|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
( Originally Published 1951 )
During the Revolution, it seemed as if France would forever lose her position of leadership in the world of art, but soon afterwards and almost miraculously Paris again became capital of the world. Artists and craftsmen there were commissioned to create a setting for the new ruling class, which was without cultural traditions of its own. After considerable experiment, the Empire style appeared about 1800.
From 1801 to 1812 Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine, both distinguished architects, issued a series of books and pamphlets with designs for interiors, furniture, and all manner of articles in the style later known as Empire. It quickly spread through Europe. In Sweden, it came into prominence about 1810, the year Marshal Bernadotte of France came to Sweden as the chosen ruler. He ascended the throne in 1818, as King Karl Johan XIV, and became the founder of the present Bernadotte dynasty.
Empire artists looked for inspiration to the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii. No more were medallions and pearl borders seen. Simple geometric forms, semicircles, cubes, and ovals, dominated design. One elegant type of coffeepot, usually bearing the mark of Adolf Zethelius (1803=1841) of Stockholm, has an elongated egg-shaped form. Its prototype, an Apulian wine jug, appears in Percier's drawings. The common pots were a development of the Gustavian cylindrical type-barrel-shaped, with fluting and club handles of black wood. A pot from 1831 made by the Upsala master, A. F. Hellman (1827-1846), is of this kind.
Teakettles suggest the ancient Greek amphorae. A kettle, dating from 1832, designed by Johan Petter Gronvall (1807-1842) of Stockholm, has large, clear areas contrasting with intricate chasing (Plate 66). Some semi-spherical teapots with gently curved spouts resemble ancient oil lamps, as the one made in 1811 by Adolf Zethelius with Medusa heads and a Greek-key border.
Both French and Swedish influences appear in one elaborate tureen. The bowl was designed by Claude Odiot of Paris about 1810; the base bears the mark of Adolf Zethelius of Stockholm and is dated 1825. In contrast to his Swedish colleapue, the Frenchman restricts decoration and concentrates on form. Parisian smiths rarely displayed such Spartan simplicity.
The Empire sugar bowl is usually oval with a rounded base. It is supported by a stand of two or four dolphins, swans, griffins, sea horses, or sphinxes, and covered with a convex lid, on which often appears a press-molded figure of a sleeping dog or other animal. The sugar bowl shown here was made in 1813 by Zethelius. Although the details of decoration vary, fluting nearly always appears. Cream pitchers were barrel-shaped, flat-bottomed, and also fluted, or else they were semi-spherical bowls supported by dolphin or swan.
Empire candlesticks are less severe than Gustavian type. A holder by Gustaf Mollenborg (1823-1851, made in Stockholm in 1827, is typical. It has a round, gadrooned base and a tapering stem rising from a spathe of leaves. Another popular model has a similar base, but the stem is lyre-shaped, as in one made in 1822 by Johan Petter (Gronvall.