The European Decorative Arts Company offers extremely rare objects of gilt-bronze by the Parisian bronze founder, Ferdinand Barbedienne. Also represented are Champlevé enamel and bronze works by Nicholas-Germain Charpentier, Constant Sévin, and Désiré Attarge.
Our recent catalogue, titled "Objects for the Collector," in which Barbedienne objects from our collection were featured for the first time in our publication and includes extensive essays and references on the history of the firm and of the objects offered.
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Perfume Burner Designed by Constant Sévin and Manufactured by Barbedienne, Circa 1878-1889
Louis Constant Sévin (1821-1888) and Ferdinand Barbedienne (1810-1892)
Gilt-bronze, lapis lazuli and white marble
Unmarked • Detachable pierced top
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The most important creative position in the decorative arts division at Barbedienne was held by Constant Sévin, the sculpteur- ornamentiste, who provided the designs and plans to the craftsman for 33 years. Sévin came to the foundry in 1855 with a substantial amount of design experience with various firms, such as Guillaume Deniére, Joyau and Eugene Phenix, Jouhanneaud & Dubois, and Morel & Co. He remained at Barbedienne for the rest of his life and carried out all of the major designs and commissions executed by the foundry. Sévin’s training exposed him to the techniques in the working with not only bronze, but with marble, wood and hardstones, and his earliest designs date from his tenure with Morel in London. There he designed hardstone objects with elaborate mountings, the most famous of which was the Perseus and Andromeda Coupe, made for Henry Thomas Hope, exhibited at the 1855 Paris Exposition.
Sévin received a medal at the 1862 London exhibition for ‘High Artistic Excellence’ and a gold medal at the 1867 Paris Exposition.
Mr. Barbedienne had great respect for his chief designer and as Victor Champier noted in 1889 “....The boss doesn’t refuse him anything, he sacrifices all the money for the unique desire to make masterpieces....the boss is there, always attentive to his demands and gives him all the materials he needs. M. Barbedienne will not stop his partner in his sumptuous path as long as art is its goal”.1 Sévin earned about 600 francs per month, which was more than double what a simple bronze worker earned for for six days work, ten hours per day.
His designs were stylistically diverse and of the 2000 designs he executed while at the foundry he was particularly proud of his work for the chapel and tomb of Prince Albert at Frogmore House, the candelabras designed for the Kremlin and the bronzes for the Hotel de Mme Paiva in Paris. Champier further commented that Sévin was one of “the most distinguished and complete personalities of 19th century decorative arts [and] he has left us masterpieces worthy of the Renaissance”.
While he was capable of designing in many styles Sévin was aware of what it meant to carry out innovative designs, instead of simply making insipid copies of earlier pieces which was very much the prevailing approach among most manufacturers. According to Jervis, Sévin himself commented: “If I borrow from the styles of the past...I always interpret”.2 This perfume burner does not appear to have any precedent and may be considered an original design in the Neo-Gréc taste.
The perfume burner, or cassolette, was a popular form in the decorative arts from the third quarter of the 18th century, its overall design having been derived from antiquity. The excavations that took place in the 1760's brought to light ancient tripods with three legs and three-sided bases supporting a vase or bowl in which fragrances were burned. In the 18th and 19th centuries, perfume burners were made in a variety of materials that could withstand the heat of a burning aromatic substance, a pastille, that would be placed inside a bowl or vase with openings through which the aromas would arise. Sévin was most likely looking at 18th or early 19th century burners for inspiration, even possibly the designs of Joseph-Marie Vien (1716-1809) who executed designs for scent burners based on the antique (see fig. 35) in the then Gout-Grec or “Greek taste” style.
Ferdinand himself in 1867 wrote that “we can say that M. Constant Sévin will be a part of history. Greek art is the basis of his beliefs and the first rule in his studies; and when he is taken by other inspirations, as in the Renaissance-style or the Louis XVI- style, his own style stays pure and sober. The knowledge of antique and modern ornamentation are deep. He brought to great ends Chinese, Hindou, Persian, Byzantine, Moresque, and Gothic compositions to the point that even connoisseurs make mistakes as to their genuine origins”.3
A model of this perfume burner was illustrated by Champier in 1889 (see fig. 36), where it was listed as having “appliques de malachite, grandeur au quart de l’original”. Another model was exhibited at the Paris International Exposition of 1878, illustrated in the official catalogue.
1 Victor Champier, Constant Sévin, Revve des Arts Decoratits IX (1888-89), p. 171.
2 Simon Jervis, et.al., Art and Design in Europe and America 1800- 1900, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1987, p. 136 (Entry by Eric turner).