A magnificent Empire Ormolu-Mounted Sèvres porcelain guéridon 'Table des Palais Royaux' 1811-1817, commissioned by Napoleon I, signed Robert 1816 and inscribed Manufre Royale de Sevres 1816
Commissioned in 1811 by Napoleon I but not completed during his reign.
Presented by Charles X, King of France in 1825, to Francis I, King of the Two Sicilies, and thence by descent.
With Matthiesen Fine Art, Ltd, when acquired by the present owner, 1980
Musée Royal, Exposition des porcelaine de la Manufacture Royale de Sèvres, January 1, 1817, placed in the Galerie d'Apollon, but without a recorded number.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California, 1980 loaned by the present owner.
A. González-Palacios, Il Tempio del Gusto, Roma e il Regno delle due Sicilie, Vol. I, Milan, 1984, pp.391-395, illustrated pl. LXI
A. González-Palacios, Il Tempio del Gusto, Roma e il Regno delle due Sicilie, Vol. II, Milan, 1984, illustrated pls. 643-644.
S. Grandjean, 'Napoleonic Tables from Sèvres', The Connoisseur, April 1959, p. 153.
A NAPOLEONIC COMMISSION
This table was the last of the great Napoleonic tables to leave the Sèvres manufactory. It was commissioned in 1811 and, according to the letter written by Alexandre Brogniart, administrator of the Sèvres manufactory, it was to represent views of Imperial palaces which were relative to the history of the Emperor, Napoleon I. It was also to incorporate scenes which depicted Napoleon and the Imperial household out walking, hunting, etc (see Sèvres records reproduced below). The chosen palaces included six located in and around Paris: the Tuileries which was the Imperial family's principal residence; St. Cloud, Rambouillet, Compiègne, Fontainebleau, and the Trianon. The other three were to include two residences in Italy: Stupinigi (Turin) and the Quirinale (Rome), and lastly the palace at Laeken near Brussels.
In his letter of June 7, 1811, Brogniart mentions that he does not have colored views of either the Quirinale or Stupinigi, and asks the Secretary of State for his help in obtaining detailed drawings. Whether executed in watercolor, gouache, or oil, Brogniart specifies that the design be executed with "gout et precision" . Brogniart further instructs that the design include trees in order to avoid the monotony of a building by itself.
The paintings on the Getty table were executed by the landscape painter Jean-François Robert. At the time of the commission Robert was in the service of Napoleon's sister, Elisa, Grand Duchess of Tuscany and he was summoned back to Paris from Italy in order to undertake this work. A memorandum in 1812 (see below) notes that Robert was in the process of painting the views, and further notes that he was making journeys to Compiègne and to Trianon in order to capture better details. It is interesting to note that in this same memorandum, there is the first mention of the Château de Meudon which was not listed as one of the original French palaces. In 1813 it is noted that all the views are painted or sketched and Robert was again in Florence with the Grand Duchess, but he was committed to returning in order to finish the table. Work on the table was suspended at the end of March 1814.
THE BOURBON RESTORATION (1814-1830)
As noted by Serge Grandjean (op. cit. p. 150) some porcelain wares which bore effigies of Napoleon and his family were destroyed under edicts proscribed during the Bourbon Restoration. It is of considerable interest, therefore, to note an entry in the National Archives in Paris (folio 6 03 1576) which adds certain details to the history of the Getty table after the fall of Napoleon and notes: "quelques sujets ou emblems relatifs au y ornements de l'empéreur Napoléon". The table is "prête à passer au 1er feu, elle est très belle tout pour la dimension que pour la peinture et les ornements les ... quelle .. représente le Palais des Tuileries; le Palais de St. Cloud; le Palais de Rambouillet; le Palais de Compiègne; le Palais de Fontainebleau; le Palais des Trianon; le Chateau de Marac près Bayonne; le Palais de Stupinigi près Turin; le Palais de Quirinal a Rome (note that Meudon does not appear as one of the views, nor does Laeken which seems to have been replaced by the less celebrated Château de Marac). The entry further notes: Toutes les maisons célèbre dans tout les temps impérieux rester, mais comme on a ajouter sur les devante diverses scènes tirée de la vie ordinaire de l'Empéreur Napoléon, elle pourront etre remplacées par des scènes différente. Thus we have the first indication that the decoration of this expensively produced table can be modified to eliminate the Napoleonic aura and replace it with scenes more palatable to the returning Bourbons.
Work resumed on the table on April 1, 1815 when the Sèvres records indicate that M. Boullemier has taken up the decoration of the bas relief which he had set aside the year before. Robert resumed his work on April 17, 1816, when it is interesting to note that the table is no longer called "la table des chateaux imperiaux", rather it is now "la table des chateaux royaux" and Robert is working on a medallion (cartel) depicting Versailles, which, along with St. Germain and Meudon, would replace the three palaces which had purely Napoleonic associations.
At the same time that the views of the Palaces were being revised, all the Imperial insignia had to be removed. The note in the National Archives referred to above mentions: il y a un aigle portant un etandars and goes on to say that altering this motif will be extremely expensive. The shield-shaped device flanking the views was the shape created to enclose the coat of arms of the Emperor and the Great Seal of the French Empire (see Odile Nouvel-Kammerer, Symbols of Power, Napoleon and the Art of the French Empire, 1800-1815, Paris, 2007, p. 54-55). The order of the Saint Esprit around the royal arms forms a parallel strip where the Légion d'Honneur would have fit perfectly. The order of St. Michel which was always represented with the order of Saint Esprit is drawn inside the arms of France, probably due to lack of space. The medallion enclosing the intertwined L's is almost certainly where the Imperial eagles referred to above had been drawn.
On completion of the porcelain top the table was ready to be assembled. The palm tree base was placed over an oak core, the top itself was fitted with a deep ormolu border cast with palmettes and with an ormolu frieze bearing the arms of France and Navarre. The final account also refers to the glass top which was fitted at the considerable expense of 200 Francs. The Sèvres records also indicate payment of 2800 Francs to Bocquet for the ormolu mounts which, as noted below, had been designed by Thomire. The Getty table entered the sales room at the Sèvres manufactory on April 24 1817, no. 86, it had cost a total of 25,370 Francs to produce and was offered for sale at 35,000 Francs.
A ROYAL GIFT
This table was presented to Francis I, King of the Two Sicilies, by Charles X of France who was father-in-law to Francis' eldest daughter Caroline. Charles X's son, Charles-Ferdinand de Bourbon, duc de Berry had married Caroline in 1816 and together they had a daughter Louise. On February 13, 1820, as he was leaving the Paris opera, he was mortally wounded by a saddler, Louis-Pierre Louvel and he died the following day. Caroline was at that time pregnant with their son, the duc de Bordeaux (later Comte de Chambord) who was the last hope for the Bourbon dynasty.
It is possible that Charles X gave the table to Francis I to commemorate the latter's accession to the throne of the two Sicilies in 1825. Francis I (1777-1830) was born in Naples, the son of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and his powerful wife, the Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria (Marie Antoinette's favorite sister). When Napoleon fell, Ferdinand (who had been in exile) returned to Naples as the first ruler of the united kingdom of the Two Sicilies where he attemped to rule absolutely. This precipitated the constitutionalist uprising of 1820 forcing him to grant a constitution and to cede power to his son Francis who succeeded to the throne on his father's sudden death in 1825.
The first guéridon of this type was produced at Sèvres between 1803-1806, designed by the architect Théodore Brongniart, the father of the administrator. To produce a table top formed of a single piece of porcelain of 1 meter in diameter was a considerable technical accomplishment and unlike tables which had been produced at Sèvres earlier, it was designed to rest upon a single support and was executed almost entirely in porcelain. The ormolu mounts were designed and executed by Pierre Philippe Thomire (1751-1843) who had succeeded Duplessis in 1783 and made all the ormolu mounts for porcelain produced at Sèvres. This prototype, known as the Table des Saisons is centered by a circular medallion painted with Apollo in his char de soleil , surrounded by four semi-circular reserves representing the four seasons, the border depicts the signs of the zodiac alternating with the months of the year. The table was completed in 1806 and delivered to the Château de Rambouillet . By 1810 it was recorded in the palais de Fontainebleau in the deuxième salon de l'Impératrice, it remains in Fontainebleau to this day, exhibited in the Music Room.
This table must have caught Napoleon's attention in 1806 for it is on April 21 of that year that he gave instructions for the first of four further tables to be made at Sèvres, their tops illustrating a variety of themes. The first is the Table des Grands Capitaines (Table of the Grand Commanders) which depicts the head of Alexander the Great within a circle of twelve other commanders from antiquity. The second table (never executed) was to be of the Imperial family with the Emperor and Empress Joséphine in the center and members of their family forming the border; the third Table des Maréchaux has a central portrait of Napoleon himself surrounded by twelve of his marshals. The fourth was to have a theme of antique sculpture reproducing statues in the Louvre. This project was never completed during Napoleon's reign and was revived by Louis XVIII in 1817 with room views of the Louvre by Isabey replacing the individual statues. This table was completed in 1819 and it was given in 1825 to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, its present whereabouts being unknown. This is, of course, the same year that the Getty table was presented to King Francis by Charles X.
The Table de Grands Capitaines has an identical ormolu border to that on the Getty table and a comparable ormolu frieze, designed and executed by Thomire. It was given to George IV by Louis XVIII in 1817. The gift had been offered at the suggestion of the marquis d'Osmond, French Ambassador, to the duc de Richelieu, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Ambassador had received information that George IV was aware of the table and had coveted it for some time, having once tried to purchase it. This table, which had taken six years to complete, was delivered to Carlton House on May 3, 1817. It remained with George IV during his lifetime and indeed all official portraits painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence represent George IV standing next to this table, his right hand resting on its rim. The table remains in the collection of H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace (for a full discussion see, Geoffrey de Bellaigue, 'A Royal Keepsake The Table of the Grand Commanders', The Furniture History Society Journal, vol. XXXV, 1999, pp. 112-141)
The Table des Maréchaux took four years to complete and entered the Sèvres shop in October 1810; shortly thereafter it was sent to the Tuileries. After the fall of the Empire, this table went back to the Manufactory where it was fortunate to escape being destroyed; privately owned for some time, in 1929 it was given to Malmaison where it remains today.
The Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory was founded in Vincennes in 1740 and later reestablished in larger quarters at Sèvres in 1756. It became the pre-eminent factory in Europe during the second half of the 18th century but fell onto very hard times during the years of the French Revolution. Since it was no longer a royal enterprise, the factory had lost much of its clientèle and generally its financial condition echoed the economic distress of the country as a whole. The appointment in 1800 of Alexandre Brongniart (1770-1847) as the administrator of the factory set in motion a marked change in the success of the factory which he continued to run until his death in 1847.