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Work Wall Lights

Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: rococo

Pair of wall lights

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Philippe Fuzeau

Decorative Arts
18th century: rococo

Author(s):
Muriel Barbier

This pair of wall lights has been identified as based on a design by André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732). Each fixture has two asymmetrical branches, protruding from a bearded satyr head. Invented in the first quarter of the eighteenth century, wall lights offered a new decorative solution to the problem of interior lighting. They were fixed on either side of a mirror in order to reflect and increase the light.

New type of lighting, new style

The branches of the wall lights are attached to a vertical axis of scrolling acanthus foliage intertwined with ivy and berries. The center of the composition is a grotesque mask of an old bearded man crowned with laurel, reminiscent of gilt-bronze mounts found on furniture designed by André-Charles Boulle. Two completely asymmetrical branches protrude from the mask, each ending with a candle socket and a drip pan. These fixtures are first examples of a new type of lighting. In the early eighteenth century, the sconce with back-plate in use throughout the seventeenth century was replaced with the wall light. Reading from Molière, a painting by Jean-François De Troy (1679-1752) in the collections of Houghton Hall (Norfolk, Great Britain), illustrates the manner in which they were used: the lower branch passed in front of a mirror so that the reflections would multiply the effect of the candlelight. The branches of wall lights were meant to be as decorative as the vertical bracket holding them to the wall. The models in the Grog collection have twisting branches of differing designs, and the overall composition is based on a succession of curves, attesting to a new taste for sinuous lines. They belong to the ‘régence’ style, which, superseding the outdated severity of the Louis XIV period, heralded the arabesques of the ‘rocaille’ style.

    

Wall lights attributed to André-Charles Boulle

The design of this pair of wall lights corresponds to an engraving published by Pierre Mariette circa 1725 in a book of André-Charles Boulle’s newest work, Nouveaux Desseins de Meubles et Ouvrages de Bronze et de Marqueterie. The model is referred to as “wall light meant for a chimneypiece in a room with low ceilings.” The foliage pattern adorning the vertical axis of the wall lights in the Grog collection is however more elaborate than the one in the published print. It is in fact difficult to ascertain whether the Grog lights were actually made in Boulle’s own workshop, although we do know that the cabinet-maker produced wall lights. The plates engraved by Mariette indicate that in 1720 he had orders for nine different pairs. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu owns a pair very similar to that in the Grog collection, which is also a variant of a model created by Boulle.    

Bibliography

Cinq années d'enrichissement du patrimoine national 1975-1980, Paris, 1980, p 116, n° 95.

Technical description

  • Attributed to André-Charles BOULLE (Paris, 1642 - Paris, 1732)

    Pair of wall lights

    First quarter of 18th century

    Paris

  • Gilded bronze

  • Gift of M. René Grog and Mme Grog-Carven, 1973

    OA 10516

  • Decorative Arts

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