The overmantel mirror

Glorifying the area of the fireplace, the overmantel mirror has never been neglected. It progressively replaces the massive Renaissance chimney breasts under Louis XIII and Louis XIV, to become a major concern of the most reputed designers in 18th century.

Receiving broad mirrors under the Regency, just like in the Hotel de Soubise, it contributes to 18th century’s wonder, reflecting the chandelier’s flames. Accommodating to the succession of styles, over-mantels progressively become independent in order to be replaced. With or without a mirror, it is often fitted as well with paintings or sculpted panels.

Important decoration element of 19th century indoors, over-mantels have been made in great quantity. The elegance they give to indoor rooms also highlights the fireplace’s wood or marble.

The Regence Style

Sophisticated and courteous, the Regence style develops for the aristocracy’s taste for playful and intimate atmospheres. King Louis XIV’s passing away in 1715 also sounds the death knell of his classic and solemn style; his regent brother, Philip of Orleans, highlights the evanescent fantasies of Watteau as soon as 1717.

Unlike the Louis XV style, the Regence style preserves straight lines and geometrical forms from Louis XIV vocabulary, like the straight-back “à la reine” armchair ; which is why it is customary seen as a transitory style. Chairs, armchairs, fireplaces and draws are all bent and decorated with thin shell motifs, foliage and other ornaments. Glorifying feminine grace, the period stuffs and transform furniture always in order to provide more comfort.

Emblematic of the style, the wood and bronze worker Charles Cressent distinguishes himself with subtle marquetry and the creation of the “espagnolette” motif, a little bronze female torso for furniture decoration. Ornament gives up straight lines for good under Louis XV’s reign, handing over to the knotty and baroque style named after him.

The Firescreen

Combining elegance to safety, the wire-meshed firescreen allows one to gaze at the comforting roaring fire, not being dazzled. Although several models restyle Baroque and Rocaille spirits, it is an invention of 19th century, a period concerned with the progress in decorative arts.

It follows the firescreens carpeted with precious cloth, that were still flammable and hid the health. The high society enjoys the gilded bronze or brass models, equipped with a handle and which baroque outlines evoke the flames and glow by the fire. Little scenes on them suggest the flames symbolism : Winter, but also Love are often evoked.

Such firescreens of gilded bronze have furnished the Hôtel of Pontalba, nowadays the Embassy of the United States in Paris, or Cora Pearl’s mansion, a courtesan close to the Emperor Napoleon III.

« Warriors at Rest », ​Exceptional bronze fire fender by Jean-François GECHTER (1796-1844)

Bronze with brown patina

Dimensions : Height 26,7 inches, total length 57 to 69 inches according to presentation.

Model designed between 1833 and 1844. Bronze cast anterior to 1860.

With a remarkable delicacy, the details of these bronzes are immersing us in the fantasized world of the Middle Age, as the Romantics see it. Sharply chiseled, these two warriors at rest seem directly emerged from an epic age, with their helmets, axes, shields, maces, etc. Leaning back against beautiful knotty trees, they are showing sober pride.

This remarkable style, with a lyrical tone expressing a passionate vision of the Middle Age, allows to attribute this work to Jean-François Gechter. The artist has deployed all his skills and took care of the aspects of decorated cloths, heavy coat of mail, the smooth metal on swords or helmets, and the faces are very expressive.

A parallel is obvious with Charles Martel and Abderame, King of the Saracens, a plaster sculpture presented by Gechter to the Paris Salon of 1833. A model in bronze is briefly ordered by the Ministry for Trade and Industry, cast by Gonon and preserved now at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The sculptor represents Charles Martel in armor dismounting his enemy, with a number of details that we can also recognize in our pair of andirons. Cast again in 1849 for a mantelpiece ornament, also kept at the Louvre, the group came with two candelabras decorated with warriors, a candelabra model of which we happen to own a sumptuous edition.
Jean-François Gechter, "Charles Martel and Abderame", 1833, Louvre Museum.

First of all, the expression of the fighters pride is the mark of a romanticism that is distinctive of Gechter. The artists gives a great attention in his works to the representation of faces, providing vigorous features that catch the light. Abderame's face is absolutely similar to that of the character on the right of our andirons. Likewise, the care given to Abderame's helmet is customary of Gechter, expressing his romantic taste for picturesque armors of the old times. One notices this peculiar care on his group Joan of Arc Unhorsing an Englishman (1838), preserved in the Royal Castle of Chinon, as well as it is notable on our piece.

To the left, detail of the "Charles Martel" group by Gechter, Louvre Museum. To the right, detail of "Warriors at Rest".

The preciseness in the description of the coat of mail's links, the typical profusion of weapons of his compositions, the decorations he designs for the armors, all form a network of clues letting no doubt on the attribution of our Warriors at Rest. The right-character of the andirons has indeed a very similar armor to the one Gechter designed for his Richard of Warwick Fighting, a model of which, cast in 1844, is preserved in the Chateau of Blois. One recognizes the helmet form, the finely crafted brigandine wore above the coat of mail, as well as the form of knee-pads. Above all, Gechter alternates in his compositions the smooth, rough or chiseled surfaces, on the entire sculpture, just as for our Warriors at Rest. The extraordinary quality of our andirons' chiseling is thus leading us to consider them as a Gechter model, which would consequently had been sculpted before his death in 1844, with a bronze cast prior to 1860.

On the left, detail of the right character on "Warriors at Rest", Marc Maison Gallery.
On the right, detail of "Richard of Warwick", by Gechter, 1844, Chateau of Blois.
"Richard of Warwick fighting", 1844, bronze by Jean-François Théodore GECHTER (1796-1844).
Kept at the Chateau of Blois.

Jean-François Theodore Gechter,
an important “troubadour” artist

Jean-François Theodore Gechter (1796-1844), master of the Romanticism, regularly exhibited his works at the Paris Salon between 1824 and 1844. A student of the painter Antoine-Jean Gros, who is known to have meaningfully influenced Gericault and Delacroix, Gechter makes the spirit of romanticism palpable in his choices. In 1824 already, he displays war subjects with a Defeated Gladiator, and a Warrior pulling an arrow off his heel. He is noticed with Charles Martel and Abderame at the Paris Salon of 1833, when all the minds are still rocked by Victor Hugo's medieval fantasy, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Fully participating in this medieval vogue, he was distinguished with a gold medal as soon as 1834 for his Battle in Aboukir. Showing a clear preference for war scenes, Gechter can indeed deploy there his sense of movement and his great skills as a modeler.

Called very soon to realize huge statues for the Parisian public monuments, he designs in 1837, for the Arch of Triumph on Place de l'Etoile, a bas-relief of the Battle of Austerlitz, and the statues of the Rhône and the Rhin rivers, for the fountain on Place de la Concorde. A renowned artist, he provides St-Magdalene Church with a statue of St John (1840), and the State Council with a marble statue of King Louis-Philip.
"The Rhône", statue by Gechter, place de la Concorde, Paris.
"The Rhône", statue by Gechter, place de la Concorde, Paris.

The artist will however keep on making little groups displaying elaborately dressed characters, with anachronisms and fantasy sometimes, but very representative of the troubadour taste he was found of. Gechter's little bronzes are in "great vogue" under the July Monarchy, according to his contemporaries' admission. The Biographical Directory of French Artists speaks highly of "the details (…) as sharply modeled as characters" (Guyot de Fère, 1841). Many museums hold specimens of these bronzes. Let us quote again the Knight of Ailly in the Chateau of Pau, and Francis I On a Hunt, in the Chateau of Blois.

His sculptures have been edited several times, but it seems Gechter opened as well his own bronze casting studio. From 1841, he emerges in the Directory of Trade as a bronze maker and a statue-smelter. He would have thus crafted and signed himself the molds he needed for sand casting. He is likely then to have organized the casting and the sales of his models in the galleries of Paris, London, Berlin or Dresden.
Jean-François Gechter, "Francis I On a Hunt", 1843, Chateau of Blois.
Jean-François Gechter, "The death of Young Knight of Ailly", 1842, Chateau of Pau

Judgment of Paris

The Judgment of Paris, an important myth in the ancient Greek world, illustrates the superiority of love over the other forces that are wisdom and power.

According to this immemorial myth, the goddess of dissension created a competition between three goddesses, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, quarreling over a golden apple signed “to the fairest”. The mortal Paris is chosen to put an end to this argument, and the scene of the Judgment of Paris has always been depicted at the fateful moment when the apple is given to Aphrodite, goddess of Love and Beauty. She convinced Paris, promising him the love of the fairest woman in the Greek world: Helen, the King of Sparta’s wife. The attraction force of desire has thus provoked the dreadful Trojan War.

Conveying a universal message, this episode particularly fascinated in the times of the Medici, for the essential place given to Eros. Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raffaello, sets the model of the representation through a famous engraving that will be the first to circulate all over Europe. Based on this engraving, and since 16th century, a very large amount of plates, firebacks, medals and other paintings have been realized.