Connected by a central bar, the two andirons are adorned with female sphinxes, figures of Greek mythology. Female sphinxes have an animal body similar to a feline, and a woman's head. Some strength and vigor emanate from these two figures with protruding muscles, with a bent chest, with sharp claws, with a proud and impassive look. These characteristics accentuate their role as guardians. These two creatures, although monstrous, have a certain femininity both through the nobility of their way of holding her head and the many attires they wear. On their breast is a kind of flowery diadem and a piece, worked as a fabric and adorned with foliage, covers their shoulders. Their wings are prolonged by volutes and their head, wearing a chignon, is surmounted by a vase with handles made of gilt bronze.
They are seated upright on antique-inspired pedestals connected by the central bar. A gilt bronze rosette is fixed on these pedestals and constasts on the cast iron with auburn tones.
The central bar is very finely decorated whith volutes and flowers.
The sphinxes that adorn these andirons were made after Eugène Piat who made a pair of white marble sphinxes presented at the Salon of 1874 and similar to ours.
This motif of the sphinxes is an exception in the work of Eugene Piat but will have a certain fortune since two reproductions are exhibited at the Troyes museum: while a model, made of cast iron, was directly mold on the original model, the other, in plaster, is a reduction. Piat is the founder of this museum, which today has the most of his public works. This museum was inaugurated on May 31, 1894 and is considered as the symbol of the recognition of his career.
Frédéric Eugène Piat, Pair of female sphinxes, 1873, white marble, Salon of 1874, Selling at Drouot, june 2004, 115 000 euros.
Sphinge, after Eugène Piat, cast iron, Val d’Osne company, Troyes Museum.
Sphinge, plaster reduction,
in three-quarters view
Frédéric-Eugène Piat (1827-1903) is one of the most important French sculptors and ornamentalists of the 19th century with Louis-Constant Sévin in particular, who participated in the renewal and development of the French art bronze industry. He was active member of the Bronzes Manufacturers' Meeting (French : Réunion des fabricants de bronzes) and was part of those who have merged art and industry. He later became one of the founders of the Central Union of Fine Arts Applied to Industry (French : Union Centrale des Beaux-arts appliqués à l’Industrie) in 1864.
After setting with sculptors and ornamentalists, he started his own business in 1845 and enjoyed a good reputation in the 1850s. During the next decade, he began a collaboration with the founder Louis Léon Marchand (1831-1899). In the 1870s, he collaborated with eminent manufacturers: Georges Edouard Gagneau, Charles de Marnyhac, Emile Colin or the Val d'Osne Foundry.
The date of creation and exhibition of the sphinxes made of marble, model of our fire fender, corresponds to transition in the life of Piat. It is indeed from the year 1873 that takes place his artistic consecration: while he designed models to be exhibited at the Vienna World Fair in 1873, he received the visit of the President of the Republic Adolphe Thiers who made him Knight of the Order of the Legion of Honor for his fruitful contribution in the field of art bronze industry.
He participated in the Parisian Salons and in nine World Fairs during the second half of the century. Notably, he was very noticed during the Paris World Fair in 1878, where he exhibited a vast collection of objects and received a gold medal, but especially during the one of 1889, during which he was decorated with the Grand Prix, highest reward ever given to an industrial artist. Thanks to the quality and to the style of his productions, in keeping with the taste of the time for historicism and eclecticism, like our fire fender, Piat enjoyed a national but also international reputation.
The cast iron model was edited by the Val d'Osne foundry. An illustration in a sales catalog suggests this model has been poduced in several copies, but also with some variations to correspond to various objects, as evidenced by this other illustration on which two models of candelabra are also inspired by Piat. The elements enthroned on their heads and supporting the light are similar to the decorative vases of our sphinxes. As consequence, it may be stated that our fire fender was also produced by the Val d'Osne foundry whose production was at the time very prolific.
The Val d'Osne company is an art foundry created in 1835 by Jean Pierre Victor André, inventor of cast iron ornament, to manufacture urban furniture in particular. While his workshops were located at Val d'Osne in the department Haute-Marne in the northeast of France, his head office and his exhibition store were located at 58, boulevard Voltaire, in the 11th district of Paris. At his death, his nephew, Hippolyte André (1826-1891), took over the case. The foundry was very important to the point where the foundry soon absorbed competing companies like André, Barbezat and Ducel. It thus becomes the most important society in art cast iron in France.
Sales Catalog, Val d'Osne Company.
Famous for its contemporaries, particularly thanks to its monumental fountains, statues and large cast iron groups made after classical antique models or contemporary models, the foundry won several medals at exhibitions of products from French industry. It received a bronze medal in 1834, a silver medal in 1839, and gold medals in 1844 and 1845. It also participated at the World Fairs in London in 1851, in Paris in 1855, in Santiago in 1875, in Melbourne in 1879, in Paris in 1878, where it won the Grand Prix and two gold medals, in 1889 (not competing and jury member) and 1900 (not competing and jury member). This same year, it realized the four large gilded bronze set for the Alexandre III bridge.
The sales catalogs of the company allow us today to appreciate the diversity of its objects and its various sources of inspiration. Because what made the reputation of the company, it is also its frequent collaborations with the greatest artists of the time among whom Carrier-Belleuse, Mathurin Moreau, Pradier and of course Eugène Piat.