T he Beurdeley family was one of the most important furniture production dynasties of the 19th century. They brought their art to a level of excellence rarely matched which they maintained for three generations from 1818 to 1895. Particularly renowned for the quality of their gilt-bronze mounts, their systematic use of mercury gilding and their talent for chiseling enabled them to perpetuate the tradition of excellence from the 18th century.
Considered among the most talented creators during the second half of the 19th century, Louis-Auguste-Alfred naturally participated in the Great Exhibitions held in Paris in 1855 and 1867.
In 1855, he exhibited the furniture he created for the Empress’s boudoir, but regrettably was only awarded a bronze medal. Very disappointed, he did not enter the 1862 Exhibition. It was only in the context of the Great Exhibition of 1867 that he presented this splendid cabinet.
The cabinet at the Great Exhibition of 1867
In 1867, the second Great Exhibition organised by the Second Empire opened in Paris. Installed for the first time along the Champ-de-Mars and reached directly by train, it welcomed more than 5,200 exhibitors and 11,000 visitors in a palace built by the architect, Le Play. Nicknamed the « Colisée moderne », this edifice depicted the triumph of rationality, while demonstrating the strength and productive power of the nations represented.
According to Camille Mestdagh, "the works of the exposition were unique both by the prestige of the collaborations and by the artistic qualities of their craftsmen. The cost of their realisation was such that they were difficult to sell because of their prices: according to a report on the Exhibition, Louis-Auguste-Alfred Beurdeley thus expected 100.000 francs au bas mot for his large ebony bookcase ornamented with bronze and pietre dure inlays." Among the artisans represented, the commonly-held opinion was that Beurdeley, official supplier to the Emperor, as "the favourite of the crowned heads; for who other than kings and princes of finance could have the means to satisfy the delicate penchants of their refined taste when they turn to a man such as Mr. Beurdeley for a purchase, who pours an extravagant amount of money into the conscientious execution of his works.”
While the cabinet gained the admiration of all and won the gold medal for Louis-Auguste-Alfred, he was none the less disappointed and wrote to the Count of Nieuwerkerke on July 4th: "I only got the gold medal, I was hoping for the cross [of the Legion of Honour] "(C. Mestdagh, op.cit., 141). It was his son Alfred-Emmanuel who would finally obtain the precious insignia in 1883, at the end of his triumph at the Great Exhibition of Amsterdam.
Expertly, this Beurdeley masterpiece is a brilliant testament of luxury furniture of the second half of the 19th century, whose craftsmanship was revived by the Second Empire. Unique in their production, it differs from the usual pastiches produced by their workshops and asserts itself as an original creation. A shining example of their artistic knowledge and technical know-how, it illustrates the transition from father to son.
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