Claude-Charles Saunier (1735-1807) was born into an important family of respected cabinetmakers and received his Master cabinetmaker status on 31 July 1752. He shared his workshop at Faubourg Saint-Antoine with his father Jean-Charles, but later moved to Rue Saint-Claude. His production started during the reign of Louis XV, but he is especially known for the resplendent furniture he produced during the reign of Louis XVI. Distinguished by a great Neoclassical simplicity, his creations are exemplified by the delicate stringing which highlight the wooden veneer.
This type of bureau à cylindre (cylinder desk) was notably made by Saunier and several examples decorated in vernis Martin, painted sheet metal or veneer, with the same architectural structure above the cylinder and sometimes with a large circular medallion at the centre of the cylinder are known:
- former Luigi Laura Collection, Sold Sotheby's and Poulain and Le Fur, Paris, 27 June 2001, lot 83 (Parisian varnish), cf. fig. 4;
- former Collection of the Dukes of Mortemart, Sold Sotheby's, Paris, 11 February 2015, lot 104 (painted sheet metal), cf. fig. 6;
- Collection of Nissim de Camondo Museum, Paris, inv. CAM 55 (speckled mahogany veneer)
The gilt bronze ornamentation also holds a prominent place in his styling and we find the same rosette which adorns our cylinder desk on a pair of corner cabinets in the Nissim de Camondo Museum (CAM inv. 125.1 and 2, cf. fig. 5).
Saunier collaborated with the marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre on many pieces of furniture. Daguerre had a list of prestigious clients which necessitated his request and expectation for the highest quality production. Thus, in 1787, the Duc d’Harcourt, Governor of the Grand Dauphin, via Daguerre, took delivery of a secrétaire cabinet stamped by Saunier. Other clients included Comte de Narbonne, Secretary of War under Louis XVI, Jean-Baptiste Roslin d’Ivry and Lord and Lady Spencer.
Mantle clock with Parcae belonging to Monsieur Coustou, by André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732)
Created around 1710-1725, this model is described in his posthumous inventory of 1732 at number 76: “a clock case with Parcae for Mr. Coustou, the cartouche, frames, three figures and a fourth which is the old ... 164 l”. André-Charles Boulle asked the sculptor Nicolas Coustou (1658-1733) to create the three Parcae figures, specifically for this clock.
This mythological theme is an allegory of time, when the three Parcae - sisters born of Erebus and Night, determine the length of Life. Clotho, on the left, spins the thread of Life with her spindle, Lachesis measures it and Atropos, the eldest, cuts it.
The Parcae figures belong to the cabinetmaker’s repertoire as evidenced in his posthumous inventory of 1732 and published by J.-P. Samoyault: “a box containing the models of old [mantle clocks] with Parcae, with support prototypes and culs-de-lampe” and “a [box] containing models of mantle clocks with Parcae with the isolated time”.
The motif of the three gilt bronze Parcae was applied, as with the figures of Aspasia and Socrates, onto medal cabinets and can also be found on the upper part of a cabinet with shelves in the Collection of the Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace, with another in the Wallace Collection in London (inv. F413, see fig. 10).
Finally, our clock not only adopts this theme, but tranforms it as the three Parcae figures are sculptured in the round, thus different from the models which used relief carved panels.
Among the copies listed, with some variations, we can cite:
- a model fitted with an ebony plinth like the one presented during the Boulle exhibition in Frankfurt, no. 14. An example bought by the Duke of Wellington around 1960 for the Stratfield Saye House is fitted with a central cartouche on the plinth (op. cit. Connaissance des Arts, nov. 1964, p. 107);
- a model without a plinth on a filing cabinet, one of which is kept at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore and one in the Wallace Collection, London (see P. Hughes, Wallace Collection Furniture Catalogue, vol. 2, pp. 696-706, fig. 10);
- a model entirely in gilt bronze auctioned by Sotheby's Paris, on 5 July 2001, lot 18;
- a model fitted with a barometer and spiral fluted feet. A mantle clock cited in the posthumous inventory of Mr. Eustache Bonnemet established 6 September 1771, no. 126 (A.N. Min XLV);
This last model could relate to our clock which had its movement and its dial changed after 1771, the date of the Bonnemet Collection auction. The placement of the clock on our desk is difficult to date and could have taken place during the 1770s, a period which was known for the rekindling of Boulle works, recreated by the great cabinetmakers Adam Weisweiller and Étienne Levasseur. However, it seems more likely that the affiliation took place in France, or Russia during the 1820s. Perhaps at this time, the Louis XV dial and the movement, signed by François Ageron (master clockmaker status in 1741), was also inserted into the Louis XIV casement with the Parcae. The spiral feet to the base, although resembling a Louis XIV aesthetic, typical on certain Boulle clocks (see Frick collection, New York, inv. 1999.5.148 and Château de Versailles, inv. O 117.1) is a creation from the reign of Louis XVI, and thus earlier than the placement of the mantle clock onto the cylinder desk.
This mantle clock model is found without precise description in several important 18th century collections:
- a mantle clock adorning a wardrobe’s lower part by Pierre Gruyn in 1722;
- another is described by the decorative arts dealer Thomas-Joachim Hébert in 1723;
- one featured on a Samuel Bernard desk;
- two were kept at Paul-Louis Randon's house in Boisset, one with astronomical signs;
- one would have been offered by Louis XV to the Marquis de Puyzieulx, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs from 1747 to 1751
Count Alexander Sergeyevich Stroganov (1733-1811)
Alexander Sergeyevich was born in 1733 (fig. 1) into a powerful family from Novgorod, who occupied an area in the Ural Mountains during the 16th century and mined its fabulous ore deposits.
In 1768, Sergeyevich participated in the founding of the Imperial Academy of Arts. He first married Anna Vorontsova in 1758, and in 1771 he married Ekaterina Trubetskaya. He undertook a second trip to Europe and settled in Paris in Rue de Richelieu, moved to Rue Montmartre and finally settled in Rue de Verneuil. His two children Pavel Alexandrovich and Sofia were born in Paris.
Passionate about the arts, he built one of the most important collections of paintings, buying from the most prestigious auctions of the time. He commissioned paintings by Hubert Robert and Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, busts of Voltaire and Diderot by the sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, a pair of ebony consoles after a very original design by the cabinetmaker Jacques Dubois and also from the widow Dulac, Rue Saint-Honoré. He notably owned the pair of vases from the former Anton Luigi Laura Collection (Sotheby's Sale, Paris, 27 June 2001, lot 76). According to the art historian and curator Otto von Falke (1862-1942), who wrote the preface for the Stroganov auction in 1931, it appears that “Count Stroganov had a predilection for ebony with strong contrasts of gilt bronze. Almost all the Louis XVI furniture in the palace is clad with this wood type and comes from the best cabinetmakers such as Martin Carlin (...)”. He also listed as belonging to the Count, “Saunier's cylinder desk with the pendulum (lot 217)” (fig. 8).
In 1801, Tsar Paul I appointed Count Stroganov to the Construction Supervisory Board of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan.
The Stroganov Palace
The Stroganov Palace, in the heart of St. Petersburg on Nevsky Prospect, known as one of the jewels of St. Petersburg architecture, was built by the architect Francesco Batolomeo Rastrelli in 1753, (fig 2). He was also responsible for the Winter Palace. Distinctly influenced by the Italian Baroque, the Palace during its construction, had a Baroque decor similar to those found in churches in Bavaria. When the Count returned to Russia, he undertook a reconstruction of the Palace which entailed both expansion and a renovation in the ‘antique’ style. In around 1790, the famous picture gallery and the mineralogical cabinet were built (fig. 7).
In 1914, Sergei Alexandrovich (1852-1923), last Count of the Stroganov dynasty decided to open the Palace to the public. Four years later, the Bolsheviks occupied the fourth floor of the Palace, which in 1919 became a museum in the city of Petrograd and was subsequently annexed to the State Hermitage Museum. The Soviet government, proprietor of the contents, began to disperse the collection. This desk was relinquished by the Soviet Union during large auctions of the artworks between the two World Wars, in order to finance industrial development. The lack of liquidity (currency and gold) led the Politburo to consider exporting in order to make a profit on art and antiques. These sales were studied by Elena A. Osokina, “Gold for industrialization. The sale of artworks by the USSR in France during the period of Stalin’s five-year plans”, in Cahiers du Monde Russe, no. 41/1, January-March 2000. Auctions began in the early 1920s and increased after 1927 when a whole process of expropriation and confiscation of property was put in place. In 1927, the Sovnarkom proposed “to organize the export out of the USSR of antiques and luxury items, namely: antique furniture, household objects, devotional artifacts, bronze, porcelain, crystal, silver, brocade, rugs, tapestries, paintings, autographs, precious gems of Russian origin, handicrafts and other objects not of value to museums”. This last point was not retained and was especially adapted to enable the auction of “objects having a value for the museums”.
The Soviets thus orchestrated several auctions where the old paintings and the most beautiful pieces of French decorative arts were presented for public sale at the Rudolph Lepke Gallery in Berlin. The Stroganov Collection was sold on 12 and 13 May 1931 (see fig. 8 and 9).
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