Golden, glistening under the flicker of candlelight; there is nothing quite as atmospheric and decadent as ormolu and gilt-bronze castings. The Wallace Collection has created a glorious exhibition highlighting the excellence of the bronzier. And rightly so; the techniques used and skill required to create such characteristic elements of decorative art are often neglected.
Techniques and Production
Ormolu became an increasingly popular addition to furniture and decorative objects during the eighteenth century. The finest craftsmen working in France, and Paris soon became renowned for creating the best pieces. It was a complicated process which can be very simply outlined as: forming a wax model, making a plaster/clay cast, melting away the wax (the so-called ‘lost wax process’), filling the hollow with molten bronze and finally finishing the bronze with tools, burnishing, and gilding.
There was a strict guild system in place in France which restricted who could perform each stage of production. For example, those who cast the bronze mounts were not able to gild them, and vice versa. Jacques Caffieri, one of the most famous bronze makers, was granted a royal privilege in 1740 to do both the casting and gilding. This was almost unheard of at the time, but shows that he was considered a master of this art. His son, Philippe, followed in his footsteps and was also granted many royal commissions. Philippe even signed some of his work, P.CAFFIERI, which was incredibly unusual and evidence of his skill and prestige. Ormolu remained extremely popular and continued to be an integral part of furniture making throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
What to expect from ‘Gilded Interiors’?
The Wallace Collection’s celebration of ormolu is a treat for the eyes. In a beautifully lit room, they have displayed Firedogs, Candelabra, Clocks by French makers such as Pierre Gouthière, François Rémond and Claude Pitoin. Alongside, architectural drawings adorn the walls to demonstrate neoclassical design and the influence of the ‘antique’ on eighteenth century decorative design. It’s a small space with a few carefully selected objects that speak for themselves.
Get the Look
Gold is such a timelessly glamorous addition to any interior and its versatility lends it to both modern and period decorative schemes. The Wallace Collection’s exhibition is open until 30th July 2017, but if you would prefer to create a gilded interior of your own, here are some suggestions!