Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier (1695-1750)
Claude Duvivier (c. 1688-1747)
38.5 x 21.5 cm
Gift of David and Flora David-Weill, 1937
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The effects of contrast and dynamism in this object represent a complete transformation of the traditional candlestick form. The piece is enfolded by a spiral that starts at the symmetrical base and is accentuated by the contrast between the ascending and descending elements. Opposing forces seem to be at work here, rippling through the silver to the ends of the branches that hang down in a powerful counter-movement. A moth – an allusion to the nocturnal world – appears among the floral elements that decorate the shaft, seeming about to risk its life by approaching the flame. The candlestick was composed of three interlocking sections so that the intensity of the light could be modified. The principal element is a large torch, designed to hold a candle. A three-branch girandole that fits into the candle socket made it possible to transform the torch into a three-light candlestick. At the point where the branches join, a fourth candle socket, hidden by a rocaille-shaped stopper, brings the total number of candles to four. The client’s inventory shows that a second, two-branch girandole (now lost) could originally be fitted to the torch, reinforcing the modular nature of this object. Under a duke’s crown, the candlestick bears the blazon of the arms of Evelyn Pierrepont, Duke of Kingston (1712-1773), surrounded by the motto of the Order of the Garter. The young Francophile duke had commissioned a table service in Paris in 1733 from Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier, the most inventive French ornamentalist of the reign of Louis XV. The main pieces of this service were supposed to include a centerpiece (which was never made), two shell-shaped terrines and a pair of large candelabra, of which only this one is known to have survived. The duke had provided pieces of outdated silverware to be melted down as part of the huge amount of precious metal required to produce the commission. Meissonnier, the son of a silversmith from Aix-en-Provence who had settled in Turin, set up in Paris around 1715. He was a multifaceted artist – a medal engraver, chaser, silversmith, sculptor, draftsman, decorator, painter and architect – and from 1726 onward, occupied the prestigious post of Designer of the King’s Chamber and Cabinet. Essentially a creator of forms, the extraordinary world he designed on paper was dominated by asymmetry, and his innovative ideas contributed to the triumph of Rococo in 1730s Paris. His designs, disseminated in the form of engravings, were collected in a book published under the title OEuvre de Meissonnier (The Work of Meissonnier); they were realized by other artists, under his strict supervision. The silversmith Claude Duvivier, who became a master in 1720, was responsible for casting and chasing the candlestick in the Duke of Kingston’s commission; two other, equally discreet silversmiths, Pierre-François Bonnestrenne and Henry Adnet, produced the two terrines, on which Meissonnier engraved his signature as an architect.
Gérard Mabille, “Orfèvrerie française des XVIe, XVIIe, XVIIIe siècles,” Catalogue raisonné des collections du Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris, Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs-Flammarion, 1984, no. 95, pp. 66-68
Peter Fuhring, Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier : un génie du rococo, 1695-1750, Turin, London, Germani, 1999, vol. II, no. 49, pp. 214-217.