Past Exhibition

Introduction

detail of a vase with intertwined sneaks made of gilt bronze

The brilliant chaser and gilder Pierre Gouthière (1732–1813) was one of the greatest French artists of the eighteenth century. Like a sculptor, he made his own models; once these were cast in metal, he used specialized tools to create patterns and textures on their surfaces and then gilded them. Although these objects were often utilitarian items such as clocks, wall lights, and doorknobs, in his hands they took on the appearance of finely worked gold. So exceptional were his modeling, chasing, and gilding techniques that his creations commanded amounts equal to, and sometimes greater than, those asked by the most famous painters and sculptors of the era.

Very little is known of Gouthière’s early life except that he was born in 1732 in the Champagne region of France, where his father was a master saddler. Most of his training took place in the Paris workshop of the chaser gilder François Ceriset, who died in 1756. Two years later, Gouthière took over his former patron’s workshop and married his widow. During the following thirty years, Gouthière collaborated with celebrated architects who provided him with neoclassical designs that he masterfully interpreted into extravagantly rich and exuberant gilt-bronze objects. His clientele comprised the powerful and wealthy members of Louis XV’s and Louis XVI’s courts, including the queen, Marie Antoinette; the Duke of Aumont and his daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Mazarin; as well as Louis XV’s mistress, the Countess Du Barry. Twenty-one of Gouthière masterpieces are presented in this exhibition, grouped according to the patron who commissioned the pieces.

Despite Gouthière’s enormous success, a series of financial setbacks — including enormous sums owed to him by the Duchess of Mazarin and the Duke of Aumont, who died without paying their debts — forced him to declare bankruptcy in 1787. He worked very little after this and died in poverty on June 8, 1813. Soon after his death, however, Gouthière was lauded by collectors, critics, and art dealers alike as one of the most important artists of the period, a reputation that has not faded in those circles over subsequent centuries.

One of a pair of vases (detail). Gilt bronze by Pierre Gouthière after a design by François-Joseph Bélanger, 1782. Eighteenth-century Chinese celadon hard-paste porcelain, porphyry. Each, 23 × 15 × 11⅞ inches. Musée du Louvre, Paris; photo: Joseph Godla