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The Norman wardrobe

Armoire Normande

«Dear Wardrobe» - I like to repeat these words of Chekhov's play "the Cherry Orchard", when referring to the Norman wardrobe. These wardrobes were made solely in Normandy, North-West France. This piece of traditional French furniture, however, unlike other regional furniture, exists not only in Normandy, but throughout the whole of France and even in other countries.

The Norman wardrobe is more than a simple piece of furniture in a traditional French house. It has its own history and a particular significance in the daily life of a French family.

Before, this piece of furniture was so famous that the French expression "As strong as a Normand wardrobe" ("Fort comme une armoire normande") was invented. However, the Norman wardrobe impresses not only by its size (a very practical feature but never however higher than 240 cm), shapes and lines expressing strength and power, but above all by its elegant and powerful decoration, beautifully sculpted wood, a life-affirming artistic expression.

Norman wardrobes are quite old, going back to the 18th C, with its "golden age" in the middle of the 19th C. Over 70 different models of Norman wardrobes are known to date. Each village or town has its own personal model - different models at distances of 10 or 20 km away!

As such, the item 4299 of our website is a typical model of Pays de Caux, a limestone plateau north of Rouen (with Yvetot for capital, where we live). It is a model of a Norman wardrobe with a cornice called "policeman's cap", « en chapeau de gendarme ». Indeed, each local model has a specific and recognizable detail. This original feature is one of the wonderful characteristics of these wardrobes.
Other than the beautiful decorative aspect of Norman wardrobes, their actual structure is something remarkable. Even though they undergo constant improvements over the years, their fundamental structure remains the same, flawless and outstanding! It is indeed created without a single nail, enabling it to be assembled and disassembled in 5 to 10 minutes with only a small hammer and a tipless large nail.

Upon delivery of these Normand wardrobes, we promptly remind their owners, how hard the mounting task will be! i.e. effortless and enjoyable...!
The Norman wardrobe as a piece of furniture in France has long earned a special respect. First of all, because it is a wedding wardrobe, a traditional gift from father to daughter at her wedding, of which the richness and sophistication of its decoration reflects the family's high social level.
The various sculpted patterns were associated with the father's trade, of which the attributes where represented in flower arrangements, such as roses and rose bushes, or bunches of grapes and flower baskets. Agricultural symbols and musical instruments were also popular: harvesting tools, violins, horns, cellos, music scores...
The story of each wardrobe began the day a girl was born into the family. On that day, the father chose and cut the strongest oak on his estate. After seven to ten years, on the day of his daughter's first communion, this oak was cut into boards and dried. 8 to 10 years later, on the day of his daughter's engagement, the master cabinetmaker set to work. Thus, the tree was dried and aged for about 20 years before passing into the hands of a cabinetmaker (hence the irreproachable quality of old wardrobes: the perfect fit of the parts and their strength). The manufacture of a wedding wardrobe took at least six months of ongoing work (a master could not manufacture more than two of these cabinets per year), and the wedding day was chosen once the wardrobe was ready.
What's more, no one was allowed to see this wardrobe before the actual wedding day and it was only on the day of the celebration itself that the parents presented the Norman wardrobe to the parents and guests in all its splendor as one of the main "characters" of the celebration. During the years thereafter, the newlyweds ceremoniously used this gift and it was passed it on from generation to generation.

Today, in France, cabinetmakers who have kept the secret of ancient craftsmanship still build these famous Norman cabinets but with modern tools and exclusively upon order..... It is unlikely however that they will use a 20-year-old tree to make these 150-year-old Norman beauties that are sought after everywhere in France and that we proudly present to you on our website (units 4297, 4299, 4301).


Thistles and their symbolism

ChardonsIn French art and crafts, thistles are one of the oldest and most frequently represented motifs. In Russia, thistles are just a pungent herb, but in the European tradition, this evergreen and unpretentious plant has a specific meaning. In France, images of thistles can be found on earthenware clocks and vases (including the works of famous decorators such as E. Gallé), in silverware or crystal craft, in carpet patterns, and carved on jewelry. What is the reason for such a fervor in French culture for the image of the thistle? The fact is that the thistle is an ancient symbol of courage and sun protection.
In the Christian tradition, the thistle symbolizes the Passion of Christ and the Virgin Mary.
It is also the logo of the French city Nancy, and more globally, of the Lorraine region, symbolizing the Lorraine dukes' motto: "Gather thistles, expect prickles" ("qui s'y frotte, s'y pique"). In the Basque Country, southwest France, the thistle is called the "Flower of the sun" - an auspicious symbol. Is is also called "Witch's herb", being associated with ancient beliefs that wizards cannot look at the sun. This is why the thistle, symbol of the sun, serves as a home protector against evil spirits. Hence the representation of thistles on home furniture. Thistles also have a specific symbolism in other European countries. In Scotland, with the famous Knights' Order of the Thistle and in Germany, where blue thistles are considered a symbol of male fidelity.



IvoireOur website presents a unique Indian sculpture in ivory with a very special intrigue full of details that require special comments.
The sculpture is called "Shiva Parivar" (unit 4102). Shiva ("to bring happiness") in the Hindu mythology of ancient India is one of the three supreme gods (with Vishnu and Brahma) who form a divine trimurti (triad) like the Holy Trinity of Christianity. Shiva also represents the higher cosmic consciousness and static masculinity of the universe, which, together with the opposite dynamic feminine commencement (Prakriti) creates the harmony of the universe.
In ancient Indian culture, Shiva was revered as the God of Dance and often presented as a dancer. The Great Shiva is a multi-armed "dancing universe" deity, traditionally represented with a number of invariable attributes, of which our sculpture presents the most important: the trident; the cobra wrapped around the neck; the three lines on forehead; tiger skin around the hips; hand mudras; Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, son of Shiva and Parvati, etc.
The symbolic ritual gestures of Shiva's hands (so-called Wisdom) express the idea of intrepidity, the presentation of gifts and goodwill. Finally, the image of the supreme masculinity of the universe, embodied by Shiva and traditionally represented by the Lingam, a phallic symbol, is very subtly portrayed here. The very contours of the sculpture, the verticality of the composition, the shape of the elephant's tusk in which the sculpture is carved, are indirectly associated with the lingam and express masculinity. Of course, Shiva as the masculine principle of the universe in the ancient philosophy of India could not exist without his consort, or Prakriti (Shakti), who embodies the eternal female commencement.
The great work of the sculptor, with its fullness and perfection in skill, embodies these important ideas and representations of ancient India. There is no doubt that this sculpture was made before the prohibition of the ivory trade, i.e. before the 1940 International Convention, as indicated by the attribution of the sale.


George SAND service

CristalThe liquor service of this kind (a small liquor jug and a few miniature glasses) has a very special name in France: the "George Sand service", in honor of French writer George Sand (pseudonym of Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin, Baroness Dudevant). George Sand took the pseudonym of a man to illustrate her emancipation (she was also one of the first to wear male costumes in the 19th century). She was a friend of Alfred de Musset, Franz Liszt, Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, Eugène Delacroix, Victor Hugo, and the beloved of Chopin.
Of course, the fact that a woman owned such a service with the opportunity to drink alcohol in glasses the size of a thimble, testified to a particular mentality, in connection with her thirst for emancipation.
It took little for crystal factories to link Georges Sand and her novel "Laura, voyage dans le cristal" to crystal and the characters of the book: hence was born the name for these special liquor services: the George Sand liquor service.



Le Grand Dépôt Emile Bourgeois

Porcelaine grand dépot 2We have several china sets of notorious brands on our site. Here, it is the brand of Emile Bourgeois, who owned a famous boutique in Paris. Emile Bourgeois' famous French-style store, located at 21 rue Drouot, in Paris, opened in 1862 and until its closure in 1902, was dedicated exclusively to high-end china. Emile Bourgeois (1823-1926), always remained faithful to his philosophy: to present the best and only the best in chinaware and earthenware.
The greatest china and earthenware houses, such as Theodore Haviland, Haviland Morel, Choisy le Roi and others presented in this Parisian store sold here the best of their porcelain and ceramics products, and without exaggeration, many were the products on Emile Bourgeois' counter that could be considered masterpieces. These pieces bear the mark "Le Grand Dépôt Emile Bourgeois at 21 rue Drouot".
Within Emile Bourgeois' Parisian shop, the first catalogue was also created, where one could purchase china objects or other products. They were not items made in series, but unique objects of applied and decorative arts. Due to the high quality of the objects during the first few years of the shop's existence, it was soon transformed into a "museum-shop" and it's these same objects which represented French china at international fairs, testifying the excellence in French chinaware and earthenware.

Grand dépot Emile Bourgeois_1

Grand dépot Emile Bourgeois_2


"The banker's mirror"

miroir sorciere 1

"The "banker's mirror" (or, as it is also called, the "magic mirror") spread within European nobility circles in the 15th century. The creation of convex mirrors was linked to the great interest in optics, manifest at the beginning of the Renaissance period in Flanders. The spherical surface of these mirrors, first covered inside with tin, then with an amalgam of mercury and gold or bronze, not only brought more light to the room, but also allowed the whole room to be seen without having to turn or move. Of course, this characteristic of convex mirrors made them become by default "surveillance mirrors", being thus unintentional prototypes of modern video surveillance cameras. They were once located in places that needed to be monitored and guarded, such as expensive goods stores or banks. The name "banker's mirror" comes from there. Convex mirrors as attributes of power, supervision and control quickly spread in the circles of the rich aristocracy in order to survey their servants. The latter, due to their ignorance and naiveté, believed that with these "magic mirrors", the owners even continued to observe them in their absence.
Progressively, the superstitious notion of "magical mirror" disappeared and the capacity of these convex mirrors to maximize light in the rooms became well appreciated. These "banker mirrors" remained popular in France (and England) until the middle of the XXth C amongst nobility, following which they were slowly replaced by the simplified "sun mirrors". Our website offers "banker mirrors" from the mid 19th C and 20th C (units 4029 et 4031).
Art history shows the high status of "banker mirrors" as household antiques. Since the Renaissance period, these mirrors are represented in the most famous paintings of the Flemish School of Art and not only do they constitute a feature of the paintings but also carry a specific philosophical meaning.

The "banker mirror" for example is represented in painter Jan van Eyck's (1385 - 1441) most famous painting, "Portrait of the Arnolfini couple". Jan van Eyck was for Flanders what Leonardo da Vinci was for Italy. Indeed in this painting, and the first ever "twin painting", the sun mirror is by no means accidental. The painting, which belonged to Marguerite of Austria, Philippe II and Georges IV, shows a scene depicting wedding rites, where the husband, banker Arnolfini (his family owned banks in Florence and Bruges, where Jan van Eyck lived), pledges allegiance to his newlywed. In those days, a priest or witnesses were not required at a wedding. Anyone could swear an oath in front of a lit candle. This symbol of an omniscient Christ, a burning candle on a candlestick, is present in this painting. The couple is surrounded by customary household objects of the rich Flemish home, of which, just above their holding hands, a mirror, such a blessing, as if the eye of God is looking over them.

miroir sorciere 3

Such a mirror, convex in itself, was a luxury object for the time (in the houses of the commoners, polished metal was usually the norm, and the technical possibility of making flat mirrors appeared later). Moreover, such a mirror with an expensive frame became a work of art in itself. miroir sorciere 4In Jan van Eyck's painting, the mirror in a lush frame with scenes from the Bible provides additional theological and moral meaning to the painting (in theological symbolism, the convex mirror is considered a "speculum sine macula" - "impeccable mirror, a mirror without defects", symbolizing simplicity and purity) and becomes a kind of silent witness and medium, sanctifying the rite, emphasizing the special spiritual meaning of the painting. 

The presence of a "banker's mirror" in the painting of Jan Van Eyck's student, Petrus Dristus (1410 - 1475) is full of meaning also. "A goldsmith in his shop" depicts a couple in a goldsmith's workshop - Saint Eligius, the patron saint of goldsmiths - ordering their wedding ring. Upon the saint's table rests a convex mirror showing a two people outside of the frame of the real scene, giving a surreal dimension, such as this "magical mirror" playing the role of a prophetic mirror.

In Robert Campin's "the Werl Triptych", the convex round mirror also plays a particular role, making it possible to understand the artist's idea: the vision of John the Baptist with the Bible and the Lamb of God in his hands and a monk in prayer (donor of painting). This vision acquires the authenticity of reality by the fact that, just like the other objects of the material world - the room, the landscape, the figures of the monks - it is reflected in the "magic mirror". Thus, thanks to a single detail - the convex mirror - the existence of the physical and the metaphysical, the sensual and the supersensitive takes precedence over the basic reality of the painting.


The half porcelain

Demi porcelaineSince the middle of the XIXth Century, dishes were made not only in pure porcelain or earthenware, but also in half porcelain or fine earthenware, hence halfway between porcelain and earthenware.
Fine earthenware is an opaque white clay paste, with a fine, dense and sonorous texture, covered with a lead glaze. It is halfway between traditional earthenware and porcelain.
The mixture of this white clay with calcined and ground flint creates a kind of fine earthenware called English earthenware or cailloutage. It was developed in England by Josiah Wedgwood in 1769. If chalk is added to the clay or sand, it becomes pipeclay.
If feldspar is added in the mixture and the lead of the glazing has largely been replaced by borax, one gets a hard and fine earthenware or fine feldsparic earthenware.
Commonly called opaque porcelain or half porcelain, it contains kaolin, a white refractory clay which cooks at a high temperature.
It is sometimes commercially known as “ironstone”. Fine earthenware is covered with a glazing (or transparent varnish) containing a certain amount of lead. Decoration can be painted on the body bisque or printed beneath the glazing. It has sometimes been laid upon the glazing. The enamel of the earthenware contains tin and is waterproof, while the glaze of the semi-porcelain contains lead - crystal clear (this is clearly visible, for example, in the photo of our service 4028 on our website). The decoration possibilities of semi-porcelain are very wide and as with porcelain, allow to create large dishes. Dishes in semi-porcelain are appreciated for their creative decorations, original shapes and solidity.
La demi-porcelaine


Boulle style and technique

boulle 1

André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732), a unique cabinetmaker, was the initiator of a famous technique: the association of bronze, brass and marquetry for the sake of art and craftsmanship. His talent also gave birth to a specific style in luxury applied arts during 4 centuries from Louis XIV to Napoleon III.
André-Charles Boulle was born in Paris and was the son of carpenter Johann Bolt, from the German-Dutch duchy, who settled in Paris just before his son's birth, where he opened a carpentry workshop and took the French pseudonym Jean Boulle. From his youngest age, taught by his father, André-Charles learnt drawing, painting and carpentry skills and showed a evident premature talent.
At age 23, in 1666, André-Charles Boulle discovers new potential in this art. He discovers for example the possibilities of using bronze for making furniture and thus becomes an indisputable master of marquetry. Within just a few years, André-Charles becomes popular in Paris and at age 30, is noticed by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, first minister of the King, who introduces him to the king, calling him the "the most dexterous cabinetmaker of Paris". Louis XIV hence names him the Royal Cabinetmaker and provides him with accommodation in the Louvres, then the royal residence. Boulle is thenceforth honored with the highest royal distinction and also has a certain freedom in providing to various stores.
Henceforth, Boulle makes a very extensive amount of furniture and decorative artifacts for the King's new home, the Château de Versailles.
Boulle opens two workshops, where his whole family works, namely his sister, the first famous woman cabinetmaker.
It was during these specific years that Boulle's personal style matured and became known as the "Boulle style". This title became an official title in the History of World Art. This technique, furniture decoration, had already been used before Boulle however, namely by Italian masters in the XVIe C and Dutch masters in the XVIIth C. Nobody however attained such talent and perfection in the art of cabinetmaking as André-Charles Boulle.
Boulle's style is characterized not only by the artistic subtlety in decoration, but also by the array of materials used, mainly materials brought back from South America and India, such as silver, bronze, brass, ivory, horn, mother of pearl and tortoise shell. Their usage showed off their natural beauty and the decorative possibilities of these noble materials.

Boulle's talent was very much appreciated in Versailles and his work much demanded after. Not only did the Court order works from him, but also the French and European nobility (of which, the king of Spain and noblemen from Bavaria and Cologne in Germany). There were over 40 people working in his workshops to meet this demand. Despite this success, Boulle had financial problems and even had to turn to the King to help him at times. The reason for the financial lack was that the making of each object was long, pricey and required rare materials. The master became therefore indebted, and had to wait several months before receiving the money from the sales. What's more, Boulle was a fervent art collector. His collection consisted namely of 40 drawings by Raphael, several sculptures by Michel Ange, paintings by Rubens, Synders and Van Dyck.
In short, despite Boulle's unprecedented success, the financial status of his workshops was precarious. The cherry on the cake was when a fire broke out in his workshop in 1720, destroying the entire workshop with the valuable working materials, tools, his painting collection and a large amount of pieces of furniture, made by himself. Following this disaster, his four sons took over the workshop and creation process along with other disciples. They sustained his style, the "Boulle style" which was at the forefront of fashion amongst the French aristocracy during 200 years.
But what exactly characterizes the Boulle style and technique?
Most importantly, it's the inclusion of tortoise shell in a complex decor. It should be noted that the shell was not embedded directly into the wooden base; the decorative coverings in tortoise shell and brass were morelike superimposed and fixed upon the wooden base. This technique made it possible to create surprisingly thin and complex ornaments and images, much more refined than with the embedding technique.
For the wooden furniture, Boulle used various rare species of wood: ebony, pear, rosewood, sandalwood, elm, cherry, mahogany. In addition to wood, he used metals, ivory, horn and mother-of-pearl. He was also the first cabinetmaker in Europe to integrate exotic materials such as tortoiseshell into the furniture's decorations. The turtles were not common turtles with grey shells, similar to fossils, but turtles of the oldest species from the Caribbean: the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), a scaly turtle, now an extremely rare endangered species.
The particularity of the shell of this turtle was that it was divided into separate translucent plates and its pattern was of decorative patches. These plates were softened in hot water or over a fire, became plastic and could hence be worked into any shape, before being cooled again regaining their original hardness.
We have objects on our website which show how plastic tortoiseshell really is. These two boxes (lot 3127), show in a close-up photo how the shell has taken the shape given by the wooden base of the box. The tortoiseshell, this ancient and now rare material, is very beautiful and "in its purest form", without decorations or superimpositions. However, in Boulle's time, the aesthetics were different and decoration meant Royal splendor and luxury, something that needed to surround the "Sun King", Louis XIV.
What exactly is the essence of the technique developed by Boulle?
The technique of the Boulle marquetry consists of carefully tracing and then cutting with a saw 2 superposed plates, which are in general a scale plate (tortoiseshell) and a copper / brass plate. This simultaneous cutting makes it possible to obtain 2 perfectly identical patterns, which once inverted, allow for two separate decors. The first part: a "positive" pattern with a scale base and brass ornamentation, the counterpart: a "negative" pattern with a brass base and scale ornamentation. Each pattern is then placed either on to 2 identical pieces of furniture to create a "pair" Un double ou un symétrique, or on to the same piece of furniture by being placed on the inside and the outside of it.

The Boulle marquetry is not embedded directly in the furniture frame but assembled upside down on a paper support before being glued (with bone glue) to the furniture frame. Once the decor is glued, the paper is removed in order to polish the furniture.
The half-transparency of the tortoiseshell sheets made it possible to paint over them with any colour: red, blue, yellow... This made the natural patchy pattern of the sheets of shell particularly shiny. These characteristics of exotic materials were revealed by Boulle, providing incredibly spectacular and decorative luxury products, where were combined expressiveness of the furniture's shape and elegance of decoration. Indeed, the subtlety of the engraved design, the complexity of the ornament itself, and the brilliance of colour, based on a dazzling combination of golden shades of metal (bronze, brass or copper) and the red-black colour of the turtle shell (the shell could be painted in other colours, but the most spectacular and popular was red) were inimitable and quite remarkable.

The furniture created by André-Charles Boulle decorates today the most famous French castles: Versailles, Chantilly, Cheverny, Vaux-Le-Vicomte, etc.
His masterpieces are on show in the biggest museums in the world: the Louvre (Paris), the Wallace collection (London), the Getty Museum (Los Angeles) and the Royal collection (London and Windsor). The famous Higher education school for applied arts of Paris, the Ecole Boulle, "Ecole Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs et Appliqués de Paris" is named after him, Charles-André Boulle. (The photo shows objects made according to the Boulle technique: unit 3949 (see here) and 3950 (see here), as well as in the style of Boulle Boulevard: unit 2052 (see here).

For further information on Boulle, read here: Marqueterie Boulle


Ring holders

Baguier 1

In France these little ring holders made for temporarily putting rings has existed for a long time (for storing rings, there are jewelry boxes). These ring holders came in many shapes. They could be crystal or glass bowls on legs, small bronze bowls decorated with reliefs, china decorated saucers on bronze legs or small glass baskets. In the 20th century, the famous crystal houses such as Daum and Lalique continued the tradition and produced ring holders in their preferred materials: crystal, opal glass, glass paste, etc.

In general, in France each new human need calls for its corresponding product. For example, in the dining room, there are snail plates, oyster plates, asparagus plates. There are desert dishes just for cherries, teapots just for tea, or coffee, or herb tea. Sugar bowls for caster sugar and others for sugar cubes. Not to mention the quantity of cutlery for all different purposes! Noble women always had at reach little sweet boxes and pill boxes, and also little beauty-spot containers (beauty-spots that courtesans put on their faces as a beauty accessory in the 18th C). Not to forget horse riders who carried little pouches for change.
Each need was answered to through the creation of a corresponding product. Thus the famous French sophistication, due in part to these numerous artifacts.


Cave 1From the end of the 18th century, liquor cabinets became an integral part of French society and travel, allowing dignitaries to spend long periods of time in coaches during their travels. Since then, perhaps no other luxury object has had as much success in the aristocratic circles of France as these liquor cabinets, manufactured with great taste and sophistication. Today, at the famous DROUOT auctions in Paris, these ingenious masterpieces created by cabinetmakers, which can include inlayed jewelry, are still at the top of the sales, attracting antique lovers not only for their utilitarian function, but also for their exceptional decorative beauty.
"Get rich!" - declared in 1840 François Guizot, French Prime Minister under Louis Philippe. The new bourgeoisie responded enthusiastically to this call by surrounding itself with luxury and prestige. The entire economic and social context of the time was conducive to the development of lush and exquisite interiors with beautiful objects, such as liquor cabinets. It is believed that it was Georges Sand herself who first introduced liqueur cabinets thereafter becoming the pride of masters and nobles.







Cave 2Liquor cabinets began to spread rapidly during the First Empire (1804-1815) and until the Restoration period (1814-1830) the shapes were austere and laconic, the only decorations being small marquetry inserts. Preference was given to the quality of production, rather than artistic dexterity. Later however, a number of liqueur cabinet manufacturers decided to improve the appearance of the cabinets. They began to decorate them in search of true artistic perfection. Emphasis was placed on the crystal glasses and decanters of the cabinets: they were equipped with eight, twelve, sixteen and even thirty-two square-section glasses with gold plating and, in general, two or four decanters. The famous French crystal manufacturers: Creusot, Saint-Louis, de Clichy, Sèvres, Pantin, Baccarat, provided their own brands, and competed with each other in refinement and infinite versatility of the crystal. It could be cut or engraved with etching, brushed, cut, twisted or gilded. Around 1835 - 1840, Bohemia crystal became fashionable along with coloured crystal which offered new shades.


Cave 3The July 1830-1848 monarchy and the rise of the great bourgeoisie led to an emphasis on prestige attributes. Thus, in aristocratic families, it became a tradition to present liqueur cabinets as wedding gifts as a testimony to the high status of the family. Demand for luxury products, including liqueur cabinets, increased dramatically at that time among the rich and aristocratic elite. This increase in demand lead to an increase in supply and the emergence of new models with highly sophisticated designs and shapes: oval, round, poly-loped, octagonal. At the same time, the abolition of rules pertaining to shops allowed entrepreneurs and cabinetmakers to create their own small workshops and produce real masterpieces - small pieces of furniture and chests of liqueur cabinets of very high quality. Thus, liqueur cabinets gradually acquired the function of being attributes of the French lifestyle, with no equal in other countries.



In other European countries, items with similar uses, such as trays, cases or chests for decanters, possibly in mahogany, and often used on ships by naval officers did not constitute a particular form of household goods, nor were considered exquisite works of art. It is only in France that these objects of the aristocratic elite were considered real art or crafts products. Thus, in all European languages - Dutch, German, Spanish, English - these objects carry the French name - "caves à liqueurs".

Cave 4


At the height of the production of liqueur cabinets, a large number of variants were created. The rarest ones were musical, mechanical, turning, papier-mâché, opal glass or crystal with a gilded bronze frame. The most beautiful cabinets were made from rare woods (rosewood, tuya, maple or sequoia wood). The masters of redwood added bronze decorations with rich golden engravings or painted porcelain inserts. This great delicacy revealed the astonishing decorative possibilities of precious wood. The decorations however were very sober, underlining the beautiful structure and naturalness of the wood. During the Second Empire (1852-1870), cabinet-making workshops underwent major technical changes permitting the usage of marquetry, brass, mother-of-pearl, turtle shell or ivory in cabinet-making, and the making moreover of the classical and very popular liquor cabinet of the Napoleon 3rd period in blackened wood.





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The pinnacle of luxury occurred when the decorated brass cartouche showed the customer's monogram or the coat of arms of the aristocratic family, proprietor of the cabinet. The national exhibitions organized in Paris from 1844 onwards, later "Exhibitions Universals", contributed to the development of new decorative styles and a taste for aesthetics and hence to a growing demand for artistic products. At the height of the liquor cabinet period, mid 19th century, Pierre Lambert Tahan became one of the most renowned and respected manufacturers: from 1844 to 1879, his workshops supplied liquor cabinets to the Royal Court and then the Imperial Court. Other great names in this field are Paul Sormani, Alexandre Vervelle and Alphonse Giroux.




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Simultaneously, production mechanization began, increasing production volume and therefore making these prestigious liqueur cabinets more accessible to all. To meet this growing demand, the product had to be developed not by a single master, but by about a hundred people. In the past, the master cabinetmaker created alone and by hand one box for one liquor cabinet. Suddenly, he had to manage and overlook about one hundred workers: draftsmen, carpenters, cabinet makers, sculptors, lacquerers, bronze foundry men, goldsmiths and installers. However, according to research from Helmersen's Hélène Gallery, the production of liqueur cabinets began to decline at the end of the Second Empire. Indeed, with the complexity of production and decorating work, it took hundreds of hours of work for these works of art to be of impeccable artistic quality. Despite the mechanization of some processes, their production remained extremely laborious and costly, and so they gradually begun to disappear, becoming a real rarity.

In 1900, a little more than a century after the advent of liqueur cabinets, they finally ceased to be produced and disappeared from use due to the required high standard of competency of the workforce and corresponding manufacturing process. Not before the 1920s and 1930s, did they reappear, thanks to crystal manufacturer Baccarat who produced a simplified liquor cabinet for leisure sailors, in the form of a portable chest with three jugs and glasses. However, the aesthetics and artistic virtuosity of the previous century were long foregone.


This article was inspired by publications by the Auction house DROUOT in Paris: Dimitri Joannidès - Gazette N°41 du 27 November 2009




Oil lamps

Lampe à huile 6

Dear visitors, please allow us to give a short explanation on oil lamps and some characteristics of their internal structure.
As you may have noticed, when these lamps are electrical, the cables are usually inserted from the upper part of the lamp. This is because original oil lamps have a complex inner structure and namely contain an oil reservoir.
It is impossible to transform the lamp into an electrical one inserting the new mechanism from underneath as there are still oily remains in the reservoir, which the wires, etc. would have to go through.





Lampe à Huile 2Oil lamps were made as of 1837, using rapeseed oil (they're also called moderator oil lamps). Rapeseed oil was safe and reliable, yet the cleaning a complicated process. Hence, as of 1853 with the advent of petrol, oil lamps where replaced with kerosene lamps.
If the oil lamps required a piston to lift the oil (hence the two adjusting screws at the top of the lamp, very characteristic of oil lamps), no piston was required in the kerosene lamps that replaced them. ModerateurThis new fuel of a more liquid consistency rose by capillary action up the textile wick. Thus, simpler, the kerosene lamp gradually replaced the oil lamp in the second half of the 19th century (this is why oil lamps are not of other styles than the Napoleon III style, or before, while kerosene lamps were made in other later styles).
It is very rare today to find lamps with an intact reservoir. Oftentimes, the reservoir is punctured and hence there are unpleasant leaks.

n such cases, the lamps can be dismantled and cleaned and the reservoir removed. Thereafter, it is possible to make the lamp into an electrical one, bringing the new electrical system up through the bottom of the lamp.
To complete the new lamp, it can either keep its original glass lampshade or have a new modern one put on.
In both cases, the lamp is now clean, functional, aesthetic, and nearly 2-centuries old.


The Dagobert Chair

The “Dagobert Chair” is a type of traditional French armchair, designed from the image and drawing of the legendary bronze throne of King Dagobert I, who reigned in France during the 7th century. For many centuries, kings of France sat on this throne on the occasion of special ceremonies.
dagobert 1In the 11th century, the throne was listed as one of the treasures of the Abbey of Saint-Denis. Indeed, it was symbolically passing from monarch to monarch – for the matter, the chair was already rather damaged by this constant use.
In the 18th century, the armchair was transferred to the Royal Library in order to be preserved, along with 13 other treasures considered to be artistic and scientific monuments.
For centuries, Dagobert’s throne has been seen as an attribute for royal status, and the fact the king sat on this throne symbolised the legitimacy and the continuity of his authority.
Dagobert’s throne was used as such for the last time by Napoleon Bonaparte during the very first ceremony of the Legion of Honour in 1804 (the story tells that Napoleon Bonaparte broke this damaged chair by sitting on it). dagobert 2
A copy of Dagobert’s throne, made of cast iron covered with gold, was produced at the beginning of the 19th century and is still located in the Basilica of Saint-Denis. Its status of episcopal throne makes it a protected historical monument since 1999. 
Thus, the highly symbolical signification of the chair has been preserved over the centuries. It is not surprising that the throne was reproduced many times, which led to the creation of a specific type of furniture: the ‘Dagobert’.
The Dagobert chair is one of the oldest sorts of French armchairs.
This chair is usually lower than the ones from the following centuries, and often folding (it was appropriate for the life of the time, because of their owners constantly travelling, especially during the wars of the feudal era).
The form of the seat recalls the curved thrones used in Ancient Rome. The armchair is characterised by an X-shaped structure and a wide backrest, generally of Gothic or Renaissance style. The seat is usually made of taut leather or hessian, fixed on both sides. The edges of the armrests are decorated with lion heads, the same way the royal throne was.



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