11086 A VERY FINE AND UNUSUAL MAHOGANY AND FAUX BRONZE DEMILUNE PIER TABLE FROM A PARISIAN HÔTEL PARTICULIER IN THE RETOUR D’EGYPT TASTE, ALMOST CERTAINLY BY JEAN-BAPTISTE DEMAY Paris. Early Nineteenth Century. Measurements: Height: 32 1/8″ (81.5 cm) Width: 47 7/8″ (121.5 cm) Depth: 23 7/8″ (60.5 cm)
Of mahogany with finely carved bronzed ‘mounts’. The original statuary marble top with stepped edge above a massive ogee undermold resting upon a plain shallow frieze. Four herm legs are headed by a finely carved and bronzed female Egyptian bust above bronzed foliate floral mounts. The base of each leg terminating in a bronze inverted cone. The leg surface mounted to a painted faux verde antico plinth upon which rests a thin repaired statuary marble plateau.
Old Private Parisian Collection
This austerely elegant demi-lune table is an early example of a format that would enjoy considerable popularity during the Consulate and Empire periods in France. The tapering Herm-form supports culminate in an inverted cone tip in the manner of Thyrsi and, unusually, extend down over the front of the plinth. Interestingly, this element is painted in imitation of verde antico and in turn is topped by a thin plateau of statuary marble. Such unusual inventive conceits suggest the hand of an architect in the design of the piece, as do the moldings whose angular nature is not normally found in the repertoire of furniture making. Such demilune tables were designed to be placed against a mirror in a pier between two windows, the reflection creating the illusion of a fully circular tabletop. Later examples were created by the Jacob brothers for Napoleon at the Palace of Fontainebleau and the Grand Trianon.
This table is part of a suite of furniture (figure 1), the armchairs of which have been stamped with the mark of ‘Demay, rue de Cléry’ referring to Jean-Baptiste Demay (1758-1848), the son-in-law of the famous ébéniste, Claude Sené. Although displaying some elements of the Empire taste that would become prominent under Napoleon, the present table is more characterized by the austere elegance of the preceding Directoire period. Egyptianized decorative elements would suggest that the table is datable to Napoleon’s campaigns in the Middle East that lasted from 1798 to 1801, and which served to make Egyptian style intensely popular in France.
This piece is of an unusually inventive design, with superbly carved painted busts that are almost indistinguishable from patinated bronze. The combination of mahogany with wooden elements painted in imitation of bronze is one of the hallmarks of Demay and the ébéniste Bernard Molitor (1755-1833), a pair who collaborated frequently. Demay is mentioned as one of the creditors of Molitor in an inventory prepared on the death of the latter’s wife in 1796. Demay is particularly famed as an innovator of seat furniture, with examples preserved in many museum collections in France, such as the Musée Carnavalet and the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-arts de la Ville de Paris. It seems that he was also a skilled sculptor in wood; it has been suggested by expert opinion that he may have been responsible for some of the carved elements on the cabinet work of Molitor.
As mentioned above, the table’s design is most remarkable in that it is intended to stand against a mirror, its reflection creating the impression of a free-standing circular gueridon. The illusion is completed by the positioning of the table’s two rear legs, which are cleverly set forward by the appropriate distance so that the reflected legs appear in perfect symmetry with the real ones. Two other examples of this rare concept, where a mirror image is integral to the design of a piece of furniture, is a semi-circular table by Jacob in the Grand Trianon (figure 2), which is placed on a mirrored window pier, and a porcelain and gilt-bronze mounted demilune table by Louis-François Bellangé acquired for Carlton House by George IV in 1822, today in the Carlton Hobbs collection (figure 3).