This whimsical elephant liquor cabinet was first exhibited in the Glass Pavilion at the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris, by the internationally-praised French glass and crystal manufacturer, Baccarat. Although Baccarat was awarded a gold medal for another artistic creation, this piece was purchased by the Maharadjha of Baroda in honour of the Feast of the Elephant in India.
The model was inspired by architect Jean-Antoine Alavoine's fountain project which was commissioned by Napoleon in 1808 to the site of the infamous Bastille prison. The Elephant de la Bastille as it was then known was never built, but a monumental model of the fountain made out of wood and plaster stood on the site of the present Opera Bastille between 1813 and 1846. The project was officially abandoned in 1846 when the rat-infested structure was torn down. In his novel Les Misrables published in 1862, Victor Hugo described its disconcerting presence on the Paris scenery: In this foresaken and exposed corner of the square loomed the colossus. At night its vast brow, its trunk, its tusks, its girth, its enormous rump and its four pillar-like legs cut an ominous and frightening silhouette against the starry night. No one knew what to make of it: it seemed to be a kind of symbol of the strength of the masses.
From the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century, several replicas of this tantalus set were executed by Baccarat for special orders, making it difficult to date this piece precisely. However, in 1960, Baccarat began manufacturing solid copies of this model thereby establishing the production date of this particular lot prior to the introduction of this innovation. In 1985 Baccarat re-issued seven reproductions of the original model in gilt-bronze (See Jean-Louis Curtis and Vronique Nansenet, Baccarat, Harry N. Abrams, p.91.) One of these newer editions recently sold at Sotheby's, New York, 5 November, 1997, lot 321. Another model was sold, Christie's New York, 11 March 1998, lot 174 ($68,500).