The present figures are based on a design of circa 1800 by Charles Percier for a console table in the Egyptian taste. The original pen and ink drawing enriched with grey wash and watercolour is retained in the graphics department of the Louvre Museum, Paris.
Percier, an architect, and his collaborator Pierre Fontaine are credited with formulating the Empire style. Percier's conception is not based on an exact historic prototype, although the original spirit of Egyptian sculpture is clearly evident. The model was adapted for a mahogany console table supported on the head of Egyptian caryatid figures now in the collection of the Grand Trianon, Versailles. The popularity of the model is evidenced by the many other examples which have turned up on the art market over the years.
The noted bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire adapted the model circa 1805 as a pair of candelabra with candlearms issuing from each figure's head. A pair recorded in the Chateau at Saint-Cloud as of 1828 were obviously a favorite with Louis-Philippe and his family, as later inventories record the same pair in various rooms of the personal apartments and at the chateau de Compigne. In 1909, they were moved into storage at the Htel de Salm, Paris in the Grande Chancellerie de la Lgion d'Honneur.
The use of the design by Paris porcelain manufacturers is less certain. It is possible that porcelain examples decorated in imitation of parcel gilt bronze such as the present pair were also intended for use as candelabra. A listing of the biscuit figures, groups and clocks made by Dihl et Gurhard published by Regine de Plinval de Guillebon, "La Manufacture de la Porcelaine de Gurhard et Dihl, Dite Duc d'Angoulme", The French Porcelain Society, Number IV, 1988, p.18 notes an entry for candlabras figures gyptiennes bronzes et portant des girandoles quatre lumires en cuivre dor which may correspond to the present models.
They may equally have been intended for use as furniture mounts along the lines of the console caryatids previously described. At the Exposition Universelle of 1806, Caron et Lefebvre exhibited a trpied trois caryatides de 33 pouces de haut which is illustrated by Mme. de Plinval de Guillebon in Faence et Porcelaine de Paris XVIIIe-XIXe Sicles, Paris, 1995, p. 315, pl. 300. Although this particular piece is of a jardinire supported on the heads of three sphyinx caryatids, the firm was clearly comfortable with adapting the fashionable taste for Egyptomania to objects in porcelain. Indeed, their business card (Ibid., p.383, pl. 370) "illustrates some of their most spectacular pieces, including a tripod vase with Egyptian figures".
Although Dihl et Gurhard and Caron et Lefebvre are two Paris manufacturers capable of having made the present Egyptian figures, they are far from the only firms capable at that time of executing large-scale objects in porcelain in the Empire style. Indeed, the national manufactury at Svres was producing similarly fashionable objects incorporating the mixture of matte and polished gilding on biscuit porcelain.
A pair of figures virtually identical to the present examples was sold at Sotheby's, New York, 18 May 1996, lot 247. It is possible that these at one time formed a set of four with the present examples.