This extraordinary garniture de cheminée epitomizes the 'style Japonais' which defined Christofle's award-winning display at the 1874 l'Exposition de L'Union Centrale des Beaux Arts. Appointed as head of Christofle's design studio in 1865, Émile-Alphonse Reiber (1826-1893) developed, in addition to their usual production of silverware, an inspired series of quite extraordinary Japanese style pieces such as the present garniture. With Christofle's considerable technical capabilities in orfèvrerie, galvanoplastie (electroplating) and bronze-work at his disposal, Reiber produced Grecian, Indian and Renaissance, as well as Japanese designs, though his genius was finding the capability to realize them in three dimensions and in such exceptional quality. His innovation was both technical and artistic, and the crowning achievement of his career was the breadth of cloisonné enamels and mixed-metal bronze-work which imitated millennia of Japanese and Chinese art. The dessinateur and ornemiste promoted his appreciation in Albums Reiber: Bibliothèque Portative des Arts du Déssin, a compendium of designs in which he illustrates a propensity for ancient design and ornament.
The fine enameling of the clock and en suite candelabra is almost certainly the work of Antoine Tard, émailleur at Christofle from 1860 to 1889. Tard’s work is evident in the present lot, particularly in the treatment of the foliage, and the execution closely relates to a pair of candelabra and a clock garniture dating to 1873, both in the Musée d’Orsay (OAO 656 and OAO 1360, respectively). The attribution is further supported by a pair of superior encoignures completed for the 1878 Exposition Univeselle, one of which was gifted to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 1930 (no. 27662), while the pendant cabinet was sold at Christie’s, London, 23 February 2006, lot 100 (£321,600). Though his work is often anonymous, Tard’s influence is unmistakable through the proliferation of works he and Reiber produced for the 1874 l'Exposition de L'Union Centrale des Beaux Arts, the precursor of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, and subsequent exhibitions. A ‘garniture de cheminée émail et incrustation’ is recorded in the Catalogue des Objets Exposés and the likelihood that the present lot was indeed exhibited is corroborated by Musée Maison Bouilhet Christofle and other works dated for 1874:
- A pair of parcel-gilt, patinated bronze and cloisonné enamel vases, sold Christie’s, New York, 18-19 April 2012, lot 548 ($88,900)
- An important cloisonné enamel, gilt and patinated-bronze jardinière-on-stand, sold Christie’s, London, 20 September 2012, lot 200 (£668,450)
Under the direction of Reiber, Christofle's displays at the 1874 l'Exposition de l'Union Centrale and the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle attracted great acclaim with particular praise for the chief designer’s intricately inlaid metalworks. Reiber was awarded a Grand Prix and was revered by the exhibition's critics: 'Elles sont dues à M. Reiber, qui a su tirer très-bon parti de ses études sur le style japonais. C'est M. Reiber qui est à la tête des ateliers de composition et de dessin: les émaux cloisonnés et les bronzes incrustés sont donc en grande partie son oeuvre et lui font le plus grand honneur' (Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1874, p. 422).