Or virtuose à la cour de France. Pierre Gouthière (1732-1813)

from 16 March to 25 June 2017

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs is featuring the work of one of the most famous artisans of the 18th century, Pierre Gouthière (1732-1813), bronze chaser and gilder to Louis XV and Louis XVI. 104 objects and 85 drawings and prints situate Gouthière’s creations in the context of decorative art in the last third of the 18th century.

104 objects and 85 drawings and prints situate Gouthière’s creations in the context of decorative art in the last third of the 18th century. A joint venture with the Frick Collection and an augmented version of the exhibition in New York, this exhibition reassesses Gouthière’s work and career, the often overly generous attributions made to him, and the role played by major clients such as the Duke of Aumont. The Paris exhibition also compares his work to that of his competitors, highlighting the close ties between bronze chasers and gilders, architects and ornamental sculptors and their role in the evolution of interior decoration.

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Curator
• Anne FORRAY-CARLIER, conservatrice en chef du patrimoine, département XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles assistée de Sophie Motsch, assistante de conservation, département XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles

Scenography
• Philippe PUMAIN

Exhibition organized by the Frick Collection, New York, and adapted by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris

With the support of the Friends of the Musées des Arts Décoratifs

Presentation

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs is featuring the work of one of the most famous artisans of the 18th century, Pierre Gouthière (1732-1813), bronze chaser and gilder to Louis XV and Louis XVI. 104 objects and 85 drawings and prints situate Gouthière’s creations in the context of decorative art in the last third of the 18th century. A joint venture with the Frick Collection and an augmented version of the exhibition in New York, this exhibition reassesses Gouthière’s work and career, the often overly generous attributions made to him, and the role played by major clients such as the Duke of Aumont. The Paris exhibition also compares his work to that of his competitors, highlighting the close ties between bronze chasers and gilders, architects and ornamental sculptors and their role in the evolution of interior decoration.

Pierre Gouthière’s masterfully chased and gilt bronze ornaments were conceived as embellishments for the luxurious objects produced by the marchands merciers, or as elements of interior decoration in their own right such as clocks, ewers, vases, potpourris, caskets, wall lamps, chandeliers, tables, firedogs, fireplaces, columns and pedestals. The range of materials used – marble, porphyry, jasper, Chinese porcelain, ivory – and their colours created attractive contrasts.

Small altar, gilt bronze by bronze Pierre Gouthière, circa 1770
Ivory, white marble, gilded bronze
Private collection
© DR

We know little about Pierre Gouthière’s early career, except that he served his apprenticeship with the master gilder François Ceriset and had the privilege of working with renowned silversmiths very early on: François-Thomas Germain, silversmith to the king, taught him the techniques of gilding and chasing gold and silver. During this period, Gouthière mastered the successive stages in the production of objects in gilt brass and the particularly complex techniques of chasing and gilding. Producing such objects required the specialised skills of different artisans (draughtsman or architect, sculptor, modeller, founder, turner, chaser and gilder) and involved the creation of models, the welding together of elements cast separately, the chemical manipulations of gilding and the final assembly of component ornaments. It was during his training that he perfected the matt gilding technique for which he became famous. This very expensive process enabled him to vary the brilliance of an object’s surface.

Gouthière worked with the greatest ornamental sculptors, sculptors and architects such as François-Joseph Bélanger, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux and Pierre-Adrien Pâris, several of whose drawings, in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs collection and other national and private collections, are being shown for the first time alongside Gouthière’s works. These drawings were a vital stage in the creative process. They show the extraordinary inventiveness of the ornamental sculptors of the period and how they created a repertoire of forms and ornaments which Gouthière and his contemporaries drew on abundantly to create bras de lumière, firedogs, fireplaces, mantel vases and door handles.

Jean-Démosthène Dugourc, Design for a table, candelabra, torch lamps and vase, circa 1790
Black ink and watercolour on paper
Musée des Arts Décoratifs
© Les Arts Décoratifs

Pierre Gouthière produced extravagantly luxurious objects, almost exclusively for a powerful and immensely wealthy clientele and for the court. In 1770, the architect Ledoux chose him to produce the bronze furnishings he had designed for the music pavilion he was building for the Comtesse Du Barry at Louveciennes. From 1772 to 1777, he worked on the decoration of one of her drawing rooms at the Château de Fontainebleau, where he also created pieces for Marie-Antoinette’s Turkish boudoir. During this period he also produced bronzes for the Duchesse de Mazarin’s Paris mansion, including an extraordinary pair of bras de lumière. Working with the architect Bélanger, who built and supervised the decoration of the Château de Bagatelle, Gouthière also worked for Louis XVI’s brother, the Comte d’Artois. Gouthière owed much to his most famous client, the Duc d’Aumont, gentilhomme de la chambre du roi (first gentleman of the bedchamber) and controller of the Menus Plaisirs (“lesser pleasures of the king”), who commissioned Gouthière to create the bronzes for the Queen’s jewellery cabinet.

Gouthière produced many of his most exceptional pieces for the Duc d’Aumont. A great admirer of hardstones and Asian porcelain, Aumont commissioned Gouthière to create gilt bronze mounts from Bélanger’s drawings for the pieces he collected in his mansion, now the Hôtel Crillon on Place de la Concorde. Some fifteen of these pieces, dispersed at the auction after the duke’s death in 1782, are being brought together for this exhibition.

Two potpourris, Chinese porcelain, 18th century
Gilt bronze by Pierre Gouthière, circa 1770-1775
© Musée du Louvre

Although there is no “Gouthière style” strictly speaking, he had his own very personal way of interpreting a model. As often when artists rarely sign their works, pieces by his contemporaries have been attributed to him and a number of his own pieces have been attributed to his competitors. The exhibition also highlights the work of several Parisian metalworkers – Forestier, Rémond, Feuchère and Thomire – each of whom, in their own way, excelled in chasing bronze and the use of matt gilding.

Although he worked less after the French Revolution, Pierre Gouthière’s fame endured until he died in 1813 and throughout the 19th century, when his works continued to be highly prized by mainly French and English collectors. This exhibition brings together works by him from the Musée du Louvre and the Château de Versailles, the Wallace Collection in London, the Frick Collection in New York and several private collections.

Invitation : Lignereux

To accompany the Pierre Gouthière exhibition, The Musée des Arts Décoratifs has invited the Maison Lignereux to present five of its contemporary ormolu-mounted ceramics in the 18th century period rooms of the museum. Porcelain and gilded bronze are beautifully married in these new objets d’art and they reference some of the most luxurious products ever created at that time.

Mighty Fountain 70 (The Kubla Khan Series) 1/8, Lignereux, 2017
Gonzague Mézin (créateur d’objets rares), Atelier Cabiria (bronziers d’art), Tanya Gomez (ceramicist)
© Lignereux / Marie-Honorine Buisset
Pair of ewers in Chinese porcelain, with ormolu mounts by Pierre Gouthière, c. 1785, sheltered by Lignereux during the French Revolution
Private collection
© Thomas Hennocque

These five artworks are based on the poem Kubla Khan composed in 1797 by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1777-1834); a poem where East and West examine each other with mutual fascination. The sculptures also represent the four elements: Water as in the liquid gold gushing out of Mighty Fountain 70; the Earth with its rugged globes intertwined by serpents in Breathing Earth; Fire raging out of Voices; and Air, impalpable among the hanging clouds of the mobile Pleasure-Dome.

Voices (The Kubla Khan Series) 1/8, Lignereux, 2017
Gonzague Mézin (créateur d’objets rares), Atelier Cabiria (bronziers d’art), Samuel Yal (sculptor)
© Lignereux / Marie-Honorine Buisset
Apollo clock, Lignereux model in the early 19th century, Pierre-Philippe Thomire, c. 1800
Paris, Les Arts Décoratifs, musée des Arts décoratifs. (Inv. 23735)
© Photo Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris / Jean Tholance

The Maison Lignereux was originally created by the marchands-merciers Dominique Daguerre and Martin-Eloy Lignereux and became one of the most prestigious businesses for objets d’art at the end of the 18th century. Their reputation was based as much on the craftsmanship of the materials used as on the invention of new original forms. The company ceased all business at the beginning of the 19th century and it is in 2016, at the instigation of Gonzague Mézin (born 1982) that it saw light again. Mézin uses the original visual language of the Maison Lignereux to design and develop new objets. These have been made by a collective of French and British artists: the Atelier Cabiria (bronziers d’art), the ceramic-artists Thiébaut Chagué, Tanya Gomez and Laura Murphy and the sculptor Samuel Yal.

Breathing Earth (The Kubla Khan Series) 1/8 and 2/8, Lignereux, 2016-2017
Gonzague Mézin (créateur d’objets rares), Atelier Cabiria (bronziers d’art), Thiébaut Chagué (ceramicist)
© Lignereux / Marie-Honorine Buisset
Pair of vases in petrified wood with ormolu mounts, c. 1780, sheltered by Lignereux during the French Revolution
Paris, Les Arts Décoratifs, musée Nissim de Camondo. (Inv. CAM 153)
© Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris / photo : Jean Tholance

Presented within the 18th century period rooms, these contemporary works create a dialogue with the museum’s collection. Though anchored in a very present moment, they also pay homage to the past and to its endless source of inspiration. The use of ormolu strengthens and vivifies the materials and traditional shapes in a poetic and unique way. As such, these new works echo Pierre Gouthière’s oeuvre and create a sense of artistic continuity with the past.

Les Arts Décoratifs, 107, rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
tél. : +33 (0)1 44 55 57 50