Metallic architecture in the 19th century


Emile Zola was a great admirer of metallic architecture: "Space had been gained everywhere, light and air entered freely, and the public circulated with the greatest ease under the bold flights of the far-stretching girders. It was the cathedral of modern commerce, light but solid, made for a nation of customers. […] and all that iron formed, beneath the white light of the windows, an excessively light architecture, a complicated lace-work through which the daylight penetrated, the modern realization of a palace of the dreams, of a Babel-like heaping up of the storeys, enlarging the rooms without end".

Metal was employed into construction since the end of the 18th century for its resistance to fire and its incommensurable solidity which was far more important than the wood or stones 'one and gave the possibility to lighten and open buildings. Barely used at first, the metal production grew between 1820 and 1870, at the same time that the Industrial Revolution progressed, and its cost became over the years more affordable. A single event widely participated to disseminate the use of metal into architecture: the Parisian carpenter strike that lasted for several months in 1845 and made builders use iron to end up their constructions.
The Halles Centrales by Baltard, the Pont de l'Europe, the Corn Exchange Building, the Crystal Palace, the famous Pont des Arts, or even the church Saint-Eugene among other religious buildings, covered galleries, train stations honored then metal architecture.
The World's Fairs were an opportunity for the States to start great constructions with this new material and to show the world how modern their country was. Thus, the Eiffel Tower was built for the World's Fair of 1889 and the Grand Palais for the one of 1900.


Green and Red Levanto


The Italian exploitation of the Green and Red Levanto - a marble or rather a serpentine rock mingled with green and white veins - dates back from the 12th century. Nowadays, only the quarries of San Giorgio and Rossola have continued its extraction. Among the great fireplaces realized with that marble, there is in the Palace of Versailles, the fireplace of the Antechamber of Dogs and the fireplace of Louis XVI style installed in the Grand Trianon.

Alabastro di Busca


Alabastro di Busca is an Italian marble from Busca, in the Piedmont region. It was first extracted around 1500, until 1963, when the quarry was definitively closed.

It was a precious marble exported all over Europe during the Renaissance and afterward. It was mostly used for making altar balustrades in churches, like the one in the Santissima Trinità in Busca and the Superga basilica in Turin. It was also used to decorate private interiors, most notably fireplaces like the ones on the third floor in the Bonaparte House in Ajaccio, and the one that was in the Meeting Room in Maurice Fenaille's sanatorium, in the Aveyron Department of France. It is a very decorative marble with warm shades of ochers and oranges faded into grays.


Maurice Fenaille


Maurice Fenaille (1855-1937) was a great Parisian art connoisseur, patron, and philanthropist.

In 1883, he took over his family's company to become a successful petrol industrialist by commercializing innovative products. By the end of the First World War, he was running one of the most important oil companies in France.

A true art connoisseur, Maurice Fenaille became a patron of the arts, supporting many contemporary artists such as Auguste Rodin and Jules Chéret. He also helped out museums by contributing to certain acquisitions, like that of the Bain Turc by Ingres at the Louvre Museum, and by donating many works of art from his collection to various museums. He also took it upon himself to salvage and restore the Château de Montal in the Lot Department by recovering most of the pieces and artworks that had been sold off at several auctions.

Maurice Fenaille's wife was from Aveyron, and he grew very attached to this Department, where he wished to bolster economic development. He founded a school of agriculture and an upholstery workshop. In 1912, he built a sanatorium in Sévérac-le-Château. In the meeting room, he installed the exceptional Alabastro di Busca fireplace with gilded bronze lion heads available on our website.


Extraordinary fireplace after the model of the Hercules Salon at the Palace of Versailles, coming from the Fenaille Estate at Sévérac-le-Château

Extraordinary fireplace made out of Alabastro di Busca and gilded bronze,
after the fireplace of the Salon d'Hercule at the Palace of Versailles
coming from the Fenaille Estate at Sévérac-le-Château

Late 19th century

Dimensions: Width 175 cm ; Height 141 cm ; Depth 71 cm (69 x 55.5 x 28 in)

Alabastro di Busca, gilded bronze


This magnificent Louis XIV-style fireplace made of Alabastro di Busca and gilded bronze is from the Fenaille Estate meeting room in Sévérac-le-Château, Aveyron, a Department in the South of France. It features gilded bronze ornaments such as the large lions heads placed on the jambs and the foliaged shell in the middle of the undermantel. The sides of the fireplace, adorned with bronze elements that represent falling laurel branches, are paneled. This fireplace was based on the extraordinary fireplace from the Salon d'Hercule at the Château de Versailles, reusing its shape and general aspect, the gilded bronze ornaments and the sculpted straight lines, curves, reverse curves, and volutes that bring structure to the marble.


Alabastro di Busca is an extremely rare Italian marble extracted from the quarries at Busca, a small town near Turin in the Piedmont region. This alabaster was used in Northern Italy and the rest of Europe from 1500 to 1963, when the quarry was definitively closed. It was often used to make furniture, decorative fireplaces like the two at the Bonaparte House in Ajaccio, and church altars like that of the Santissima Trinità di Busca. It is a highly decorative marble with warm shades of ochers and oranges faded into grays.


Maurice Fenaille (1855-1937)
and the Sévérac-le-Château estate :


Maurice Fenaille amassed a great fortune from the oil company founded by his father, "Fenaille et Despeaux," that he took over in 1883. He made it one of the first companies in the oil industry and then dedicated his life and wealth to collecting artwork and becoming a patron of the arts and a philanthropist. He supported artists such as August Rodin and Jules Chéret, as well as museums, for example by participating in the acquisition of Ingres' Bain Turc by the Louvre in 1911. As of 1908, he devoted his time and money to salvaging and restoring the Château de Montal in the Lot Department.

Maurice Fenaille was very attached to Aveyron, the Department that his wife was from. Hoping to bolster the region's economic development, he founded a school of agriculture, an upholstery workshop, and financed a museum for the Société des lettres, sciences et arts de l'Aveyron (the Aveyron Society of literature, sciences, and arts). Today, this museum is called the "musée Maurice Fenaille," and is situated in the Hôtel de Jouéry in Rodez, a mansion donated by Fenaille to the Society.


In 1912, he began constructing a sanatorium on the Engayresque site in Sévérac-le-Château, a care facility for Parisians who lived in Aveyron and were suffering from tuberculosis. The marvelous Alabastro di Busca fireplace was placed in the meeting room.
At Maurice Fenaille's death, the facility was given to the Department and named the "Fenaille Sanatorium". Today, the "Maurice Fenaille Hospital", renovated and reorganized, has become a medium and long-term care facility and contains 81 bedrooms.
The Local Maurice Fenaille Hospital,
Sévérac-le-Château, Aveyron.
Meeting Room at the Fenaille Estate with the exceptional Alabastro di Busca fireplace with gilded bronze lions heads.

A fireplace inspired by the Salon d'Hercule fireplace at the Château de Versailles :

The Salon d'Hercule replaced the third chapel of the Château that was destroyed in 1710. The salon's decoration was directed by Robert de Cotte from 1712 to 1715. After Louis XIV's death, the work was left unfinished for 14 years, until it was finally finished and then inaugurated in 1739, under Louis XV.
Antoine Vassé was the author of the bronze ornamentation on this impressive fireplace. He decorated the fireplace header with a head of Hercules wearing the Nemean lion's skin, flanked with volutes and garlands coming out of large cornucopias.
The lions heads on the jambs were copied for the fireplace from the Fenaille Sanatorium.
Although it is not as gigantic, the Fenaille Estate fireplace was based on the very similar original Salon d'Hercule fireplace from the Versailles Palace.

The monumental fireplace from the Hercules Salon at the Palace of Versailles. Bronze ornaments were realized by Antoine Vassé.

The original fireplace from the Salon d'Hercule was a very successful design that was widely copied, strictly and loosely, especially during the 19th century, the era of historicism, when past styles were revisited, like the Louis XIV style was for this fireplace.

By its references to the most famous palace in the world and the great French art of the 18th century, this fireplace from Maurice Fenaille's sanatorium is a magnificent work of art made of expertly sculpted Alabastro di Busca and gilded bronze. It is a work of art that epitomizes the historicism and eclecticism of the 19th century.

Oak fireplace based on the Salon d'Hercule one at the Versailles Palace,
late 19th century.
Also available at Galerie Marc Maison.

Marble House dining room. The Vanderbilts' residence in Newport, Rhode Island, USA. At the back of the room, there is a copy of the Salon d'Hercule fireplace.