These caryatid figures were almost certainly executed by the ciseleur-doreur Pierre Gouthière (maître in 1758) after a model by the sculpteur Jean-Joseph Foucou (1739-1815). Originally conceived to support an inverted breakfront marble mantelpiece, with swagged drapery and cymbals behind ivy and parcel-gilt ivy garlands, this model of chimneypiece was designed by François-Joseph Belanger (1745-1819) and first supplied by Gouthière to the duchesse de Mazarin in 1781 for the Grand Salon of the hôtel Mazarin, quai Malaquais, Paris. Subsequently acquired by the Rothschilds and transferred to the château de Ferrières in the 19th Century, the Mazarin chimneypiece is recorded in the 'Mémoire de modèles de bronze, cizelure et dorure, fait pour le service de Mme. la Duchesse de Mazarin sur les ordres de M. Belanger, premier architecte de Monseigneur le Comte d'Artois, par Gouthière cizeleur doreur du Roy en 1781'. This memorandum, drawn up by the ciseleur Etienne Martincourt, described the caryatid figures as '2 figures de femmes ornées de ceintures de feuilles de lierre, ceinture à bandoulière retroussant draperies, et portant tambour de basque avec des grelots'. It also revealed that the model for the satyresses was supplied by Foucou.
This celebrated chimneypiece pattern enjoyed enduring poularity during the 1780's and 1790's and five further related models are recorded. The earliest, also originally commissioned from Gouthière in 1781 for the Grand Salon Ovale of the hôtel Thelusson, but subsequently finished by the bronzier François Rémond, was installed at the hôtel Montsauge in 1785 and is now in the Wrightsman Collection (F.J.B. Watson, The Wrightsman Collection: Furniture, Gilt-bronze and Mounted Porcelain, Carpets, New York, 1966, vol. II, no.287, pp.518-21). Another, together with two closely related examples, whose caryatids hold infant satyrs to the fire, are now in the collection of H.M. The Queen. This latter pair, however, traditionally given to Gouthière, was actually supplied by Messrs. Vulliamy for the Crimson Drawing Room at Carlton House (G. de Bellaigue, 'The Vulliamy's Chimneypieces', Furniture History Society Journal', vol.XXXIII, 1997, pp.208-9). The chimney-piece with identical caryatids, now in the Royal Closet at Buckingham Palace, was originally supplied to George, Prince of Wales, later King George IV for the Throne Room at Carlton House, possibly under the direction of the marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre (J.Harris, G. de Bellaigue and O. Millar, Buckingham Palace and its Treasures, New York, 1968, pp.56-57). A further example was supplied for the Grand Salon of the hôtel Masserano, Paris, under the direction of the architect Théodore Brongniart (1739-1813) after 1787. Finally, two further chimneypieces of this model are recorded in the collection of Sir John Murray Scott at the château de Bagatelle, Paris until 1904. Although Bagatelle was also designed by Belanger, however, they were most probably introduced by either Lord Hertford or Sir Richard Wallace after 1835 (C. Baulez, 'Bronzes et Bronziers de Bagatelle', La Folie d'Artois, Paris, 1986, pp.143-4).
The increasing social importance of the chimney-piece is made clear by J.S. Mercier's Tableau de Paris of 1782, in which he commented on the social cachet that a chimneypiece conferred on the occupier of the room. For whereas in the past the lower orders had been content to share a communal fire, 'aujord'hui la femme-de-chambre a sa cheminée, le précepteur a sa cheminée, le maître d'hôtel a sa cheminée...' (G.de Bellaigue, op.cit,p.188).
Blythswood House was a magnificent Neoclassical house built by Archibald Campbell, M.P. for Glasgow, to the designs of James Gillespie Graham in the early 1820's. With the growing commercial importance of Glasgow in the late 19th Century, Blythswood became the unofficial residence of the Royal family for their visits to Glasgow and this led to the remarkable group of early photographs of the interiors.
They are, however, first recorded in the 1868 Inventory of Blythswood, which was drawn up by 'John and James Morrison, Licensed Valuers, 102 Renfield St., Glasgow'. Listed in the 'Entrance Hall', they were described as 'A Pair of Bronze and Marble Pedestals and Bronze Figures 25.0.0'.