Property of a Private Collector, sold Sotheby's, Important Furniture, Silver, Ceramics and Clocks, London, 7th July 2009, lot 66;
Property of a Private Collector.
Jean-Pierre Samoyault, Mobilier Francais Consulat et Empire, Paris, 2009, p. 163.
Odile Nouvel-Kammerer (dir), L'Aigle et le Papillon: Symboles du pouvoir sous Napoleon, 1800-1815, (exh.cat.) Paris, 2008, p.197, nr. 100.
Marie-Noëlle de Grandy, Directoire, Consulat, Empire, Paris, Massin, coll. “Le Mobilier Français,” 1996.
This very rare ceremonial armchair is the only known surviving example to the present day of the six armchairs commissioned for the Throne Room in the Imperial Palace of the Tuileries. It was designed and created for the 1804 Coronation of Napoléon by Percier and Fontaine, widely considered to be the main inventors of the Empire style, and made by Jacob-Desmalter, one of the greatest furniture makers of this period. This is a magnificent example of the ceremonial gravitas of the Napoleonic era.
Charles Percier (1764-1838) and Pierre-François-Leonard Fontaine (1762-1853)
The present model of ceremonial armchair was designed during the summer of 1804 by Percier and Fontaine, architects and decorators, partners from 1794, appointed architects to the government in January 1801. They had been in Rome from 1785 to 1790, where they had followed David's teaching, and they were fully familiar with Ancient Greek and Roman art, which was a major inspiration for their decoration and furnishing. Relating to their designs for chairs in general, the throne known as Bacchus's throne, produced in 1792 by the Roman sculptor Francesco Antonio Franzoni (which was subsequently installed in 1803 in the Galerie des Antiques of the Musée Napoleon in the Louvre), was a major source of inspiration for furniture makers in France, England and Italy and would have influenced the French designers. Percier and Fontaine transformed Napoleon's palaces into lavish showcases for French art and industry.
François-Honoré-Georges Jacob-Desmalter (1770-1841)
Second son of Georges Jacob (1739-1814), the major chair maker during the reign of Louis XVI, François-Honoré-Georges Jacob added Desmalter to his name in 1803 in memory of a family property at Chény in Burgundy called "Les Malterres". The Jacob Frères Company, set up in 1796, was dissolved on the death of the elder brother Georges in 1803. François-Honoré-Georges set up a new company with his father as business manager and himself as artistic manager. The stamp "JACOB.D. / R. MESLEE" (such as on the present fauteuil) was applied from 1803 to 1813. Established at 77, rue Meslée in Paris, the workshop specialised in woodwork including woodcarving, gilding and bronzes. The quality of its production was exquisite and gained him a Gold Medal at the Expositions des Produits de l'lndustrie Française in 1798, 1801, 1802 and 1806. The jury reported that "the various pieces exhibited by Mr. Jacob are finer than all others of their type, the ornamentation is magnificent, of exquisite taste and perfectly suited to the type of furniture on which it is applied, and to the decoration of the rooms where these pieces are to be placed'. The firm of Jacob-Desmalter had a wide reputation and in 1808 employed 332 workmen. They had numerous orders both from the Imperial household and from private clients, and a third of their production was intended for foreign customers.
Percier and Fontaine supplied Jacob-Desmalter with life-size drawings of the chairs for the Throne rooms at the Tuileries and Saint-Cloud palaces. Between late August and early September 1804, the firm of Jacob-Desmalter produced the frames and the carving, which were then covered with the traditional twelve layers of gesso and gilded. The frames were delivered to the Garde-Meuble's upholsterers who covered them with silk woven by Camille Pernon in Lyon. The chairs were installed in the Throne room at the Imperial Palace of the Tuileries on 1st December 1804, the day before the coronation.
Napoleon's Throne room at the Tuileries Palace
The decree of 28 floreal Year XII (18 May 1804) specified in article 2 that « Napoleon Bonaparte, presently First Consul of the Republic, is Emperor of the French ». Napoleon received the same titles as the Assemblée Constituante had given Louis XVI on 26th May 1791, and then revoked on 12th August 1792. The Tuileries Palace was the Emperor's principal residence. A Throne room was therefore necessary. The former state bedroom of Louis XIV, on the first floor of the palace and lit by three wide windows opening onto the Carrousel courtyard, was chosen for this. The ceiling, painted from 1666 to 1671 by Bertholet Flemael (1614-1675) with a scene showing Religion protecting France, the cartouches by François Girardon (1628-1715) and the stucco decoration by Louis Lerambert (1620-1670), along with the symbols of the Sun King including his motto «Nec pluribus impar», were of such an overwhelmingly royalist character that the Convention government had simply closed up the room.
Charles Percier and Pierre-François-Leonard Fontaine were put in charge of the redecoration and furnishing of the room. They devised a neo-classical scheme inspired by the Roman and Carolingian Empires. Towards the end of July 1804, Percier and Fontaine gave the plans for the throne to General Geraud-Christophe-Michel Duroc (1772-1813), Grand Marechal du Palais, so that they might be submitted to the Emperor. Apart from the final design, two others are known. One can see that the back, on both projects, and the armrests, on the second project, are very close to those for the ceremonial armchairs, such as the present fauteuil. The throne chair of Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain and the Indies in 1808, visible on the portrait painted by Baron Gerard in 1810 (Musée National du Château de Versailles et des Trianons, MV 4891 ; INV 4783; LP 3066) has many similarities to the second design.
The painting by Innocent-Louis Goubaud (1783-1847) «The deputation from the Roman Senate paying homage to Napoleon I on 16 November 1809» (Musee National des Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon, MV1506; INV4987; AC1772) provides an accurate view of the Throne room in the Imperial Tuileries Palace. The Throne room was used for ceremonies such as formal audiences, the presentation of the major state organizations, and the homage of civil servants. Napoleon used it to receive the Senate, the Conseil d'Etat, the Corps Legislatif, the Tribunat, the Cour de Cassation, or the representatives of these bodies. It was used also for the award of the Legion d'Honneur. The Emperor either sat on the throne, or stood near the chimneypiece. Some ceremonies took place in the presence of the Empress. From June 1804 it was decided to set up a Throne room in the Emperor's second residence, the Palace of Saint-Cloud, in the room formerly occupied by the Conseil d'Etat. While the throne chair was to be deliberately different, the various ceremonial chairs were all to be the same, and of the same number: six armchairs, six chairs and thirty-six folding stools. However, the Saint-Cloud throne chair was never put in place, as Napoleon preferred to use the Tuileries for solemn audiences.
Of all the ceremonial armchairs for the Throne rooms for Napoleon I, only those for the Tuileries and Saint- Cloud were of a contemporary style; they were specially designed and made for specific places and uses. The ébéniste Jacob-Desmalter, already a favorite of the First Consul Bonaparte, was put in charge of the manufacture of the chairs, including their carving and their gilding. Percier and Fontaine had supplied Jacob-Desmalter with life-size drawings. The two throne chairs and the ceremonial armchairs for the Imperial Palace of the Tuileries were to be produced before any of the other furniture destined for the room, and they were to be ready for the ceremony of the coronation. Immediately afterwards, Jacob-Desmalter produced the set of identical chairs for the Throne room at the Palace of Saint-CIoud.
In 1804, the ceremonial armchairs for the Throne room at the Imperial Palace of the Tuileries comprised: the throne armchair, six armchairs, six chairs and thirty-six folding stools. In 1806, for reasons of etiquette, the arrangement for throne rooms was changed; only two ceremonial armchairs remained, principally reserved for the use of the Empress and of Madame Mère, the Emperor's mother, as well as the thirty-six folding stools. All the chairs from the Tuileries were stored at the Garde-Meuble and four of the armchairs were stored close by in case of unforeseen need. The 1809 inventory indicates that the six chairs were returned from the Garde-Meuble by 1807 for the use of the princesses of the Imperial family.
The Throne room at the Palace of Saint-CIoud was less solemn than the one at the Tuileries. The throne armchair, which was used for the coronation at Notre-Dame on 2nd December 1804, never returned to Saint-CIoud. Stored at the Mobilier Impérial in Paris, it was used for all official ceremonies at Notre-Dame or in other places where the Emperor required it. The ceremonial armchairs, of the same type as the Tuileries ones and in the same quantity, were delivered by Jacob-Desmalter on 16th December 1804. Of the six ceremonial armchairs destined for Saint-CIoud, one frame alone is known at the Mobilier National (GMT 1306).
Provenance and History of the present ceremonial fauteuil
From 1804 to 1815, this armchair was one of the chairs of the Throne Room in the Imperial Palace of the Tuileries. After 1806, its use in the Throne Room was principally, or perhaps exclusively, for the Empresses, Josephine from 1804 to 1809, then Marie-Louise from 1810 to 1815, or for Madame Mère, mother of the Emperor and King.
During the Restauration period, this armchair remained in the King's drawing room of the palace. In 1822, King Louis XVIII decided to refurbish its furnishings. Two of the ceremonial armchairs were upholstered in blue damask and placed in the Audience Chamber of the Duc d'Angoulême, who occupied part of the former apartment of the King of Rome. In 1804, the Duc d'Angoulême became Dauphin of France upon the accession to the throne of his father Charles X. This armchair is marked with the number 1578 which corresponds to an entry in the 1829 inventory which stated that it formed part of the furnishings of the « Salon de Réception de Monseigneur le Dauphin ».
King Louis-Philippe, who reigned from 1830-1848, only moved into the Tuileries in October 1831, after the completion of major redecoration undertaken by the architect Pierre-François Léonard Fontaine. During his reign, and for the Second Republic (1848-1851), we have no information on the use of the Empire ceremonial armchairs. However, they must have remained in one of the rooms in the palace, as they are featured in a painting by Nicolas Gosse of 1838.
While Louis-Philippe's throne was destroyed during the sacking of the Tuileries Palace on 24 February 1848, the ceremonial armchairs from Napoléon I's Throne Room were spared. It appears that, in 1855, eight chairs of this model were in the Tuileries Palace in the Grand Salon of the Duc de Bassano. Napoleon Joseph Hugues Maret, Duc de Bassano, Grand Chamberlain to Napoleon III, and his wife, Pauline Van Der Linden d'Houghvorst (1814-1867), Lady-in-waiting to the Empress Eugenie from 1853 to 1867, resided in the palace. After the surrender of Sedan on 3rd September 1870, this ceremonial armchair may have been removed during the chaos of the emptying of the apartments, either by the Duc de Bassano himself, or by some other high official lodged in the Tuileries Palace. On 10th September 1870, the Provisional Government for National Defense passed a decree terminating the use of the Tuileries as a Palace. As a result, its contents had to be preserved. Some of the furniture was taken to the Mobilier National, while the works of art were stored in the reserves of the Louvre. Much was therefore spared from the tragic fire of 23rd May 1871.
Another possibility is that this armchair was included in one of the auction sales of objects no longer needed by the State or public administrative bodies. This would have had to be before 1894, as this chair does not bear the marks of the inventory taken on that date.
In 1837, King Louis-Philippe ordered from the painter Nicolas-Louis-Francois Gosse (Paris 1787- Soncourt 1878) a history painting showing the reception of the Austrian Ambassador by Napoleon at the Congress of Erfurt in 1808 (Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et Trianon MV 1734; INV 4980; LP 3677), illustrated here in fig.1. The purpose of this Congress, which took place on 27th September to 14th October 1808, was for Napoleon to ensure that Russia would oppose any attack by Austria or Prussia during his Spanish expedition. On the picture, Napoleon is receiving Baron Vincent, an Austrian diplomat sent by Emperor Francis I. Five of the ceremonial armchairs from the Throne Room of the Tuileries Palace or from the Palace of Saint-CIoud, with their original crimson damask, feature in this painting, which acts as a collective portrait of princes and kings of the Rhine Confederacy. The chairs are placed behind the Emperor Napoleon I, behind the King of Saxony Frederic-William, behind the Russian Tsar Alexander I, behind the Prince Primat von Dalberg, and behind Prince Talleyrand. At Erfurt, Napoleon had done all he could to bolster French prestige. Though it has not been established with certainty, it is generally thought that Napoleon would have taken this suite of armchairs to Erfurt to impress his counterparts and promote French craftsmanship and inventiveness in design.
An overview of the labels and inventory marks
1. 17222 - stenciled in black ink on the far left of the inside of the back-rail, which refers to the Inventory number of the Garde-Meuble
2. Illegible pencil inscription to the right of the previous mark. Probably an upholsterer's note.
3. "Salle du Throne" - manuscript ink inscription on a glued label (damaged), to the right of the previous mark.
4. Château des Tuileries - printed label. / 1829. No. within a double line frame and handwritten inscriptions 1535-8, and Salon de réception / de Monseigneur / le Dauphin. This label is glued to the right of the previous mark.
5. R. MESLEE -Jacob Desmalter's partial stamp (the first part JACOB D. being illegible) is struck on the bottom of the rear seat-rail.
6. TH. and three crowned fleur-de-Iys in an oval brand mark applied to the right of the previous mark, which stands for the Restauration period mark for the Tuileries Palace.
7. 1578 - stencilled in ink on the inside of the right side-rail, just above the rear leg, which relates to another Inventory number of the Garde-Meuble.
Please note that we are grateful to Mr. Philippe Missillier for his extensive research which we partially used in footnoting the present lot.
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