 1780's, to the English nobility. Based first in the rue St. Honoré, Daguerre also opened a shop in Piccadilly, London, in the 1780s, to supply the Prince of Wales and his wealthy circle of collector friends, including the Duke of Bedford and Earl Spencer. Interestingly, Christie's held two sales, the first (anonymous but almost certainly comprising Daguerre's stock) on 15-17 March 1790 and the second on 25 March 1791, entitled ‘Superb Articles in French Or-Moulu...Imported from Paris by Mons. Daguerre’. These clearly demonstrate both the enduring popularity of porcelain-mounted furniture and Daguerre's attempts to dominate the English market. No less than three tables of similar general form are included. In the first sale, lot 84 was described as: ‘A ditto oval work table, with Sèvres porcelain top or-moulu border and mountings’. The second sale listed lot 39 as: ‘A lady's work table with porcelaine and or-moulu mountings, which was bought by a ‘Ld. C.’, which might refer to Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden (1714-1794).
THE SEVRES PORCELAIN
The reverse of the upper plaque is applied with a paper label printed with the interlaced LL mark of the Sèvres factory and inscribed with the price ‘216 [livres]’.
The Sèvres factory Sales Registers for end of year sales in 1782 record that thirty-three plaques were purchased by ‘M. Daguerre’, referring to the marchand-mercier Daguerre, at prices ranging from 12 to 336 livres each; among these is a single example sold for 216 livres. This figure is consistent with the value inscribed on the Sèvres factory price label applied to the underside of the upper plaque of this guéridon. Identifying either the upper or lower plaque in the Sèvres archives with certainty remains elusive, as detailed descriptions of the plaques are not included in the sales entries. However, the ‘plaque ronde’ of the upper tier is highly likely to be that fired on 21 November 1782, listed under the artists Tandart and Chauvaux in the register of the ‘Enfournements et défournements des peintures / Année 1782 à 1784’ (Vl' 36V°). In addition to the plaque sold to Daguerre, another single example is recorded in the Sale Registers for 11 January 1782 at a cost of 216 livres; this plaque was purchased by Pierre Denizot, an ébéniste and marchand-mercier, but no detailed description is recorded. Further plaques were purchased by Daguerre in 1783, including single examples at 216 livres each. It is possible that although produced in 1782, the upper plaque was amongst those recorded as purchased by Daguerre the following year.
The upper plaque bears the painter’s mark for Jean-Baptiste Tandart l’aîné, who specialised in flowers and was active at Sèvres from 1754 to 1800. It also bears the mark for Jean Chauvaux le jeune or cadet, a gilder and painter of patterns who was working at the factory from 1764-1800. The border decoration on the upper plaque was referred to in the factory records as fond pointillé, denoting a pale ground colour with small white circles outlined in dots in a darker enamel colour. It was chiefly in use in the late 1760s to the early 1780s and was sometimes called fond Taillandier, since the Taillandier family and particularly Geneviève Taillandier, were the main artists applying this decoration.
A work table (table à pupitre) by Carlin, mounted with five Sèvres plaques purchased by Daguerre from the factory in 1783, and painted in a very similar manner to the upper plaque of the present lot with baskets of flowers suspended from ribbons exists, see Rosalind Savill, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Sèvres Porcelain, London, 1988, Vol. II, pp. 887-892, C506, where the author mentions on p. 888 plaques sold to Daguerre (before the end of December 1783) for 216 livres each. A 1783 plaque, also decorated with a hanging basket of flowers (probably by Edme-François Bouilliat) is mounted in the closely related guéridon mentioned above, in the Frick Collection, New York. Closely related plaques of larger size and oval are on two secrétaires by Carlin, one in the Kress Collection of the Metropolitan Museum (the plaques dated 1773, see C.C. Dauterman et al., Decorative Art from the Samuel Kress Collection at the Metropolitan Museum, Aylesbury, 1964, p.145) and one in the Rothschild Collection, Waddesdon Manor, undated but with the same price labels as on this secretaire of 96 livres for the larger plaques and 80 livres for the smaller ones, which are dated in the catalogue to circa 1775 (see G. de Bellaigue, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, Fribourg, 1974, vol. I, pp. 342-7). Another table with a similar plaque probably painted by Edme-François Bouillia, stamped by Weisweiler, was sold at Christie's, London, 5 July 2012, lot 24; this corresponds almost exactly in form and decoration to another water-colour drawing from the 'Sachsen-Teschen album', now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The lower plaque depicting a trophy emblematic of Love, inscribed 'SEMPER ET IDEM' and 'OMNIA VINCIT AMOR', is unmarked although undoubtedly from the same period as the upper plaque. It seems to be the only plaque known of this design and was therefore conceived for a specific commission, probably a diplomatic gift. Unlike the Frick example, the lower plaque is painted without a border, but framed by an ormolu moulding within a veneered border.
THE ROTHSCHILDS AND PORCELAIN-MOUNTED FURNITURE
In the collections of various members of the Rothschild family Louis XV and Louis XVI Sèvres-mounted furniture was among the most prized and highly valued of their works of art.
Interestingly, the earliest known piece of furniture mounted with Sèvres porcelain plaques, the so-called 'Mlle de Sens commode' of circa 1758-60, executed by Bernard II Van Risenburgh is among the fabled collections of the Rothschild family, until recently at hôtel Lambert in Paris (A. Pradère, Les Ébénistes Français, Paris, 1989, p. 197, fig, 189). Many other superb items of Sèvres-mounted furniture were collected by members of all the branches of this illustrious family, notably by Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898), whose collections now at Waddesdon Manor are amongst the finest ensembles of French 18th-century decorative arts outside France (G. de Bellaigue, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, London, 1974, pp. 378-385, 428-429). Other extraordinary items of Sèvres-mounted furniture from the collection of Baronne Salomon de Rothschild were bequeathed to the Louvre and are illustrated in D. Alcouffe, Furniture Collections in the Louvre, Paris, 1993, pp. 171 & 228.
Baron Alphonse de Rothschild (1827-1905), brother of Baron Gustave, who probably acquired the present piece, seems to have been one the most passionate collector of Sèvres-mounted furniture pieces having reunited an unequalled ensemble of such pieces in the salon Rubens of his hôtel Saint-Florentin in Paris, including the commode by Carlin formerly in the collection of Madame de Laborde, sold at Christie’s, New York, 26 October 2001, lot 230 and a jewel coffer attributed to Carlin and stamped by his successor Gaspar Schneider, sold at Christie’s, New York, 2 November 2000, lot 200.
Acquired by Baron Gustave de Rothschild (1829-1911), the present gueridon was by family tradition privately bought from a member of the Royal Spanish family, and originally a gift from Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to the members of the Spanish Bourbon family. Interestingly, another gueridon also mounted with Sèvres porcelain plaques and with bronze supports, is known to have been a gift from Louis XVI to his cousin Maria Luisa of Parma (1751-1819), wife of Charles, Prince of Asturies, later King Charles IV of Spain and given by her to her lover Don Manuel Godoy. It was acquired from the latter by Baron Alphonse de Rothschild and it is therefore possible the present table has the same origin.