A rare and important Napoleonic Bronze and Sienna Marble Inkstand French First Empire c.1805. A bust of the young Napoleon dressed as a Roman emperor surmounts a marble pedestal fronted with an Imperial laurel wreath. At its side stands a soldier, a grenadier of the Imperial Guard. Each of the inkwell lids is topped with a grenade, its fuse burning. At each corner the inkstand is supported by eagles, clutching globes. Dimensions: 35cm (13.75in) high x 32cm (12.5in) wide x 21cm (8.25in) deep.
This is most likely a presentation piece, given either by or to an officer of the Imperial Guard. The cast of the grenadier is very fine indeed, the uniform meticulously picked out in complete detail, front and rear (for comparison, see the picture we have provided of a painting of a corporal of the grenadiers of the Imperial Guard). He stands proud but weary - his body language saying "job done". That the bust is of a young Napoleon dressed as a Roman emperor suggests a date soon after he became Emperor of the French on December 2, 1804.
The Imperial Guard (Garde Impériale) was under Napoleon's direct command, acting as his bodyguard and tactical reserve. It was mainly formed of veteran soldiers who had served with him since his earliest campaigns and who it is believed were personally selected by him. Themselves elite troops, the grenadiers were selected by height and required to have had at least four years of service. It was stipulated that they must present a formidable sight, with moustaches, shoulders broadened by red epaulettes and tall fur caps.
We have never seen and searches do not find other examples of figural, regiment-specific inkstands from this period.
PROVENANCE: Sale of the contents of Debden Manor, Essex, England. See our picture of this inkstand in situ on the desk by the window in the Library of the house. This picture is a frame from a video of the interior, a link to which may be found on our 'Our Favorite Links' page, which can be accessed via the link on the front (home) page of our shop. To get there click, "Lefays Fine Arts" at the lower left of the gray banner at the top of this page.
CONDITION: In generally excellent condition for its age. The inkwells have no liners. There are traces of gilt highlights apparent (see pictures), such as on Napoleon's laurel crown, but this has mostly worn away. The marble is a little age-marked and worn, with a few "flea bites" along its edges. A small screw is missing from the back of the bronze trim around the smaller platform of marble on which the figure and bust pedestal are mounted but nothing has become loose as a consequence.