February 05, 2021 | Galerie Atena
In France, sleigh bed was produced under the Directoire era (1795-1799), and was very popular during the Empire and Restauration periods. A sleigh bed is a type of bed with curved or scrolled foot and headboards, thus resembling a sleigh.
Directoire beds had two equal headboards and column or baluster-shaped uprights. The edge of the headboards, which was quite wide at that time, curled backwards and was decorated with diamond pattern. The crossbar was straight. The boat-shaped bed became a common piece of furniture during the Empire period. It conserved its equal, curved headboards that were now embellished with cornucopia or twisted pattern, and had a new curved crossbar.
Like the other pieces of furniture, the bed was imposing, majestic, a real showpiece. In bedrooms, it was no longer arranged perpendicular to the wall, but along the largest section of the wall. The bed was called "à la duchesse" when the canopy covered the entire layer, and "à l'ange" when the canopy was reduced to half the length of the layer. The bed "à la polonaise" was surmounted by a crown or a canopy, holding heavy curtains or veils.
Under the First Empire, the symmetrical bronze ornamentation was particularly remarkable. The uprights of the sleigh bed as well as the crossbar, were adorned with gilded bronzes that underlined the structure of the furniture. Since this solemn decoration was designed to be seen from the front, the wall side was not decorated.
The most famous models, designed by G. Jacob or other famous cabinetmakers, had exquisite mythological or allegorical decoration, such as the bed housed in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, whose ornamentation featuring Cupid and Psyche was a variation on the theme of sleep.
Favourite motifs included stylized palmette in Egyptian style, oak, laurel or ivy leaves, crowns, sphinx, swans, dolphins, winged lions, bees, eagles, lyre, trophies and stars. All of these flat patterns, applied to bed frames, were elegantely designed and chased.
The quality and workmanship of the two sleigh bed currently in our collection are stunning and fully illustrate the Empire aesthetic. Simple and imposing, heavy and delicate at the same time, they exude a majesty that is not devoid of beauty.
The mahogany and mahogany veneer bed designed around 1810 is an exceptional piece of furniture, attributed to the famous cabinetmaker Jacob Frères. The remarkable bronze decoration of poppy leaves is attributed to Thomire.
Georges Jacob (1739-1814) was a prominent Parisian chair-maker who became maître-ebéniste (master cabinet-maker) in 1765. From 1777, Georges Jacob became the official supplier of the Crown, and produced many furniture items for castles and royal or princely residences in France and Europe. Specializing in seating during the 18th century, he expanded his production at the beginning of the 19th century. After the French Revolution, Georges Jacob left his workshop to his two sons, Georges II Jacob (1768-1803) and François-Honoré-Georges Jacob-Desmalter (1770-1841), who traded as Jacob Frères. After the death of Georges II in 1803, Jacob came out of retirement to work with his younger son, Alphonse Jacob- Desmalter (1799-1870). The firm worked on a constant supply of furnishings for the Emperor Napoleon, trading under the name Jacob Desmalter et Cie. Very prolific, it produced original pieces of furniture, mostly for Versailles, Rambouillet, Saint-Cloud and Fontainebleau.
Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843) is a French sculptor and the most prominent bronzier, or producer of bronze objects and furniture mounts of the French Empire. Thomire became Marie-Antoinette's official supplier for silverware services. During the Empire period, Thomire achieved his great notoriety, making torches, candelabras and chandeliers for imperial palaces. He also made sumptuous table ornaments for the Tuileries. Thomire created fashionable neoclassic and Empire style furnishing bronzes, that established the highest standard in refined finish in the craft. During this period, Thomire collaborated with the goldsmith Claude Odiot. Poppy leaves seam to be a typical stylistic detail of his work; it adorn several beds attributed to Jacob Frères and Thomire, such as the sligh bed sold by Sotheby's in London in 2012.
Our second bed crafted of mahogany and mahogany veneer has a more minimalist decoration, which only adorns the main side of the bed. The finely chiseled bronzes are symmetrically distributed on the crossbar and headboards, and stand out on the dark, wooden structure. The flat vegetal motifs are beautiffuly chased. Unlike the previous model, the crossbar of this second bed is curved, and extends the curve of the two headboards.
Finally, our magnificent bed called "à la polonaise" is topped by a round bed crown supporting the majestic silk curtains. Its exceptional gilded bronze decoration illustrates the legend of Cupid and Psyche, very popular during the neoclassical period.