Of amaranth, finely chased gilt bronze and porcelain. Each with a shaped octagonal top with moulded gilt edging, decorated with a central gilt bronze bay leaf wreath, surrounded by four reflecting C scrolls draped in acanthus leaves and containing palmettes, linked with acanthus scrolls surmounted by palmettes, above a four sided tapering central stem, the upper section topped with a mahogany cavetto frieze decorated with gilt bronze edging and acanthus leaf mounts, above a gilt bronze collar of foliate rosettes intertwined with strapwork, from which descends a reverse ogee moulding decorated with gilt bronze edging and floral porcelain inserts, the whole raised upon a capital of ormolu supported by rams heads and acanthus scrolls, the lower section of the stem decorated with four porcelain plaques tapering in correspondence with the form of the stem and depicting floral tendrils, surrounded by mahogany and gilt bay leaf borders, terminating in a rectangular plinth of mahogany mounted with ormolu rosettes and edging, supported by four claw feet upon a shaped base of mahogany topped with bronze and decorated with ormolu acanthus leaves, the whole raised upon an ormolu base of conforming shape, with a porcelain marbled gros bleu ground decorated with floral and pastoral scenes, to the corners gilt bronze palmettes flanked by acanthus leaves, supported by four scrolling feet swagged with acanthus. Probably originally resting on a short plain plinth.

Bellangé, rue des Marais no. 33

Collection of George Watson Taylor at Erlestoke, Grand South Drawing Room.
Sold by George Robins on the premises at Erlstoke, 12th day (21 July), 1832, Grand South Drawing Room Lot 13.
Acquired at that sale by the 2nd Earl of Normanton, Somerly, Hampshire.
Thence by descent to the previous owner.

Cordier, Sylvain. Bellangé, Ébénistes. Une Histoire Du Goût Au Xixe Siècle. Paris: Mare & Martin Editions, 2012, pp. 264-266 and 599-601.

These magnificent torchères are stamped “Bellangé, rue des Marais no. 33,” and are the work of the celebrated ébéniste Louis-François Bellangé, (1759–1827), patriarch of one branch of the famous family of Parisian cabinet-makers. The torchères were almost certainly acquired directly by the celebrated English connoisseur George Watson Tayor, and exemplify his combination of connoisseurial refinement with an enthusiasm for the contemporary design of the day, a taste he championed in the early 19th century along with other notable collectors, William Beckford and King George IV.

Few professional records for Louis-François Bellangé exist, though some archival documents survive. Born on December 19, 1759, he was the younger brother of Pierre-Antoine Bellangé, a well-known Parisian ébéniste, who rose to prominence under Napoleon and King Louis XVIII. In 1795, Louis-François married Marie-Madeleine Pignault, and they had two children, Madeleine-Sophie, born in 1798, Alexandre-Louis, born in 1799. They rented a house at 41 rue du faubourg St Martin until Louis-François bought a home at 33 rue des Marais in 1818. By 1822, he had acquired various other properties, a testament to the success the ébéniste enjoyed toward the end of his career. By 1824 he retired, leaving the business to his son, Alexandre-Louis.

Bellangé described himself as “Menuisier Ebeniste en bâtiments,” a specialty of furniture makers that dealt with the arrangement of the interiors of residences and the production of stationary elements such as boiseries, paneling and pier glasses. This helps to explain the absence of known furniture pieces made by Louis-François prior to 1815, as the bulk of his output until this time concerned unsigned building elements.

Although highly inventive, the furniture by Bellangé draws down on ancien regime design. His style has been described as goût de curiosité, or a “taste for the curiosity.” “The term corresponded to the taste of the amateur for pieces of furniture that were valued for their aesthetic qualities rather than their utility. Furniture in the goût de curiosité was purchased not out of need, but because the quality of its decor made it collectable and its ownership would be a mark of exceptional taste.”1 This is the style to which Bellangé adhered from 1815 onward, with most pieces intended for the English market, where the French decorative arts formed a large part of British collecting habits.

Bellangé was involved in a “commercial network that also included marchands de curiosités (dealers in curiosity).”2 Two of the most important dealers of this period were Philippe-Claude Maëlrondt (1766–1824) and Alexis Delahante (1767–1837). The latter was based in London and served as agent in the trade of many pieces of Bellangé’s production, the most important being supplied to the Prince Regent, later King George IV. It is likely that Delahante also served as the dealer in the sale of the present torchères to George Watson Taylor.

George Watson Taylor inherited great fortune on the death of his wife’s brother in 1815, and set about amassing a truly spectacular collection of art and furniture at his estate, Erlestoke Park (figure 1), where the present torchères stood in the Grand South Drawing Room. He developed a taste for ancien regime objects and for contemporary designs, which incorporated other, often older elements. The scale of his collection was finally revealed when it was sold at auction at Erlestoke in 1832. A visiting auctioneer noted that “it was thronged to suffocation not less than 1,600 persons admitted” and included a secretaire and commode made by Riesener for Marie Antoinette.

The torchères were acquired at this great sale by the 2nd Earl of Normanton (b. 1778), where they were described as “A pair of exceedingly beautiful candelabras, composed of rose-wood, with finely painted entablature of the old Sevres china, richly gilt, on blue ground, chased or-molu ram’s heads, mouldings and massive paw feet, on a base composed of one entire piece of Sevres china painted in four compartments, with birds and flowers, in ormolu frame, with shell and scroll feet and ebonized stands 3 feet 10 high.” The Earl purchased other pieces from the sale, and it was said that he, like Watson Taylor, was in thrall to the ‘”aristocratic” vogue for elaborate French and Italian pieces. It is from Somerley in Hampshire, the seat of the Earl of Normanton, that the present torchères were directly acquired, providing a clear lineage back to Watson Taylor.

The porcelain is almost certainly the work of one of the leading Parisian firms that flourished during this period and rivaled the Sèvres manufactory. The porcelain would have been specially commissioned for the torchères and, interestingly, its design was inspired by Sèvres porcelain of the 1760s and 1770s. For example, a porcelain vase dating from 1765-8, later mounted with ormolu and acquired by George IV, is centered with a floral arrangement on a blue ground overlaid with vermiculé gilding comparable to that on both the present torchères and the royal examples, as well as a porcelain table by Bellangé for the same room as the royal torchères at Carlton House. The fact that the porcelain was unusually executed in an earlier style, which conformed with the then avant garde taste for ancien regime objects, suggests that the porcelain was commissioned with English connoisseurs, such as Watson Taylor or the King, in mind.

There exist five other pairs of porcelain-mounted torchères of the same model bearing the stamp of Bellangé, four of which were acquired by King George IV of England, whose royal resources made him one of the most extravagant collectors of such prestigious pieces. As such, the torchères represent the height of the Francophile taste that emerged in the most sophisticated English royal and aristocratic circles of the Regency period. Two pairs were acquired in 1820-1, and were subsequently given to the King’s mistress, Elizabeth, Countess Conyngham and placed in her Drawing Room. Both these pairs appeared in a 1908 sale of Conyngham property, along with a semi-circular table of similar design she also acquired from George IV, now in the collection of Carlton Hobbs.

The third and fourth pairs owned by the King, were purchased in Paris in 1825 by Sir Charles Long from the dealer A. Delahante, presumably to replace those gifted to Lady Conyngham. Now at in the Royal Collection at Windsor, they were intended to furnish the Small Blue Velvet Room at Carlton House, which also housed the corresponding table. A watercolor from the office of Morel and Seddon, circa 1826, depicts one of the pairs in His Majesty’s Writing Room at Windsor Castle (figure 2).

The fifth pair of porcelain-mounted torchères was owned by the no-less illustrious connoisseur-collector William Beckford. Beckford was a passionate collector who is thought to have repeatedly travelled to Paris, risking his life to obtain important furniture, paintings, books and art objects that had come on to the art market in the turmoil of the revolution. He housed his acquisitions at his home, Fonthill Abbey, in Wiltshire, created between 1796 and 1818 by Beckford and his architect James Wyatt. The Beckford torchères were included in the great sale of his collection at Fonthill Abbey in 1823, which lasted from the 9th September to the 31st October.

There exists a sixth pair of torchères of the same design as the present torchères, but veneered with blue stained horn rather than porcelain mounted. They were at different times part of both George Watson Taylor’s and George IV’s collections. Sold by Watson Taylor at auction in 1825, they were bought by the King, and subsequently sold at the Phillips Sale at Buckingham Palace in 1836, where they were bought by Edward Holmes Baldock, who is known to have helped form the Earl of Pembroke’s collection. The torchères next appeared at Pembroke’s sale at Christie’s in 1851.

Three further, unmarked pairs of porcelain-mounted torchères are attributed to Bellangé. One sold at Sotheby’s, Monaco, 5 and 6 February 1978 (lot 60), another sold at Christie’s New York, 20 October 2006 (lot 760), and the last formerly in the Brook Greville collection and today in the collection of Robert Byng at Wrotham Park, Hertfordshire.

The remarkable provenance of this group of pieces, coupled with the fact that George IV owned other notable pieces of porcelain mounted-furniture by Bellangé, confirms Bellangé’s status as the preeminent maker of the period. These magnificent objects, which appealed to a specifically English elite taste, not only adopted an ancien regime aesthetic but were conceived the spirit of the craftsmanship of the eighteenth century and, as such, represent a final flourishing of this tradition.

1. Cordier, Sylvain. “New Discoveries: Two Parisian Porcelain-mounted Tables by Louis-Francois Bellange.” New Discoveries: Two Parisian Porcelain-mounted Tables by Louis-Francois Bellange. Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide, n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.
2. Ibid.

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