Lot 40
  • 40


40,000 - 60,000 GBP
75,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Signé sur la gorge: Biennais et Marchand tabletier au singe violet
  • mahogany, porcelain, silver-gilt, glass,
engraved with the cypher PB for Pauline Borghese, comprising: a silver chocolate pot, Marie-Gabriel Genu, Paris, 1798-1809, with two detachable turned wood handles, 15.7cm., 6 1/4 in. high, five silver-gilt mounted cut-glass caddies, the mounts, Jean-François Demoulins, Paris, 1798-1809, in two sizes, the mounts with bright-engraved rims, largest 12cm., 4 3/4 in. high; two silver-gilt-mounted bottles, unmarked, 6.3cm., 2 1/2 in. high; a silver-gilt strainer, Paris, 1798-1809, pierced with stars; two later George V silver-gilt coffee spoons and a caddy spoon, Francis Higgins & Son Ltd, London, 1920; together with a pair of Paris porcelain cups and saucers; all contained in a fitted brass bound mahogany case, the central cartouche engraved with the arms of Napoleon Bonaparte, lock mount engraved Biennais Md Tabletier ébéniste au Singe Violet Rue Honoré No. 511, Paris.


Princess Pauline Borghese (née Bonaparte), sister of the Emperor;
Prince Victor Napoléon (1862-1926);
Prince Louis Napoléon (1914-1997);

Catalogue Note

The Imperial arms engraved on the case are for Napoleon I, Emperor of the French. The monogram PB engraved on some of the contents is for Princess Pauline Borghese (née Bonaparte) (Fig.1).

Pauline Bonaparte was born in 1780 in Ajaccio, Corsica, the second of Napoleon's sisters and considered the most beautiful. In 1797, much to Napoleon’s chagrin, she married one of his staff officers, General C-V-E Leclerc, travelling with him to Santo Domingo before his early death from yellow fever.

At home Napoleon’s prominence and wealth was rising and he found himself the de facto patron to the Bonaparte family. As an important family member, Pauline, upon her return to Paris, was introduced by her brother to Prince Camillo Borghese of the eminent Roman family with whom the Emperor seeked to create a dynastic alliance. After their marriage in 1803 Princess Pauline moved with Borghese to Rome. In 1804 Borghese received the title of a French Prince and in the ensuing years accompanied the Emperor on the Austrian and Prussian campaigns.

Her second marriage was an unhappy union, with Pauline spending most of her time in Paris, but despite this her relationship with Napoleon remained strong. The present lot, the case engraved with Napoleon’s coat-of arms and the contents with the monogram PB, was most likely a personal gift to Pauline from the Emperor rather than part of the larger Borghese Service commissioned by Napoleon upon their marriage.

The Borghese service comprised more than 500 silver-gilt objects and included over 1,000 pieces of table silver, primarily by the French Imperial silversmith Martin-Guillaume Biennais (1764-1843). Originally a cabinet maker and tabletier, by 1789 Biennais had established premises at 283 rue St Honoré 'Au Singe violet'. Following the definitive abolition of corporate regulations in 1797 Biennais diversified his business to include the production of silver and gilt items. He supplied Napoleon from as early as 1798 and assured his preferred place with the future Emperor when, upon Napoleon's return from Egypt in 1801, he was prepared to supply him plate on credit. With the expansion of Imperial glory Biennais' workshop was soon employing up to 600 workers and collaborators, including the master silversmith Marie-Joseph-Gabriel Genu, whose mark can be found on the chocolatiere in the present lot. The present service dates to post-June 19th 1798, according to the silver marks, but before 1802 when Biennais registered his own goldsmiths mark. After 1804 he signed his objects 'Goldsmith to Napoleon' or 'First Goldsmith to the Emperor' after producing the crown and sceptre for Napoleon's coronations in Milan and Paris.

Biennais supplied not only dinner services and regalia, but opulent nécessaire de voyage, which typically included utensils for taking coffee, tea and chocolate. Napoleon himself was known to enjoy warm chocolate whilst on campaign or when working late as his trusted diplomat Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne writes in his memoirs in 1831, “at night he never ordered coffee, but chocolate, of which he made me take a cup with him. But this only happened when our business was prolonged till two or three in the morning”.

Nécessaire's came into fashion during the Regencé (1715-23) in France and were defined as a case with fitted compartments, easily transportable, containing a maximum of objects in a minimum of space. Biennais’ masterful creations in this field, predisposed from his early training as a tabletier, were supplied in various equipages to the Royal houses of Russia, Austria, and Bavaria, as well as multiple creations for the Emperor, including his campaign cassette which was used the morning of the battles of Ulm and Austerlitz.

As well as the Borghese nécessaire de voyage or supper service, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the gift of Audrey Love, and illustrated in A. Phillips and J. Sloane, Antiquity Revisited, English and French Silver-Gilt, from the Collection of Audrey Love, London, 1997, fig. 24), a nécessaire given to Pauline pre-marriage, subsequently bequeathed to her admirer the 10th Duke of Hamilton in 1825, is in the National Museum of Scotland. Napoleon commissioned another nécessaire for his adopted niece Stephanie de Beauharnais, presented upon her marriage in 1806, now in the Royal Collection, and another for his second wife Marie-Louise in 1810 at a cost of 8,400 francs.