The Demidoff service, one of the best known of the great French services of the first quarter of the 19th Century, was purchased from Odiot by Count Nikolai Demidoff between 1817 and 1820 and at least three accounts are known from this period. The service remained in the Demidoff family until 1863 when it changed hands, and was either applied or engraved with a coat-of-arms, the identity of which remained a mystery until recent research by the French heraldry expert Philippe Palasi (see A. Phillips and J. Sloane, Antiquity Revisited: English and French Silver-Gilt from the Collection of Audrey Love, London, 1997, pp. 131-133).
Demidoff, born near St. Petersburg in 1773, entered the Imperial Guard at a young age and was aide-de-camp to Prince Potemkin in 1789. Within three years he had risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Grenadier Regiment of Moscow and in 1794 he was Gentleman of the Bedchamber. He married into the powerful Stroganoff family. When retired from the army he developed mines and ironworks on his estates with great success. On the invasion of Russia by Napoleon, he raised his own Regiment and returned to the army fighting at the Battle of Borodino in 1812. His collection of paintings and natural curiosities survived the burning of Moscow and these he donated to Moscow University.
In 1815 he moved to Paris where his house became a centre for the leading academic and literary figures of his day. He was also known for his philanthropy contributing 2000 francs a month to the poor of the city. For health reasons, he settled in Italy where he began building the Villa of San Donato. Following his death in 1828, the work was completed by his son, Anatole, Prince of San Donato, who married Jerome Bonaparte's daughter. In 1859 Anatole moved to Paris and from 1863 parts of the San Donato collection were dispersed by auction and privately. One of the first items to be sold privately, and in its entirety, was the magnificent silver-gilt service ordered by his father.
The service was owned briefly by the English dealer C. F. Hancock and sold in turn to Alfred de la Chapelle (1830-1914) whose arms were added to it. It is quite possible that Demidoff, la Chapelle and C. F. Hancock knew each other, as they all moved very much in the same social circles in France at this period. La Chapelle was a colourful explorer, adventurer, soldier, journalist and politician. As a young man he joined the Californian gold rush but made his fortune at Coscopera in Mexico in the 1850s. In 1859 he returned to France but in the following year emigrated to Australia where by 1867 he was back in the mining industry. In the same year that he purchased the service, he acknowledged an illegitimate son, Octave Xavier Alfred, born to the 20 year old Kate Royal. In 1889 the birth of their second child was recorded at the French consulate in Dublin. He died in Essex in 1914 when the service was presumably purchased by the anonymous 'Gentleman of Title' who sold it at the Anderson Galleries, New York, 1928.
The records of Maison Odiot indicate that a considerable number of artists were involved in designing the service, including Cavalier, Prud'hon, Moreau and Garneray. Pieces from the Demidoff service are now widely scattered in museums and private collections. A number of items are in the collection of Al Tajir (see exhibition catalogue The Glory of the Goldsmith, London, 1989, nos. 21a-21j) and Mrs. Audrey Love (see A. Phillips and J. Sloane, op. cit., pp. 134-148, nos. 41-45).