These extraordinary armchairs combine a remarkable range of exotic and classical motifs, ranging from confronting à l'antique griffins to Apollo's sunburst masks, eagles emerging from extravagant acanthus leaves and head-dressed ladies similarly emerging mysteriously from foliage, all united by delicate treillage borders.
Although no definite design source has been discovered for these sculptural tours de force, they certainly betray the influence of the avant garde dessinateur of the goût étrusque, Jean-Demosthène Dugourc (1749-1825). Dugourc produced designs for a series of armchairs with similarly exotic caryatid supports for projects he was working on for the Imperial court in Russian in 1784, while in 1788 he executed designs for the Spanish royal court for stools with similar delicate fretwork carving (see 'De Dugourc à Pernon', Exhibition Catalogue, Lyon, 1991, pp. 31 and 75).
Although this model has on occasion previously been attributed to North Italy, the presence of mounts in gilt-lead makes an origin from Austria or Germany much more likely. Moreover, many of the known examples to appear on the market, including one of the pair offered here, have had German or Austrian provenances. A suite, comprising four fauteuils, a canapé, two benches and nine chairs, reputedly from the collection of Count Leopold Berchtold (d. 1809), foreign minister in Austria-Hungary, was sold at the Dorotheum, Vienna, 2 December 1966, lot 982. A further fauteuil is in the Österreiches Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Vienna (illustrated in Dr. C. Witt-Dörring, 'Empire oder höfisches Biedermeier', Kunst und Antiquitaten, November 1991, p. 19). A suite of four fauteils and a canapé, probably from the Dorotheum set, was sold anonymously at Millon & Robert, Paris, 3 April 1995, lot 208, while a further fauteuil, described as German, is illustrated in Carlton Hobbs, Catalogue, 1993, no. 4, cat. 20.