These magnificent tables are masterpieces of the Russian lapidary's art, with striking à l'antique gilt-bronze mounts combined with beautifully striated panels of Revna jasper, surmounted by a top of of richly veined serpentina moschinata.
The art of stonecutting has been prized in Russia since early in the 18th Century as a specifically national art, utilizing Russian-born craftsmen and the country's vast resources of mineral
deposits. A diamond mill was founded in Peterhof as early as the first quarter of the 18th century, but it was in the 1770's and 1780's that the art of stone cutting really expanded in Russia, following a series of geological expeditions to the Ural and Altai mountains sponsored by the Academy of Arts, which yielded amazing discoveries of hardstones, including green breccia, rhodonite (discovered in 1781-3), lazurite and many different varieties of porphyry (discovered in 1786 by the River Korgon in the Altai Mountains of Siberia).
Stonecutting workshops were initially established at Peterhof, near St. Petersburg, but because of the huge difficulties involved in transporting blocks of hardstones over the vast distances of Russia, it became necessary to set up workshops closer to the mountains from which the hardstones were extracted. Thus further workshops were established at Ekaterinburg, in the Ural Mountains, in 1765, and at Kolyvan, to the east of the Urals, originally established in 1787 in Loktiev, until moving to the village of Kolyvan in 1802.
Revna jasper, with its distinctively striated green and white appearance, was discovered in the late 18th century in the Ural Mountains and seems to be particularly associated with the Kolyvan workshops-Mount Revna was about 28 miles away. A number of pieces executed in Revna Jasper in the Kolyvan workshops are in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, including a bowl of astonishing size, measuring over 13 feet in diameter, which took over fourteen years to create, from 1829-1843 (see A. Chenevière, Russian Furniture The Golden Age 1780-1840, London, 1988, pp. 259-61 and 274-5, and E. Efimova, Russian Stoneware in the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad, 1961, p. 32 and figs. 68-9 and 73).
Frustratingly, little is known about the bronziers responsible for the finely wrought gilt-bronzes often adorning the products of the stonecutting workshops. It is known that the celebated architect Andrei Voronikhin, a protegé of Count Stroganoff who worked extensively on the Imperial palaces, including notably Pavlovsk, provided designs for a number pieces executed in the Ekaterinburg workshop with restrained neo-classical gilt-bronze mounts. These include a coupe in Korgon porphyry made in 1806, now in the Hermitage (illustrated Chenevière op. cit., pp. 272-3, fig. 298), or a coupe in onyx supported by a bronze Egyptian figure executed by the sculptor Pierre Agi (1752-1828), of whom little further is known, other than his presumably French origin.
Russian tables executed in gilt-bronze were exceptionally rare and precious, and only a few examples are recorded, including the following, all also featuring a rare material such as hardstone:
-an example with top of blue glass, formerly in Peterhof Palace, illustrated in A. Kugel and Countess A. Chouvalov, Treasures of the Czars, exh. cat., Paris, 1998, cat. 206, now in a private collection, Paris.
-an example with top of lazurite, illustrated in Chenevière op. cit., p. 279, fig. 304
-an example with top of red quartzite sold from the collection of Mrs. Marella Agnelli, Sotheby's New York, 23 October 2004, lot 7 ($400,000 inc. premium)
Similar lion masks are found on the frieze corners of a pair of consoles from St. Petersburg circa 1795, sold from the Stroganoff Collection, Lepke Berlin, 6-11 May, 1931, lot 209, p. 198-99, while the distinctive shells at the top of the legs of the Segoura tables also feature on a vase of red porphyry executed in 1802 in the Kolyvan workshops (illustrated Efimova op. cit., fig. 64).
THE ABDY COLLECTION
These magnicicent tables once formed part of the celebrated collection formed by Sir Robert Abdy Bt., who with his second wife Lady Diana furnished houses in Paris and in England (Newton Ferrers in Cornwall) with a rich ensemble of mainly French furniture and works of art, all assembled with a confident, adventurous taste. The collection included superb works by important ébénistes such as Leleu and BVRB, combined with sculptures by Pajou and Houdon, pictures by Winterhalter and a significant library. His eye was particularly drawn to the avant garde neo-classicism of the goût grec, as on the superb fauteuil by Delanois inspired by designs of Jean Louis Prieur, later sold from the collection of Karl Lagerfeld, a taste which is certainly reflected in the purity of form of these tables.