Martin-Guillaume Biennais (1764- 1843) was a highly successful goldsmith and retailer who produced many items of silver for Napoleon and his extended family as well as for an international clientele.
Osenat’s basin and jug, to be offered in this auction staged in Fontainebleau on March 12, was made c.1809 for Joachim Murat (1767-1815), one of Napoleon’s marshals who married Napoleon’s sister Caroline and became king of Naples in 1808.
Conceived in the neoclassical, Empire, taste with such features as anthemion, laurel swags, caryatids, winged gryphons, palm leaves and a swan headed handle, the set was designed to fit an anthenienne or neoclassical stand.
The original design was produced by the architect and designer Charles Percier who designed a number of works produced by Biennais and the preparatory drawings are now in the Musée des Arts Decoratifs.
An anthenienne complete with ewer and basin of similar design made for Napoleon and then owned by his sister Caroline is in the Louvre while two other similar examples, both minus their ewer and basin, are at Fontainebleau and in the Metropolitan Museum New York.
Both pieces on offer at Osenat are engraved with Murat’s royal arms and each has Biennais’ hallmark.
The 20in (51cm) diameter 4.49kg basin, which is marked for 1798-1809, and is signed underneath Biennais Orfèvre de LL MM Impériales et Royales à Paris, appears to have been made first.
The 16in (41cm) high, 2.84kg ewer, which is hallmarked for 1809-19, is signed underneath Biennais Orfèvre de LL MM Impériales et Royales et de Sa Majesté le Roi de Hollande à Paris.
The set remained with Murat’s Italian descendants until 2014 when it was the object of a private sale at Christie’s and since then has been in a private collection. The estimate is €120,000-150,000.