This recently rediscovered cabinet d'encoignure japonisant is one of a pair. Possibly ordered by Napoleon III, or the marquise de la Paiva for her apartments on the Champs Elysées or her new Château in Silésie, the other is in the collection of the Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris.
This stunning cabinet epitomizes the new style such in vogue in the 1870's-1880's the 'Japonisme':
East Asia was a major influence on Western decorative vocabulary during the extraordinary flourishing of creative imagination witnessed during the second half of the 19th century.
The resurgence of interest in China and Japan was directly related to the economic and political interests of the West, evidenced by the Opium Wars in China which were wholly concerned with trading rights and agreements. The second Opium War was concluded by the British and French occupation of Beijing in 1860. The British army reserved part of its share of spoils looted from the Imperial palace for Queen Victoria.
The French booty was sent to the Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie. By February 1861, the French spoils were on display to the public at the Tuileries in Paris. It was no ordinary exhibition: it was one of the first times that Westerners had been exposed to the magnificent objects made for the Chinese Emperors. It was perhaps during this interlude that the Empress Eugénie evolved the idea of displaying the collection permanently in a 'Chinese Museum', eventually inaugurated in 1863 at Fontainebleau. Rooms were remodelled to complement the exhibits, with furnishings in the Chinese taste supplied by French makers. The involvement of the Empress and the court in the project encouraged others to take an interest, and the result was an enthusiasm for all things Chinese.
In 1854, issues of trade and naval convenience prompted the Americans to force Japan to open its borders, which had been closed to foreigners since 1615. During its period of isolation, Japan had witnessed the rise of an affluent, refined, luxury-loving society with high regard for the arts. From 1854, and particularly following the restoration of Emperor Meiji in 1868, quantities of high quality Japanese works of art found their way into the West. Widespread interest in all things Asian was further stimulated by Japanese displays at the International Exhibitions of 1862, 1867, and 1876. In 1869, an Exhibition was held by the Union des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, where an entire museum of Oriental art was displayed. The Japanese too were quick to respond to the increasing fashion for furnishing à la Japonaise and were soon producing goods made in a Japanese style but adapted to have maximum appeal to Western tastes.
In the West, contact with quality Asian works of art had a direct impact on attitudes to the design and decoration. Designers and makers studied the forms and techniques, and began to produce goods using the stylized vocabulary and balanced asymmetry of the Far East. The Western hunger for this taste is evident in a range of products, exemplified by these two lots, where romantic motifs and naturalism were combined with a mélange of styles to create an atmosphere, instead of simply attempting to produce accurate direct reproductions.
From it's beginnings in 1828, when Charles Christofle (1805-1863) took over the management of his brother-in-law's bijouterie-joaillerie, the firm of Christofle & Compagnie has enjoyed a celebrated reputation as a premiere maker of argenterie electrochimique. In 1844 Christofle was appointed silversmith to King Louis Philippe, exhibited at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London and secured the patronage of Napoleon III for the refurbishment of the apartments of the Louvre in 1855. Such illustrious associations prospered and the firm of Christofle is now also known for supplying such exemplars of luxury as the Ritz Hotel, the Orient Express and the ocean liner Normandie.
This encoignure cabinet-on-stand was made in 1874 by Christofle et Compagnie after a composition by Emile Reiber (1826-1893), Eugène Capy (1829-1894) and Mallet. The enamel is the work of Antoine Tard (working for Christofle between 1860-1889). The carcass is the work of the celebrated cabinet maker Guillaume Grohé.
The fairly new technique favoured and extensively developed by Diehl and Christofle, called Galvanoplastie, is used with great success here. Fine layers of silver or gold were laid on bronze or copper by electrolyse. The geisha and decoration on the door in particular were created using this technique, painstakingly electroplating with deposits of gold and silver on the convex surface of the chased bronze and copper panel. Discovered as early as 1836 by a russian scientist called Jacobi, galvanoplastie was perfected for the Arts in the Christofle workshops and in particular by Charles Christofle's nephew, Henri Bouilhet. At the 1855 Paris Exposition Universelle, galvanoplastie was celebrated for its well-conceived application of industry to design.
It is puzzling that both this present lot and the pair to this cabinet were created together in 1874 but there are no records of when they were seperated. An exhibition entitled Le décor de la vie sous le Second Empire at the Palais du Louvre, Pavillon de Marsan, 27 May-10 July 1922 lists both these cabinets as item No. 544: Deux encoignures exécutées pour Mme de Païva, d'après le dessin de Reiber. Ebénisterie de Grohé, bronzes et cloisonnés de Christofle. A M.A. Bouilhet (see exhibition catalogue p.67).
We also know that one cabinet was gifted to the Musées des Arts Décoratifs, Paris in 1930 by André and Tony Bouilhet in memory of Henri Bouilhet. Does this mean the cabinets were seperated at this point? It is difficult to prove but very possibly the case. By repute the present owner's grand-father bought the present lot in the 30s directly from Christofle. The archives at the Musée Bouilhet-Christofle describe each piece as a Meuble d'encoignure japonais, d'une paire, 5 pieds à entretoises, encadrement à cartouches émaillées floraux et une mouche, 4 dragons au sommet, panneau central "Japonaise au chien"
The other encoignure (now in the collections of the Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris) is described in the same way but "Japonaise au phénix". In Japanese geisha means "person of art" and girls see themselves as guardians of such traditions as the tea ceremony, flower arranging and poetry. The beautiful vessels decorating the door of this cabinet pays tribute to these customs. Wealthy patrons would pay for these talents, plus their cultured conversation.