THE GREAT CENTURY
NAPOLEON’S ARMCHAIR AT THE PALAIS DE L’ELYSÉE
Armchair made in sculpted and gilded beechwood. Its grooved back is ornamented in arabesques. The armrests are decorated with floral motifs, and they end by lion heads applied in bronze. The armchair rests on two front feet in pillars, ornamented with palms and acanthus leaves. The rear feet are decorated with bat wings. The chair’s waist is ornamented with flowers on all of its four sides.
Marked G. IACOB D RUE MESLEE
Georges Jacob (1739-1814), was named master in 1765.
François Honoré Georges Jacob-Desmalter (1770-1841).
The fire marks tell us about the armchair’s origin, the royal furniture deposit. It is marked twice as well, with ink, with number 336.
Height: 96 cm; Width: 58 cm; Depth: 53 cm.
- Michel Beurdeley,"Georges Jacob et son temps", Monelle Hayot, 2002.
- Pierre Arizzoli-Clémentel, "Le mobilier de Versailles chefs d'œuvre du XIXe siècle", Faton, 2009. Similar armchair reproduced at p. 203.
Signed by Georges Jacob (Cheny, 1739 - Paris,1814), our armchair could be a prototype destined to fame. The stamp reproduced in our armchair hads topped being used by the father of the dynasty of cabinetmakers in 1796. The oldest testimony we have of it goes back to 1801: the lion heads in fact appear in a drawing by Francois Gérard conserved at the Versailles museum. Bonaparte appears on it, portrayed getting ready to sign the Concordat, on July 15 1801, at the Palais des Tuilleries. That model is identical to ours, except for the rear feet, that look more that the front feet in the image.
The mark “JACOB FRÈRES RUE MESLÉE” corresponds to the association among the two sons of Georges Jacob, between 1796 and 1803, but such a mark does not appear on our piece of furniture. Does this mean that this seat was created by the father before 1796? Or is it rather that the father’s mark was used after 1796, when his sons were associated? This seat’s style, known as “Return from Egypt”, with its armrests in the forms of scepters (Louvre museum, inventory number E5983), clearly dates it in the Consulate period (1799 to 1804). The second mark (“JACOB D. RUE MESLEE”) was imposed at the moment of its restoration, probably on 1809, when Georges Jacob senior associated with his son Jacob Desmalter (1803-1813).
Very much appreciated, this model was later used with some variants: in the dining room at Fontainebleau, among the furniture of Napoleon’s bed chamber and in the third hall of the Empress in Compiègne, as well as in the Salon du Conseil of Malmaison and in the Hall of the Great Trianon. In 1808, the design of the rear feet of our armchair, attributed to Charles Percier and Pierre-Francois-Léonard Fontaine, was reused to decorate the furniture of Napoleon’s bed chamber at the Tuilleries. Napoleon posed for Ingres in a similar seat in 1804, and for baron Gérard in 1812. This seat also served as a model for some portraits: that of Marie-Louise and the king of Rome in 1813 and that of queen Hortense and her son (1807).
Our seat appears, with its lion proteomes, in the inventory of the Palais de l’Élysée (Archives nationales, AJ/19/77). There, it appears described in pair at line number 275, but the numbers of the inventory cease to be precise after number 204. Found at the “Gallery” or at the“Officers’ Hall”, it was esteemed in 240 francs: “Two great armchairs in sculpted and gilded wood, with console feet, scrolled armrests, lion heads in chiseled and gilded copper (sic), completely refilled of (…) framed with a crest (…). Height: 0.96. Length: 0.56. Depth: 0.50 cm.” It is also therein set forth: “These two seats and two stools are in the Furniture Storage Unit”. These seats, that correspond to line 275 of the inventory at the Elysée, do not appear in later inventories for years 1818, 1820 and 1822.
Reacquired by Joachim Murat in 1805, the Palais de l’Élysée was heavily refurnished, with expenses reaching the considera bleamount of 390,000 francs. When Murat left France to go reign in Naples in 1808, the Palais de l’Élysée became the Emperor’s residence. Woodwork made by Jacob in the palace, for the following years, would continue to be important. Among other things, we would be charged to fabricate all of the new furniture. The adaptation of the old pieces of furniture was also carried out by him.
Bonaparte, turned into Napoleon 1st, brought this armchair to the Palais de l’Élysée in 1808, a seat that undoubtedly accompanied him since the times of the Consulate. The furnishing of the “Gallery” in 1809 would indicate its decorative use: 10 curtains, patères, 5 carpets, 4 chandeliers of seven lights, 4 chandeliers of 16 lights and two semi-chandeliers of 8. To these decorative elements can be added 18 seats. 8 stools on gilded wood esteemed in 90 francs, 6 stools “on X”, gilded and chiseled, for 120 francs, 2 stools“on X” with lion heads for 120 francs and our two armchairs made of chiseled and gilded wood, with lion heads, for 240 francs. These two armchairs, thus, correspond to the Emperor’s and the Empress’s thrones at the Palais de l’Élysée, around which were disposed 16 stools.
With the fall of the Empire, these armchairs were returned to the Royal Furniture Storage Unit, and they are referred to, in 1817, in the informative gazette, under number 336: “Two armchairs made of chiseled and gilded wood. Péking rayé. Crest in the form of (…) (1009).” These seats are esteemed in 100 francs each, and noted as existing under numbers “21”, “24” and finally under number “42” (Archives nationales AJ/19/605). It is in fact the description and the number that correspond to our armchair, miraculously rescued and identified in order to be presented to you at our Garden Party.
Philippe et et Aymeric Rouillac
Translation by Diego de Ybarra-Corcuera
This armchair has been identified thanks to thecollaboration of Élodie Abad, art historian of the Francois Rabelais Universityof Tours, and thanks to the help of Karl Benz, member of Rouillac, auctionhouse.