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  • Date: c. 1765
  • Medium: Pear wood lacquered with green French vernis, laquer gilt and gilt-bronze
  • Object size: 15.3 x 44.3 x 17 cm
  • Inv: F287
  • Location: Boudoir
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  • This suite of furniture (F178, F287 and F330) by René Dubois, perhaps the most magical group of furniture to survive as an ensemble in the Wallace Collection, is also one of the most important early examples of neoclassicism in France. The neo-classical style began to be seen in French furniture from the end of the 1750s, and was characterised by a regularity and balance in design and form, as well as in references to the iconography of ancient Greece and Rome. The filing-cabinet (F178) is surmounted by a sensuous gilt-bronze group depicting the nymph Psyche embracing Cupid, and below are figures representing Peace and War. The filing section stands on a cabinet decorated with various gilt-bronze trophies, including a large trophy of arms on the front. The table (F330) is dominated by the sinuous gilt-bronze sirens placed at each corner, their tails intertwining with the table legs. The inkstand is decorated on either side with a ship’s prow, recalling the display of prows from conquered ships in the ancient Roman Forum. Although the filing-cabinet and the table are stamped twice ‘I DUBOIS’, the stamp of Jacques Dubois (1694–1763), because of their strongly neoclassical style they must have been made by his son, René Dubois (1737–1798), who became a master in 1755 and continued to use his father’s stamp. Other works by Dubois in the Wallace Collection are the remarkable commode veneered with Japanese lacquer (F245) and a small pair of corner cabinets (F100–101). The suite of green lacquer furniture may have been designed by the architect Charles de Wailly (1730–1798), as a design by him exists for a table with caryatid sirens at the top of the legs.

    This group of furniture was almost certainly imported into Russia by Catherine the Great. It was given by her to her son, Grand Duke Paul, who presented it to Prince Alexander Kurakin, his friend from schooldays. Interestingly De Wailly is known to have had connections with Russia and in 1773 to have supplied Catherine the Great with designs for a pavilion. By the mid-nineteenth century a story had arisen that the Treaty of Tilsit, signed in 1807 on a raft in the river Nieman by the Emperors Napoleon I, Alexander I of Russia and King Frederick William III of Prussia, had actually been signed on this table and using this inkstand, but this is more than likely to be ficticious.

    The 4th Marquess bought all three pieces of furniture from the London dealer, Frederick Davis, in June 1866. They are recorded in his apartment at 3 rue Taitbout, Paris, in 1871, and in Lady Wallace’s Boudoir in 1890 and 1898.