Antoine Boullier’s fame (b. Châteauroux 30 January 1749, d. Paris 19 February 1835) is largely due to the originality of his career, starting with a master’s degree in goldsmithing in Paris by privilege of the Ecole royale gratuite de dessin. Son of the goldsmith Joseph Boullier, he learned the trade from his father as an apprentice in 1764; three years later, he went to Paris as an apprentice to another silversmith, whose identity is not known. According to his son, he also attended the painter Vien’s workshop and then entered the Ecole royale gratuite de dessin.
On leaving the school in 1774, he determined to become a silversmith in Paris and was received into this prestigious community in 1775. Due to the lack of surviving documents, it is difficult to know how Boullier’s workshop operated under the ancien regime. However, the quantity of silver pieces leaving his workshop, which can be calculated from the registers of the Corps de l’Orfèvrerie, shows a relatively busy production. In 1776, this output corresponded to 6 kg then increased to 36 kg in 1778 and 126 kg in 1779, to reach 1,230 kg in 1789. On 14 June 1793, a goldsmith and jewellery company was founded between Boullier, his sister – responsible for the jewellery – and Edme-Catherine Vanestienvord in charge of business.
In setting up this association, Boullier probably wanted to retire, but in March 1804, he returned to business and was once again described as a 'marchand et fabricant orfèvre' (merchant and silversmith).
Like the other silversmiths of the ancien regime, it is difficult to know previously what came out of Boullier’s workshop, and almost impossible to know for the later period, even after his final return to business shortly before the Empire. Nevertheless, he was still an important silversmith, since he took part in the Exposition des produits de l’industrie in 1806. The jury awarded him a first-class silver medal for some 'pièces très bien exécutées dans un genre sage'.
Despite his success, Boullier worked little for the Emperor, who used his services more as an expert, and his most prestigious French client (also founder of the Ecole royale gratuite de dessin) was the Duke d’Orléans Philippe-Egalité, whose patronage allowed him to bear the title of orfèvre ordinaire du Duc d’Orléans (silversmith in ordinary to the Duke d’Orléans). Boullier also received orders from the Marquis de Marigny, known for his modern taste, but his customers were not limited to the court circle or Paris. As one of the greatest goldsmiths of the 18th century, he received orders from foreign clients, including the court of St. Petersburg and Thomas Jefferson.
Other founders of the Ecole royale gratuite de dessin were also his clients. At school, Boullier was 'fondé de M. le Duc de Charost' (funded by the Duke de Charost), which means that the Duke had financed the purchase of the necessary equipment for Boullier’s studies. Two tureens, as well as four three-branch candelabra bearing his mark, with the Duke de Mortemart arms, but coming from the Duke de Charost, have survived. Dated 1778, they belong to the service described by the Journal de Paris on 3 January 1779, as well as two of the 'four tureens, their lids and stands' inventoried at the Duchess de Charost’s death. The Charost hotel was located on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and was acquired from the Duchess by Pauline Bonaparte, the First Consul’s favorite sister, in 1803, the same year of her wedding with Prince Camillo Borghese. This hotel now houses the British Embassy in Paris. During the Empire, Boullier took part in the creation of the Emperor’s tea urn in 1810 alongside Biennais, today in the collection of the Louvre Museum.
As with all the great silversmiths of the ancien regime, Antoine Boullier’s production ranged from the simple to the ornate, with an accomplished balance between the ornament and the forms.
Inherited from the teaching of the Ecole royale gratuite de dessins, this style skillfully combines antique inspiration, purity of forms and choice of ornaments combining naturalism and antiquity. This characterizes the years 1775-90. Another characteristic of Boullier is the quality of the chasing, 'refouillant' (pushing) the metal, executed with almost mechanical precision.
1 Y.Cartier, Revue des Arts, no. 156, 2007, pp. 65-78
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