In 1743, the Sheffield craftsman Thomas Boulsover (1706-1788) was the inventor of a technique of plating copper as he discovered that silver and copper could be fused together and then be rolled together or die-stamped as one. Others after Boulsover improved his technique and an entire industry was established in Sheffield. It flourished unchallenged in the metal plating trades until the invention of electroplate process by George Richards Elkington and his cousin, Henry, of Birmingham in the late 1830s. This process dramatically reduced the cost of production and made it possible to manufacture larger pieces. Levrat was one of the first goldsmiths in France to produce metal items plated with silver, gold and platinum, which quality equalled that of Sheffield. In 1819, the excellence of his works was greeted by Louis XVIII, who awarded him a silver medal as a reward for the "crowned efforts of a complete success by means of which this distinguished manufacturer managed to snatch this branch of industry from the English, bringing it to the highest degree of perfection. " (Journal de Lyon et du Département du Rhône, 8th November, 1819, No. 37).
In 1809, François Levrat is recorded to be in a partnership with Charpentier. In 1810, he joined Papinaud and settled rue de Popincourt, 66, in Paris. In 1811, they won the Grand Prix (1,500 francs) awarded by the society of encouragement for the French industry for a silver-plate campaign kitchen. Levrat won the silver medal for plated items during the 1819 Industrial Products Exhibition and again in 1823. He then set up a warehouse in Lyon, Place de l'Herbier, with Mr Parrayon, tradesman in ‘novelties’. The local press enhanced Levrat’s prestigious production "which is hallmarked and controlled, is perfectly safe and is noticed on dining tables in the most important Parisian House’ ( Journal de Lyon et du Département du Rhône, ibidem). Before 1815, Levrat ‘s production is mainly copper pieces plated with 2.5 per cent of silver ; his maker’s mark bears his initials only. After 1815, he tends to produce copper pieces plated with 5 per cent of silver and change his maker’s mark for his full name. For extraordinary commissions, Levrat used even higher proportion of silver, such as for our gueridon which is plated with 20 per cent of silver. François Levrat is still recorded in the Almanach du Commerce in 1825 but in 1827, the business is taken over by Louis Levrat – probably his son – in partnership with Theodore Parquin, who had previously specialised in silver plate bath tubs.
The antique references on our guéridon match with the taste for classical models reinterpreted during the 1st Empire - orchestrated by Charles Percier - and still in great favour under the reign of Louis XVIII. The richly decorated barrel of our guéridon is similar to an ornamental design in an engraving after the sculptor Pierre-Nicolas Beauvallet, in the ninth volume of Fragmens of architecture, sculpture and painting in the ancient style, published in 1806 (see ill.) . Its triangular plinth ending with three paw feet and the massive base of the barrel with acanthus leaves are also apparent on a guéridon made in 1813 by Pierre-Benoît Marcion (Versailles Castle, inv. No. T377C). The abundant decoration of the barrel also reminds some of Pierre-Philippe Thomire's works, and more precisely his candelabra made for the Tuileries Castle, circa 1822. Finally, its imposing size could also remind George IV furniture. Indeed, an influence from across the Channel on Levrat's production is consistent with his perfect knowledge of Sheffield models.
Only very few examples of early 19th century French silver plate pieces furniture are recorded today and only one pair of guéridons, almost identical to ours, unmarked but most likely French, is known and was sold Christie's, New York on 28th April 2017, Lot 13.
We are most thankful to Mr. Xavier Betoux for his precious assistance for cataloguing this lot.
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