A pair of attention-grabbing candelabra, metaphors for the artistic, political and economic link between a prosperous post-Colonial Philadelphia and France’s fading ancien régime, will be offered by Freeman’s at their English & Continental Furniture & Decorative Arts auction on 7 October as lot 350. They are being sold on behalf of Saint Peter’s Church in Society Hill, and were gifted to it in the late 19th century by an important Philadelphia family.
The winged griffins and the triangular bases of these candelabra are characteristic of Galle’s work and similar to those on a pair which he delivered for the Salon d’Impératrice at Fontainebleau in 1807. Also, the standard and base are identical to a pair of candelabra attributed to Galle offered at Christie’s in 2002. That pair had a different arrangement of candle arms, which on this pair are easily unscrewed at the top, showing that the owner could have the upper arrangement of the candlesticks altered to suit his or her taste. The fantastical sea monsters that form the candle arms are typical of Empire ornament—the nod to antiquity and the exotic as key elements of the style.
Claude Galle was known to have lived quite a lavish and generous lifestyle. Though very successful, it is believed he often experienced financial difficulty, due in part to the failure of some of his most important clients (such as the Prince Joseph Bonaparte) to pay what they owed.
Galle’s candelabra were exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1996-1997. In that exhibition, Cadwalader Family: Art and Style in Early Philadelphia, the accompanying book by Jack L. Lindsey and Darrell Sewell explains the relationship between General Thomas Cadwalader and Joseph Bonaparte. Cadwalader was “a man of great intellect and style” whose Philadelphia home became a center for scholarly debate and entertainment for many of Philadelphia’s intellectual and influential leaders.
There is no doubt that through these contacts that he met Joseph Bonaparte, who came to America after Napoleon was defeated by the British and exiled in 1815. Bonaparte’s Point Breeze villa was a riverside mansion replete with exquisite collections of European paintings and furniture, which no doubt influenced Philadelphia society’s taste for French decoration. They had a close relationship and corresponded often. Bonaparte gave him a rare and valuable ancient Greek vase in 1833 and a fine painting, The Rape of Europa, by Nöel- Nicolas Coypel (1690-1734) that was his parting gift to Cadwalader in October 1839. The painting is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, given to them in 1978 by John Cadwalader, the great-great-grandson of General Thomas.
Several other important institutions in the United States— including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and Henry Francis duPont’s Winterthur Museum in Delaware— contain noteworthy holdings of furniture and decorative arts formerly belonging to the Cadwalader family, considered one of the most important families in the history of furniture and decorative arts in America, and Philadelphia in particular.
It is not known exactly when the Galle candelabra were presented to Saint Peter’s Church. They were illustrated in a 1924 evening edition of The Prescott Courier, where it is said “they came from Joseph’s house into the possession of the Sims family and later were given to the Church”. Whether or not Thomas Cadwalader acted as an intermediary is not entirely clear, but we do know that Jefferys, also in 1924, considered them to have been in the vestry room for a very long time, evoking a feeling of “reverence and awe” that “breathes the atmosphere of a venerable past.”
This piece sold for $30,000 at the 7 October 2014 auction of English & Continental Furniture & Decorative Arts.