The present pair of bronze nymphs, formerly supporting candelabra, may have been inspired by, but not directly copied from, a plaster group of nymphs by Etienne-Maurice Falconet that were exhibited in the Salon of 1761 and illustrated by Gabriel de Saint-Aubin in his copy of the exhibition catalogue. The French philosopher Denis Diderot even said of the figures that they were d'un caractère simple, noble et antique. Indeed, it is through Diderot that Falconet eventually met Catherine the Great of Russia and won perhaps his greatest commission, the monumental equestrian group of Peter the Great in St. Petersburg.
While he won acclaim for the monument, it was arguably his small-scale allegorical figures for which Falconet was most admired. Although the composition of the present lot varies from Falconet's prototype, it is the attention to detail and the treatment of the female form along with the compositional complexity that make this model so interesting. Every gesture, outstretched hand and foot leads the eye spiralling upwards from the feet to the fingertips. Even the smoothness of the bare figures shows a subtle, yet sophisticated, contrast with the textured surface of the pelts. Equally charming is the suppleness of the skin, especially in the group illustrated here on the left, where delicate indentations are formed by one nymph pressing onto the thigh of the other.
For comparison, a virtually identical pair was sold anonymously, Sotheby's London, 2-6 June 1999, lot 384.