Conceived in costly polished steel and gilt-bronze and following an audacious goût à la grecque design, these superb console tables are part of a small group of circa 1765 related examples including the celebrated console supplied to King Augustus III of Poland. Polished steel was an extremely hard and complex material to work, and furniture made of this material was subsequently very expensive. These costly pieces were conceived by serruriers (locksmith) therefore outside their usual skill and scale, they were considered at the time as a real innovation. David Harris Cohen, who studied a similar model now at the J.P. Getty Museum, Los Angeles, was the first to identify a group of consoles of this type which he attributed to the work of the serrurier Pierre II Deumier, based on his advertisement published in the gazette of L’Avant-coureur, 8 August 1763:
‘Un pied pour porter une table de marbre à double consolles avec volutes en cornes de bélier, enrichie d’avant corps & moulures prises, sur les masses, surmontées d’une frise avec rond entrelassé & rosettes. Le bas est terminé par un vase antique de ronde bosse avec branches de chêne. Les consolles sont garnies de différentes pièces d’ornements, & dans le milieu est une tête de femme coëffée à l’antique ; des branches de laurier forment guirlande au pourtour’.
In his study, Cohen divided this group to steel examples dating from 18th century and others made in silvered bronze, which date from the 19th century.
Except the Rothschild pair, only two other 18th century consoles in polished steel and gilt-bronze are recorded. They all share the same general striking avant-garde neoclassical design, attributed to the architect Victor Louis (1731-1800):
- one console at the Museum of the State Museum of the Hermitage, St Petersburg (inv. Epr-2736), which is 140 cm. wide. Its design corresponds to two drawings, one by Victor Louis, the other attributed to the ornemaniste and sculptor Jean-Louis Prieur (1759-1795), made in 1766 for the Chambre des Portraits of the Royal palace of Warsaw. The only difference between the Hermitage example and the 1766 designs is the absence of the cypher of its patron King Stanislaw II Augustus (1732-1798).
- the other is at Marble House, Newport, Rhode Island. It was donated, together with a later console of this model, to the Newport Preservation Society, after its purchase in 1957 by Harold S. Vanderbilt from the New York dealers French & Company. The 18th century example has a leaf-and-berry mount in the center of its frieze similar to the Hermitage table.
Based on these mid-18th century consoles, we know six other examples which are in silvered bronze, three of which have been authenticated as second half of late 19th century:
- one console in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu (acc. Num. 88.DF.118), 129,5 cm wide; formerly in the Lopez-Willshaw collection, sold Sotheby’s, Monaco, 23 June 1976, lot 108; subsequently acquired from the British Rail Pension Fund.
- a pair at château de Versailles, bequeathed by Consuelo Vanderbilt- Balsan (137 cm. wide); according to Cohen, this pair is not 18th century but of later manufacture and in silvered bronze (one has been subsequently gilded).
- a pair at Nissim de Camondo Museum, Paris (CAM.190.1-2, 127 cm. wide). This pair, centered by cartouches, was formerly in the collection of marquis Edmond de Lambertye and was purchased by Camondo in 1917 from the dealer Jacques Seligmann.
- the other is the second console now on display at Marble House, its frieze is centred by three fleur-de-lys. Theodore Dell has stated that this console is silvered bronze and not 18th century.
THE KING OF POLAND’S CONSOLE
King Augustus II of Poland died on October 5 1763. As the Polish throne was not hereditary, the election of a new king would potentially change the balance of power in Europe. After eleven months of intrigue throughout the courts of Europe, Stanislas Auguste II Poniatowski was elected. As a demonstration of his new power and status, the new King decided to extensively redesign the palace in Warsaw in the latest ‘goût grec’ fashion. For this project, he sought the advice from Madame Geoffrin (1699-1777), his influential friend and patron, whose salon on the rue Saint-Honoré played an important role in setting the avant-garde literary and artistic tone in Paris at this time. His relationship with Madame Geoffrin started in 1741 during his trip in Paris. This was the basis of an important and lengthy correspondence that began after his return to Poland and would continue to influence his decisions on artistic matters, also when he became King. Through her, the designer and architect Victor Louis was introduced, and she granted herself the responsibility of the overall design of the remodeling of the Royal Palace in 1763.
A watercolour of the window wall of the Palace’s ‘chambre des portraits’, by her protégé Victor Louis dated 1766, shows a console of this model, placed under two windows. Another drawing, more detailed and attributed to Jean-Louis Prieur, is in the Warsaw University, and shows the console in elevation and plan (illustrated); another one, more schematic, shows it in elevation only. For the execution of the console, it is known that a life-size model was made in Paris by a craftsman called ‘Jadot’. The table itself was completed and delivered to Warsaw by February 1769, by which date the bleu turquin marble top and oval stand shown in the two drawings had been supplied by Jacques Adam. The console was apparently never used in any of the interiors, though it remained part of the Royal collections until at least 1795, when it is described in storage in the ‘Inventaire des Effets mobiliers dans le Garde-Meuble au château de Varsovie qui sont à vendre.’ It is also described in the 1789 inventory after the death of Stanislas. It has been assumed that the console was taken to Russia sometime during the 19th century during the occupation of Poland, and would be the one now at the State Hermitage Museum of St Petersburg.
Madame Geoffrin seemed to have been a key figure for this commission, not only introducing Victor Louis to the King but also Deumier, as it is recorded she herself used his services before 1766 for the refurnishing of her hôtel of the rue Saint-Honoré. In her carnets, entitled ‘Différentes choses dont je veux garder le souvenir et de différentes choses dont je veux me souvenir des prix’ is recorded: ‘ Les deux consoles d’acier et de bronze doré de ma chambre à coucher … 1500 L together with ‘les marbres de Portor, 96L’]. Further down she records ‘les deux encoignures de ma chambre à coucher, le marbre de Portor, 96L ‘. This pair of encoignures, undoubtedly by Deumier, are also recorded in the 1833 inventory after-death of the marquis d’Estampes (her daughter’s heir) and are mentionned as follow: ‘N°178. Deux encoignures en fer ciselé à garnitures de bronze doré et dessus de marbre portor, 50F’ (Arch.nat. MCN. CX/853).
Competitive of character, her relationship with the architect Victor Louis deteriorated when the king decided to appoint Louis rather than herself as his Paris agent, she however continued to influence the King’s decisions on artistic matters through her correspondence with the King which she maintained until her death in 1777.
THE BERINGHEN SUITE
A large set of ormolu-mounted steel furniture is recorded in the 18th century in the collection of the marquis de Beringhen, premier écuyer du roi, dit ‘Monsieur le Premier’ (1693-1770). His collection sale after death lists no less than six consoles and two encoignures:
N°176. Deux tables de beau marbre brèche d’Alep, de forme contournées, portant chacune dans sa plus grande partie 4 pieds sur 19 pouces 6 lignes de profondeur, posées sur des pieds à deux consoles de 21 pouces [130 x 52,5 x 56,7 cm.], en acier bruni, ornées de feuilles, fleurons guirlandes, coquilles & moulures de bronze doré, le tout exécuté avec beaucoup d’art & de perfection ». [135 x 48,5 cm.]
N°177. Une table aussi de marbre brèche d’Alep, sur un pied pareil au précédent. [135 x 48,5cm.]
N°178. Une table de très beau marbre vert campan, de forme contournée, sur son pied, qui ne diffère des précédents que par sa richesse [no measurements]
N°179. Une autre table de même marbre de 4 pieds 9 pouces, sur 22 pouces 6 lignes [154 x 61 cm.], sur un pied d’acier poli, garni de bronze doré beaucoup plus travaillé que celui de l’article précédent.
N°180. Une table de marbre de belle brocatelle de 3 pieds 3 pouces [105 cm.], aussi sur son pied d’acier poli, orné de bronze doré.
N°181. Deux petites encoignures de même marbre, sur des pieds d’acier.
It is possible that the Rothschild pair, comprising two consoles of slightly different sizes, could have been one of those listed above. The entire set apparently did not sell in 1770 as prices are not indicated next to the lots’ descriptions. Interestingly, two other consoles appear three years later in an anonymous sale dated 8 February 1773 (lots 178-179). Each of these consoles are described with a different marble top (vert campan and brèche d’Alep) which might indicate they were reoffered from the Beringhen suite which also comprised these two types of marble. In the 1773 sale, measurements are indicated for all the lots except these two consoles indicating they might have different measurements, such as the Rothschild pair. The new buyer would have matched the two with the present superbly molded sarrancolin marble tops.
The masks on the Rothschild pair are of later manufacture and could have replaced the ‘coquilles’ mentioned in the Beringhen suite. Jacques Seligmann, who according to family tradition sold the present consoles to Gustave de Rothschild in the late 19th century, possibly replaced the ‘coquilles’ to the friezes. Interestingly, the female mask mounts of this type did ornament other consoles by Deumier as described in his 1763 l’Avantcoureur advertisement, suggesting Seligmann would have cast these after an existing mask prototype from an 18th century console of this model.
PIERRE II DEUMIER
Little is known about the locksmith Pierre II Deumier, other than what can be ascertained from his advertisement in the 1767 journal, which states that he was serrurier du roi (Locksmith to the King). The study of papers in the Archives Nationales in Paris has revealed he was also working as serrurier des Bâtiments du roi et de la Ville de Paris and for the most influential patrons of his time, such as the Prince de Condé. His workshop was recorded rue Neuve des Mathurins in the Chaussée d’Antin whereas his father, dit Pierre I Deumier and also maître serrurier, was recorded on the rue des Marmousets. His most important commission seemed to have been the one for Warsaw, where Deumier supplied not only the large console but some doors as well as other metal hardware for the picture frames of the Chambre des Portraits and mirror' frames in bronze probably intended for the boudoir of the Polish Palace. Another notable commission was the grilles he made for the choir of the Royal church Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois in Paris for which he proudly requested the marquis de Marigny, directeur général des bâtiments du Roi to visit this work in a letter dated 30 October 1767.
We are grateful to M. Alexandre Pradère for his assistance in the preparation of this note.