A set of four Louis XVI ormolu two-light bras de lumière Paris, circa 1765
After a design by Jean-Louis Prieur
France, Louis XVI period, ca. 1765–70
Bronze, cast, chased, and fire-gilded
H. 53 cm, w. 34 cm
This rare, major series of sconces perfectly illustrates what is today called the “Greek style,” a Neoclassical decorative fashion promoted by certain major Parisian collectors from the early to mid-eighteenth century, notably by the Comte de Caylus and Ange-Laurent Lalive de Jully, as a reaction against the rocaille models that had dominated the French decorative arts for several decades. The design was inspired directly from a drawing by ornamentalist Jean-Louis Prieur, one of the leaders of this Neoclassical movement; it is now in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu (illustrated in Ottomeyer/Pröschel 1986, p. 173, fig. 3.5.3).
A rare few pairs of sconces like this have been identified, although with certain slight variations in the décor. They include: one set, which came up for sale in the collection of Madame Lelong in 1903; a second set, which was part of the Joseph Bardac collection (sold in Paris, Me Lair-Dubreuil, Galerie Georges Petit, December 9, 1927, lot 21); and a third set, which was in the collection of Eric von Goldschmidt-Rothschild (sold in Berlin, Ball & Graupe, March 23, 1931, lot 364). References to this model in the eighteenth century are exceedingly rare; a single pair appears to have belonged to fermier-général (tax collector) Jean-François Leroy de Senneville. The sale held after his death notes: “173. A pretty pair of arms, a sheath and a figure of a child holding wreathes in their hands, they have two branches and are beautifully gilded.” As for our pair, until the mid-twentieth century it was part of the collection of a member of the famous Demidov dynasty of Russian industrialists: Elim Pavlovich (1868–1943), who distinguished himself as a brilliant career diplomatic and was named plenipotentiary ambassador to Greece from 1915 to 1917.
Elim Pavlovich Demidov, Third Prince of San Donato
Ottomeyer/Pröschel 1986: Ottomeyer, Hans, and Peter Pröschel. Vergoldete Bronzen. Die Bronzearbeiten des Spätbarock und Klassizismus. 2 vols. Munich, 1986.