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ref. 1508/53

A Japanese style cabinet-secretary


Circa 1880

Height : 167 cm (65 3/4 in.) ; Width : 65 cm (25 2/3 in.) ; Depth : 32 cm (12 2/3 in.)

A Japanese style carved wood cabinet. A painted decor imitating Japanese lacquer, ornamented with flowers, birds and butterflies. Opening onto two drawers and a paper filer, the upright-secretary door is also fitted with red velvet. Surmounted by a drawer and asymmetrical shelves, composed in the Japanese « zen » spirit, the cabinet stands on four legs joined by a engraved stretcher.

The great influence of the Far-East, through China and Japan, in the second half of the 19th century French art could be found first in painting and soon after in decorative arts and furniture as well.

Following the Franco-English military campaign led in 1860 against the Imperial army in China, the French troops of Napoleon III brought back from the Summer Palace, a part of the Chinese Imperial court treasure, which will make up the famous Chinese Museum of Empress Eugénie at the Fontainebleau Palace. The French artists won’t be long to take inspiration from those exotic and sumptuous objects for their creations, as they used to do in the 18th century, when the best French cabinet-makers adapted the Chinese lacquers on the luxurious royal chests.

But the influence of Japan, at the Meiji period (1868-1912), came also very quickly to France, thanks to the opening of the country in the middle of the 19th century, as well as the development of traveling and the amazing Universal Exhibitions, in which Japan participated for the first time in 1867 in Paris. Then many Japanese objects and prints were imported to France and to all Europe, and for which some collectors spent already fortunes.

With Manet and Impressionists generation, the passion for Japanese art, more than a simple taste for an exotic style, was still in fashion until the turn of the 19th century. It provoked not only a craze among the French aristocratic families as well as the wealthy Paris high society, wishing renew their mansion inner decoration, but turned also to a real revolutionary movement among the “avant-garde” artists. Those artists, whoever they were, painters, cabinet-makers or designers of ceramic, bronze and crystal objects, adapted then those techniques and naturalistic motifs unknown until this time.

Christofle, very famous since 1867 as a silversmith, was also one of the leaders among the inventors of Japonism. He knew how to use Japanese elements to his own splendid works made in silver or “cloisonné” enameled bronze. During the 1878 Paris Universal Exhibition, Christofle presented with great success his life-sized bronze Japanese ladies torcheres, executed by the renowned sculptor Guillemin.

Another famous company to be mentioned, is “L’Escalier de Cristal”, producing art objects and furniture, all of high standard quality and innovating much with their Japanese decor. Highly remarked during the Universal Exhibitions, “L’Escalier de Cristal” collaborated with the greatest artists, such Gallé and Rousseau for glass- and ceramic wares, and the cabinet-makers Lièvre and Viardot, whom made furniture including sometimes authentic Japanese elements.

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