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Grohé Frères, Guillaume & Jean-Michel Grohé

Display cabinet 1844

Ebony, bronze and glass | 299 x 66.0 x 68.0 cm (whole object) | RCIN 79769

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  • Gothic style display cabinet of oak faced with ebony. Upper part, which rotates, fitted with four glass doors on four sides and mounted at each corner niche with a patinated bronze figure allegorical of one of the Arts: History, Architecture, Sculpture and Numismatics. Above these figures spring four arches which support a central spire. Whole carved with figures, foliage, animals, insects and mouldings. Tripod base with winged cherub heads emerging from acanthus scrolls.

    Guillaume Grohé (1808-85), who had entered into an association with his elder brother Jean-Michel in 1829, was one of the leading cabinet makers of his time. He specialised in reproduction furniture and was patronised by King Louis-Philippe, the Emperor Napoleon III, the Empress Eugénie and many other public figures.

    This remarkable piece of furniture was purchased during the state visit to Paris in 1855. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had bought an almost identical cabinet of this elaborate Gothic-revival design in 1853 from the collection of King Louis-Philippe’s (not surviving). This second example was purchased at the Paris Exhibition in 1855 for the Royal Library at Windsor, where the Prince no doubt considered that it harmonised both in style and purpose with the Tudor architecture and ebony furniture installed there in the 1830s during the reign of William IV. The overall design and the four bronze allegorical figures at the corners, representing History, Architecture, Sculpture and Numismatics, were the responsibility of the sculptor M.-J.-N. Liénard.

    The superb technique and the elaborate mixture of High Gothic and Renaissance motifs - its overall shape reminiscent of a late Gothic reliquary - may have reminded the Prince of the neo-Gothic architecture and decoration of certain interiors at Coburg (such as at Rosenau, which was furnished largely in ebony or ebonised Gothic-revival furniture by Dannhauser of Vienna).

    The journey of the cabinet to England was not without incident. On its arrival at Folkestone, the carrier submitted a bill to the Prince's Private Secretary for £266 9s 8d, covering both the purchase price from Grohé and the transport costs. This procedure was deemed by the Prince's transport agent McCracken 'highly discourteous to H.R.H. the Prince as they [Grohé] ought to have sent the goods consigned to some respectable house in London... whom payment might have been made after delivery.' (QV Bills 14/6015).

    Text adapted from Victoria & Albert: Art & Love, London, 2010

    Purchased by Prince Albert 1855 from Grohé (6,196 francs / £247 16s 10d, tna lc11/136, quarter to March 1856, fol. 9)

  • Medium and techniques

    Ebony, bronze and glass


    299 x 66.0 x 68.0 cm (whole object)