PARIS, circa 1805

Labradorite, aventurine quartz from Siberia, green feldspar from Siberia, pink lepidolite from Moravia, silky carbonated lime from England, Carrara marble
Ormolu mounted mahogany base

Height: 69 cm (27 1/8 in.)
Diameter: 94.5 cm (37 ¼ in.)

Provenance : - commissioned by Étienne Marquis de Drée (1760-1848),
exhibited in his mineralogical museum
- his sale, Paris, January 27th, 1817, lot 152, sold 1000 francs to Bellamy
- Anonymous sale, Paris, March 24th, 1828, lot 57
- Michel Louis Philippe Ney Duc d’Elchingen (1804-1854)
- by descent, Napoléon Ney last Duc d’Elchingen (1870-1928)
His estate, Paris, galerie Georges Petit, May 27th, 1929, lot 86
- French private collection, thence by descent

Literature: - Catalogue des huit collections qui composent le musée minéralogique de Et. de Drée, Paris, 1811, p. 255
- Catalogue des objets rares et précieux formant les huit collections […] qui composent le musée minéralogique de M. le Marquis de Drée, Paris, 1814, p. 69
- Description des objets composant les 4 collections de […] M. le Marquis de Drée, Paris, 1816, p. 22, n° 152

The guéridon rests on a triangular Roman altar-shaped mahogany base enhanced by ormolu mounts representing goat’s heads, claws, lamps, and palmettes. The white Carrara marble top is inlayed with a marquetry of rare pietre dure, depicting a pentagon within an eight branch star surrounded by a frieze alternating ovals and hexagons, made of labradorite, aventurine quartz from Siberia, green feldspar from Siberia, pink lepidolite from Moravia, silky carbonated lime from England.

The Mineralogical Museum of the Marquis de Drée

Étienne Marquis de Drée (1760-1848) was a French officer in 1777 before resigning at the beginning of the French Revolution and starting a political career: member of the provincial assembly of Beaujolais in 1789, member of the “directoire du département de Saône et Loire”, general councilor between 1800 and 1837, and member of Parliament between 1828 and 1837. However, besides this political career, he was also interested in the study of mineralogy and formed during forty years a collection focused on crystallographic characterization. His collection of over 20 000 rough specimens and a number of works of art fashioned in rare materials, was studied in the catalogues he published in 1811, 1814, and 1816 (Fig. 1). In these books, the Marquis sets his desire to be useful to both science and arts by collecting the most beautiful and rarest elements that nature has to offer from the mineral kingdom. His collection was made up of minerals in their natural state, classified into seven categories, but also an eighth category composed of decorative art objects (“Monumens et meubles d’agrément en roches et pierres”) from which the guéridon was one of the main feature. These various objects, all commissioned by the Marquis, contributed, according to him, to a better knowledge of minerals, while highlighting their sumptuousness. The top of the guéridon was undoubtedly made with the finest specimens from his collection.

Fig. 1: Front page, Catalogue des huit collections qui composent le musée minéralogique de Et. de Drée, Paris, 1811

The mineralogical museum collection was divided between the castle of Drée in Saône-et-Loire (Fig. 2) and his Parisian home. In 1845, the bulk of the collection, with the exception of the works of art, was bought 112,000 francs by the State to the School of Mines. A half, mostly doubles, was shared out among various institutions (IX, Bull. MCCXIV, n° 12058).

Fig. 2: Château de Drée, Curbigny, Saône-et-Loire

Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu (1750-1801)

Étienne Marquis de Drée is closely linked to his brother-in-law, the famous geologist and mineralogist Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu (Fig. 3 – 1750-1801), after whom are named the Dolomites mountains, in the eastern part of the Alps, between Italy, Germany, and Austria. Dolomieu first embraced a military career before devoting himself fully to science in 1775. He also achieved a high rank in the Order of Malta. Dolomieu travelled widely, especially studying volcanos, and was appointed professor of geology at the School of Mines and member of the Institute. He took part in the famous Campagne d’Égypte of General Napoléon Bonaparte, but was taken prisoner on his way home and transferred to Messina where he escaped the death sentence thanks to the mobilization of the international scientific community. He wrote during his captivity his Introduction à la philosophie minéralogique (Introduction to mineralogical philosophy -1801) and was released at the request of Napoleon. He was appointed professor of mineralogy at the Natural History Museum, before dying in the castle of Drée in 1801. Étienne de Drée inherited his collection of nearly 3400 rocks, stones, and volcanic samples. The table top is most probably made with samples from the Dolomieu collection.

Fig. 3: Anonymous, Portrait de Déodat de Dolomieu,
Oil on canvas, Musée de Grenoble (MG 357)

The guéridon

This exceptional guéridon presents a top made of rare mineralogical stones from the celebrated collection of the French mineralogist Étienne de Drée. Indeed, the latter commissioned the guéridon of which he precisely specifies each stone in the catalogue of his collection published in 1811:

Fig. 4: Description of the guéridon, Catalogue des huit collections qui composent le musée minéralogique de Et. de Drée, Paris, 1811, p. 255

This description was simplified in the later editions as well as in the auction catalogue of a part of the collection of the Marquis de Drée that took place on 27th January 1817, lot 152: “Table ronde mosaïque. En plaques de labrador le plus parfait, en toutes couleurs. Elles forment une grande étoile, etc., incrustées dans une table de marbre blanc. Pieds forme d'autel, en acajou, à têtes de bélier, et ornements en bronze doré. Meuble précieux. Diamètre 35 pouces, hauteur totale 29 pouces 6 lignes […] cette belle matière, qui rivalise à juste titre avec l’opale, est ici de la qualité la plus estimée.

The guéridon seems to have remained unsold because it was sold again in auction on March 24th, 1828, lot 57: “ une table ronde, grande mosaïque, en plaques de labrador de la plus belle couleur : les plaques forment une superbe étoile centrale, entourée d’un riche collier faisant bordure : le pourtour de cette table est décoré de bandes et ornements en aventurines et en pierres des Amazones : le tout est incrusté dans une table de marbre blanc, de 35 pouces de diam. Le pied sur lequel tourne ce beau meuble est en forme d’autel triangulaire, en acajou, avec têtes de beliers, griffes, et autres objets décoratifs en bronze doré.

For a century, the guéridon was part of the collection of the Neys Dukes d’Elchingen until it was sold after the death of the last duke, on 27th May 1929, lot 86.

The stones

The Marquis de Drée specifies in its catalogue the different types of stones used for the top of the guéridon, chosen as much for their beauty as for their preciousness.

Labradorite is a silicate characterized by colors with metallic luster, mainly blue and green. Discovered in 1770 in Labrador (Province of Canada) from which it takes its name, it was described by the mineralogist Foster in 1780. The Labradorite was valued for its bright colors and iridescent reflections.

The silky carbonated lime is a white calcite with a pearlescent aspect extracts in England.

Lepidolite was discovered in Moravia and described in 1792 by the German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth (1743-1817). Its name means “scale” in Greek because of its scaly structure.

Finally, aventurine quartz from Siberia and green feldspar from Siberia are minerals also chosen for their iridescent property.