Side Table

photo of four-legged marble side table, decorated in gilt-bronze detail with a face at the center, circa 1781

Side Table, 1781
Gilt bronze by Pierre Gouthière (1732–1813)
Marble supplied and carved by Jacques Adan
After a design by Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin (1739–1811) working under François-Joseph Bélanger (1744–1818)
Blue turquin marble and gilt bronze
The Frick Collection, New York; Henry Clay Frick Bequest

This table was in the workshop of Gouthière (with the gilding yet to be completed), when the Duchess of Mazarin died on March 17, 1781. What subsequently happened to it and for whom Gouthière finished it is not known, but it remains one of the artist’s masterpieces. The mask at the center of the entablature is one of the most beautiful faces ever created in gilt bronze. Its fine and perfectly regular features follow the classical canon then in fashion but are animated by a lively gaze, with eyes that look to the right under slightly lowered eyelids and a mouth that expresses a pensive self-confidence. Is it a young man or a beautiful woman? Gouthière’s invoice merely refers to a “head.” Bacchus immediately springs to mind, surrounded by ivy leaves, a living allegory of the Roman god’s eternal youth, and placed between two thyrsi; however, the braids and pearls suggest a female. Either way, the figure is deep in thought. The hair — a tour de force in itself — is wavy, rolled into curls and plaited into braids that intermingle with a pearl necklace and two ivy branches; this variety of texture was created in the original clay model and magnificently reworked during the chasing process. The ivy leaves, which curl around the two thyrsi that terminate in pinecones, are so naturalistic that they seem to be real specimens dipped in gold. They have a refinement, a daring design (with some leaves overlaying others), and a lightness achieved through dégraissage (a technique in which metal edges are thinned). The whole is matte gilded, with the exception of the fruit, which is burnished to play on the contrast between matte and shiny effects.

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