A French early 19th century Empire gilt-bronze mounted mahogany and ebony letter-box casket possibly by Jacob-Desmalter, after a design by Percier et Fontaine, for Pauline Borghèse
Lot 161
A French early 19th century Empire gilt-bronze mounted mahogany and ebony letter-box casket
possibly by Jacob-Desmalter, after a design by Percier et Fontaine, for Pauline Borghèse
Sold for £16,875 (US$ 27,329) inc. premium

Lot Details
A French early 19th century Empire gilt-bronze mounted mahogany and ebony letter-box casket possibly by Jacob-Desmalter, after a design by Percier et Fontaine, for Pauline Borghèse A French early 19th century Empire gilt-bronze mounted mahogany and ebony letter-box casket possibly by Jacob-Desmalter, after a design by Percier et Fontaine, for Pauline Borghèse A French early 19th century Empire gilt-bronze mounted mahogany and ebony letter-box casket possibly by Jacob-Desmalter, after a design by Percier et Fontaine, for Pauline Borghèse A French early 19th century Empire gilt-bronze mounted mahogany and ebony letter-box casket possibly by Jacob-Desmalter, after a design by Percier et Fontaine, for Pauline Borghèse A French early 19th century Empire gilt-bronze mounted mahogany and ebony letter-box casket possibly by Jacob-Desmalter, after a design by Percier et Fontaine, for Pauline Borghèse
A French early 19th century Empire gilt-bronze mounted mahogany and ebony letter-box casket
possibly by Jacob-Desmalter, after a design by Percier et Fontaine, for Pauline Borghèse
the architectural sloping pediment centred to the top by a secret hinged panel to drop documents without the need of a key, within a spreading moulded surround, the top frieze with palmettes, flower-heads, bees and stars, the central cupboard door centred by a swivel mount depicting an eagle with spreading wings resting on an orb and holding a laurel wreath in his beak, the interior fitted to the top with a sliding slope, flanked to each side by an octagonal mount centred by a crowned cypher PB within a frieze of entrelacs, the left mount fitted with a secret velvet-lined compartment holding the key au trèfle, each surmounted by a standing warrior holding a spear, the panelled sides mounted with foliate shafts, on a breakfront base, 29cm wide, 24cm deep, 31cm high (11in wide, 9in deep, 12in high).

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    By repute Hôtel de Charost, on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, home of Princess Pauline Borghèse from 1804, now the site of the British embassy in Paris.

    Pauline Bonaparte has always attracted much attention throughout history. Known to be a colourful character – the youngest sister of Napoleon who became Princess Pauline when she married Prince Camillo Borghèse in 1803. This marriage was not a happy one, due to Pauline's infidelity and much of her life was riddled with scandal. We can only imagine what correspondence and secrets the box might have contained if associated with the character of Princess Pauline Borghèse.

    The firm Jacob-Desmalter et Cie., which came from the association of Georges Jacob and his second son François-Honoré-Georges, provided furniture and objects for the Bonaparte's apartments and for the Garde-meuble impérial. They exhibited at the second and third public exhibitions at the Products of French Industry held in 1801 and 1802 in the courtyard of the Louvre and Jacob-Desmalter received a Gold Medal at the 1802 exhibition. It was during the Empire period that his reputation was established and his talent fully recognised. It is recorded that in 1807, the firm employed 350 workmen. His work according to Serge Grandjean 'is esteemed not only on account of its stylistic homogeneity but because of its consistent high quality'. Charles Percier and his partner Pierre-François–Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853) published their Receuil des décorations intérieures, (1801, reissued in 1812) and were famous for their Napoleonic style, using motifs such as laurel wreaths, eagles and bees (decorative elements fully obvious on the present letter-box). Both were employed by Napoleon as both architects and interior decorators on various palaces such as Malmaison, Tuileries, Louvre, St. Cloud and Versailles. They transformed Napoleon's palaces into lavish showcases for the produce of French art and industry. Percier was also a partner of Jacob-Desmalter and they worked very closely together.

    Literature:
    Serge Grandjean, Empire Furniture, 1800-1825, London, 1966.
    Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine, Empire stylebook of Interior Design, All 72 plates from the 'Receuil de décorations intérieures', New York, 1991.
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