French Empire Mahogany Armchairs


A pair of large scale imposing Consulate/French Empire style armchairs attributed to the firm of Jacob Desmalter; the front legs crisply carved as winged lions with hairy paw feet; the lion’s wings extending to the curved back rail; likely made in the second Empire period circa 1840. The chairs were recently upholstered in a documented Empire design fabric produced by the major textile house of Lelievre in Paris.

The Consular period in France began in November 1799 when the Directory was overthrown in a bloodless coup and replaced by three consuls, including Napoleon.  A few weeks after the coup Napoleon was named First Consul. In 1802 he was named First Consul for life and in December 1804 Napoleon crowned himself Emperor. The period of his reign as Emperor, from May 1804 to June 1815, is known as the first Empire period.  Napoleon, used artists, designers and architects to promote and legitimize his regime. He appointed Charles Percier (1764-1838) and Pierre Fontaine (1762-1853) as the official architects and designers of the Empire period and they became major exponents of the Empire style. These symbols of power made a direct visual connection between the regime and the glory and authority of the ancient Roman emperors. Sphinxes, winged lions and creatures with heads of eagles were employed as table legs and armrests on chairs. Exotic woods particularly mahogany, were ornamented with motifs in marquetry and ormolu (gilt-bronze) and the heavy, monumental style of the furniture reflected a grandiose magnificence.  Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign brought about a craze in France for all things Egyptian. The detailed drawings of art and architecture published on his return by artist and archaeologist Dominique-Vivant Denon led to the incorporation of Egyptian motifs in the furniture and decorative arts of the following decades. Swans, were the adopted symbol of Josephine and were employed as armrests or as entire arms of chairs. Other symbols and motifs of the Empire period included the bee, a symbol of immortality and resurrection, specifically chosen by Napoleon to link his new Empire to the very origins of France, and the initials of the Emperor and Empress “N for Napoleon and J for Josephine.  The Empire style achieved great popularity and was adopted in courts throughout Europe.  In England it was known as the Regency style.

Dimensions: 38″ ( 96 cm ) H x 27″ ( 69 cm ) W x 31″ ( 79 cm ) D