The eleven female figures of this lot were designed and formed by Philippe Wolfers especially for this surtout-de-table. Their individual expressions and quality of detail is a typical attribute of his work. They were cast "à cire perdue" and further detailed by hand.
Philippe Wolfers (1858-1928) was the son of Louis (1820-1892) who became a silversmith in 1850 and was then living on rue des Longs Chariots, in Brussels. The Wolfers family originated from Zeeland and Westfalen. Louis married Henrietta Ruthenburg and from this marriage two other sons were born, Max and Robert. The three sons later formed Wolfers Frerés.
A triangular punch with three five-pointed stars became the firm's first mark in 1860. These stars symbolised not only the three brothers but, also the masonic attributes of wisdom, strength and beauty. Philippe, as well as his father Louis, and his brother Robert were well respected members of the Freemasonry.
After finishing his secondary education, Philippe studied sculpture at the Académie Royal des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. At the same time he studied goldsmithing with the family firm under the direction of his father. His first finished pieces were produced in the 1870s, when he, as a representative of the firm, travelled to Germany, The Netherlands, Austria and France.
During the Art-Nouveau period Philippe executed some 150 designs for jewellery, furniture, sculpture and works of art, in such mediums as silver, glass and ivory. These objects were produced not only by him, but also by the specialised craftsmen employed by the firm.
The sculptures "Lassitude", "La Danseuse", and " Le Premier Bijou" were produced in this period. Remarkable resemblances can be found in the female figures or "bacchantes" of this surtout-de-table. Wolfers Frères produced figural sculptures from circa 1880, although most of the cherubs and children were made by Isodore de Rudder, who worked with Wolfers until 1890. From 1892 Philippe as the Artistic Director of the firm designed some of the most impressive silverware produced by Wolfers Frères, including such works as the Gioconda-service, a complete dining-suite, which he exhibited at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriel, in Paris, in 1925. In fact this was later to become his final work.
Around 1900 the firm employed some 200 craftsmen, and was represented in almost every European country including Russia. Their objects could be found in some of the most prestigious jewellery companies of the period such as the firm of Joseph Goldschmidt in Köln and the Berlin firms of Friedländer. From the surviving archives of the firm, one can see that Philippe personally boasted Europe's most distinguised clients.