Dessiner l’or et l’argent. Odiot (1763-1850), orfèvre

from 8 March to 7 May 2017

Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot became one of the most successful and prolific gold and silversmiths during the Empire and Restoration periods. He received several important royal commissions from the courts of Europe, including a sumptuous table service, a dressing table for empress Marie-Louise, and a cradle for the King of Rome.

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs has an exceptional collection of 33 silverware pieces and acquired in 2009 176 original drawings from Odiot’s workshop, classified as important works of heritage by the Ministry of Culture’s Consultative Commission on National Treasures. On display for the first time, this exhibition reunites Odiot’s design drawings with the executed pieces, demonstrating his creative process, as well as his formal development and experimentation. Dating from the first quarter of the 19th century, these drawings are superbly executed in graphite and pen and enhanced with ink wash, watercolor and gouache.

The drawings illustrate the various stages of a piece’s creation, from the initial sketches to the final detailed drawings presented to clients. On sheets of paper often measuring more than one meter high, tableware, dressing tables, and desks pieces are represented to scale, displaying the splendor and refinement of the art of living in the early 19th century.

Sugar bowl, Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot’s workshop, circa 1815
Graphite, pen, grey ink, grey wash on paper
© MAD, Paris

The drawings also propose different versions of the same model, offering alternatives for applied ornaments, handles, etc. Each drawing reveals an ornamental repertoire that became Odiot’s hallmark that he repeatedly employed in varying combinations from the beginning of the Empire period to the end of the Restoration. Only ten of the drawings are signed by colleagues of Odiot, including draughtsmen Auguste Garneray (1785- 1824) and Adrien-Louis-Marie Cavelier (1785-1867), and the silversmith Jacques-Henry Fauconnier (1779-1839). The drawings also feature the names of prestigious clients such as Count Demidov, Countess Branicka, and members of the Imperial Family, including Madame Mère (Napoleon’s mother), Empress Marie-Louise, and Jerome I of Westphalia. These 176 drawings complement the Museum’s collection of 31 bronze models, a sugar bowl and “Venus’s breast and butterfly” bowl in vermeil, all by Odiot.

The forms of the bronze models are as varied as the drawings: tea urns, soup tureens, dishes, wine coolers, oil cruets, saltcellars… Their handles, legs and applied decoration incorporate an ornamental vocabulary derived from Antiquity. In addition to the central theme of the procession of Bacchus, Odiot’s pieces and drawings incorporates other iconographical figures such as of Hebe, Ceres, Leda, Venus, Adonis, Flora and allegories of Victory.

Snakes, swans and mermaids lend their sinuous forms to handles, while monopod winged sphinxes and lion’s paws were better suited as legs. The foliated friezes framing the piece’s main body are decorated with panthers, reeds, vine branches, ears of wheat and dolphins.

In 1835, Odiot donated 31 models to the Chambre des Pairs (Upper House of the French Parliament) for posterity, but to also serve as models for his successors.

The models were initially displayed in the Musée du Luxembourg that was devoted in the 19th century to painting and sculpture by living artists. In 1852, the models were transferred to the storerooms of the Louvre where they were gradually forgotten.

“Venus’ breast and butterfly” bowl, Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot, circa 1810-1820
Silver-gilt, hammered, cast, chased and engraved
© MAD, Paris / photo : Jean Tholance

Simultaneously, initiatives were taking place to create the Musée des Arts Décoratifs during the second half of the 19th century.

The museum of the “beautiful in the useful” opened in 1882 with the goal of encouraging links between art and industry by providing models and references for workers and artisans. As there was a clear connection between Odiot’s motives and those of the new museum, Odiot’s models were put on permanent loan to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 1892. In 1907-08, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs commissioned Christofle to gold and silver-plate these models in order to give them the appearance of silver. In 2016, the models were officially added to the inventory of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

These models were executed with great finesse. Their components, assembled by a system of nuts and bolts, were chased to heighten the relief decoration and provide contrast between matte and reflective surfaces. As a result of recent scientific analysis by the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, the pieces, previously described in Odiot’s terminology as bronze, are, in fact, made of brass. The rare opportunity to showcase the Museum’s collection of Odiot silver alongside the drawings creates a unique dialogue in the history of decorative arts.

The Silversmith Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot’s Designs for Silver and Gold exhibition explores this dialogue between a piece’s initial conception on the drawing board and the finished work in Jean- Baptiste-Claude Odiot’s workshop. A selection of approximately 100 drawings, exhibited for the first time, will be displayed alongside 33 pieces of silver, revealing this great silversmith’s creative process. The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue of the collection and interactive digital media.

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