Object Place: Paris, France
Height of each andiron: 48.3 cm (19 in.)
Medium or Technique
Gilt bronze, silver-plated copper plaque decorated with oil-based paint containing Prussian blue pigment
Not On View
Pair of andirons. Each comprising two goats with forelegs balancing on central urn and with grapes in their ouths; a thyrsus with pinecone finial extending vertically between them. The base decorated with gilt-bronze relief of cupids and grape vines against an enamel ground.
This andiron (one of a pair in the Museum’s collection) evokes the splendors of prerevolutionary France. It is made of bronze, coated with a thin layer of gold, a process involving the application of mercury that burned off in the firing, unwittingly exposing workers to the deadly effects of this toxic element.
The refined technique of the andirons suggests that they are the work of Thomire, a prominent French bronzeworker. However, they may well represent the collaborative effort of many individual specialists in modeling, casting, chiseling, and gilding. The design features goats eating grapes from a basket, while below them, against a background originally covered with blue enamel, two cherubs shear a ram. The andirons may have been made for the Hameau, Queen Marie Antoinette’s self-consciously rustic farm.
By 1788, in the dining room of the Queen's House, part of the Hameau (Hamlet) of Marie-Antoinette, near the Château of Versailles; September 30, 1793, sold as part of the contents of the Château of Versailles, lot no. 2354, and bought by Rocheux, dealer. 1794-1796, probably acquired in Paris by James Swan, Boston, MA [see note 1]; after 1796, with his wife Hepzibah Clark Swan (d. 1825), Dorchester, MA; 1825, after her death, by inheritance to their daughter, Mrs. John C. Howard; by inheritance to her granddaughter, Miss Elizabeth Howard Bartol; 1927, bequeathed by Miss Elizabeth Howard Bartol. (Accession date: September 8, 1927)
 James Swan was a merchant established in Paris, and was appointed an official agent for the purchase of supplies in the United States in 1794 by the French Government. His partner was Johann-Caspar Schweizer, a Swiss. According to Howard Rice, the French Government placed at his disposal luxury goods to be exchanged in America for food supplies and war materials. The Swan and Schweizer agency shipped these articles to the United States between 1794-1795, where much of it was sold. However, this piece was among those that Swan kept for his personal use. See H. Rice "James Swan, Agent of the French Republic 1794-1796" The New England Quarterly, Vol. X, No. 3, Sept. 1937, p. 464-486.
Swan Collection—Bequest of Miss Elizabeth Howard Bartol