Charles Guillaume Diehl

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Charles Guillaume Diehl

An Important Napoleon III Empire Revival Oak Cigar Cabinet on Stand

French, Circa 1865

REF No. B75241


Height :131 cm | 51⁵/₈ in
Width :61 cm | 24 in
Depth :38 cm | 15 in


An Important and Very Rare Napoleon III Empire Revival Oak Humidor Cabinet on Stand, With Silvered Bronze Mounts, By Charles Guillaume Diehl.

The design attributed to Jean Brandely and the sculptural mounts to Emmanuel Frémiet.

This remarkable oak humidor on stand has an upper section of rectangular form, with a raised lid crowned by a dramatic animal head finial, above a cupboard door, mounted with rich silvered-bronze mounts, depicting Apollo driving his chariot amongst the clouds.  The angles of the door are embellished with ribbon-tied laurel wreaths, interposed by stylised anthemion.  The door opens to reveal an interior fitted as a humidor, with five pull-out ‘drawers à l’anglaise’, with caned bases for cigars.  Below there is a frieze drawer mounted with an alternating chain of flower-head patera and diaper motifs.  

The lower section has a shaped apron applied with a stylised anthemion and scrolled mount, flanked at each corner by a pierced boss and raised on flared, square section, tapering legs, applied with stylised acanthus mounts and united by a shaped stretcher with a central boss; the legs terminating in toupee feet.

The design for this unusual humidor cabinet is emblematic of the 'néo-grec’ furniture and objects, produced by Diehl, in the second half of the 19th century.  At the beginning of his career Diehl specialised in the creation of fine furniture of small dimensions, often inspired by historical examples and by the great ébénistes of the 18th century.  By the 1860’s he had gradually developed a more individual style, combining freely inspired neoclassical motifs, such as stylized anthemion decoration, military trophies and allegorical attributes, derived from Greek and Egyptian antiquity, to original compositions that were considered at the time to be at the forefront of the avant garde.  

The design ethos, behind this neoclassical revision, was influential across the globe in the 19th century; revival-style firms, as far afield as New York, such as Pottier and Stymus and Kimbel & Cubus, creating furniture in this innovative spirit.

Diehl was praised by his contemporaries for being artistic and original. His work was favourably distinguished from the output of many rival firms who produced fashionable furniture in the 'Louis revival' style copying 18th century pieces from the Garde-Meuble royal:

'M. Diehl n'aime pas le banal; par tempérament, par goût, par réflexion et par l'effet des études approfondies qu'il a faites de toutes les questions se rattachant à son art, la fabrication des meubles de luxe, la grande et la petite ébénisterie, M. Diehl a des préférences pour le nouveau, pour l'original’
(J. Mesnard, Les Merveilles de l'Exposition Universelle de 1867, Paris, Tome II, pp. 129-135.)

Diehl's medal-winning stand at the 1867 exhibition included a number of highly individual designs including the 'Triomphe de Mérovée' cabinet à médailles (purchased by the Louvre in 1973 and now on display in the Musée d'Orsay, OA10440, and of which there is another example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and the Coffret Impérial à bijoux for Princesse Mathilde (Château Compiègne).  He also included on his stand a number of pieces shown in the genre Grec: a bijouterie cabinet (Philadelphia Museum of Art), the 'Aurora cabinet' (Musée d'Orsay Paris, OAO992) and a centre-table with 'chimères' supports (private collection).
Like the humidor cabinet on stand, these pieces were a collaboration between Diehl, Kowalewski, his chief ébéniste, and the industrial designer Jean Brandely. Described as "a bold, strange enterprising man with spontaneity" (Auguste Luchet in L'Art Industrielle á l'Exposition Universelle de 1867: Mobilier, vêtement, aliments, Paris, 1868), Brandely provided plans for furniture and designs for both marquetry and bronze applications and would have been responsible for the distinctive Egyptian and Greek revival mounts (J. Mesnard, Les Merveilles de l'Exposition Universelle de 1867, Paris, Tome I, p. 183).  Diehl also collaborated on the exhibition pieces with the renowned sculptors Emile Coriolan-Hippolyte Guillemin and Emmanuel Frémiet.

This sophisticated humidor, or cigar cabinet, was conceived with the same innovative spirit as the exhibition pieces, and belongs to a select group of furniture, which epitomises the grandeur and ambition of the period.  A very small number of examples of this model are known, some unsigned and others created with subtle variations in the materials.  In addition, the lower section or stand for the cabinet was interpreted by Diehl for other items.  For instance, an identical base with analogous mounts was fashioned in walnut as a small occasional table and also used as the lower section of a porcelain-mounted cabinet-on-stand.

The highly individual, sculptural animal head finial, to the lid of the cabinet, can also be seen on a small documented table humidor, now in the collection of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.  A further example of the collaboration, between Diehl and the gifted sculptor Emmanuel Frémiet, it features a crowned salamander withstanding the flames, the personal emblem of the 16th-century French king François I.

Emmanuel Frémiet (1824-1910) was the nephew and pupil of François Rude and exhibited at the Salon from 1843. His early career was as a lithographer and he held the position of painter of cadavers at the Paris morgue. Later, however, he built up a formidable reputation for his large-scale monuments and equestrian statuary but, at the same time, he also produced numerous small figures and groups of animals. Frémiet was much admired and was made Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur in 1860. He became a member of the Academy in 1892.

Critically-acclaimed as one of the most innovative artists of the 19th century, Diehl enlisted the partnership of architects such as Brandely and sculptors such as Guillemin and Frémiet, not only to render his vision in plastic form, but to challenge the rigid hierarchy, that relegated the decorative arts, beneath that of the major arts of architecture, painting and sculpture.  The result was a series of furniture and small items of remarkable sophistication, created with a wealth of detail and of exceptional quality, of which this humidor on stand is a fine and rare example. His output was described during the 1878 Exposition Universelle as some of the most important of its time:

“ses petits coffrets, ses boîtes à jeu et à gants représentent une industrie de grande importance à la tête de laquelle la maison Diehl s’est placée” (D. Ledeoux-Lebard, Le Mobilier Français du XIXe Siècle, Paris, 1989, p. 165).

French, Circa 1865.


Charles-Guillaume Diehl (1811-1885) was one of the most flamboyant Paris makers of 'meubles de luxe' between 1840 and around 1880, specialising in extravagant pieces, including porcelain mounted, boulle and 'pietre-dure' furniture. He had a unique exotic style of a Gallo-Roman nature, incorporating lavish, full relief mounts on to rectangular items of furniture, profusely inlaid.

He established a large atelier at 38 rue Saint-Sebastien, and maintained a retail premises in Rue Michel le Comte between 1853 and 1885. Diehl manufactured all kinds of coffrets - liqueur cabinets, games boxes, jewellery caskets, as well as furnishings.

Diehl participated in all the major international exhibitions during the middle of the Nineteenth Century, commencing with the Great Exhibition in 1851. Various pieces by Diehl are in the Musée d'Orsay, the Musée de l’Ecole de Nancy and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A notable example, with Gothic references, is now in the Musée d'Orsay and illustrated in Ledoux-Lebard Les Ebénistes du XIXe Siècle, p.165.

Diehl's signature is usually found on the lockplate in an almost Gothic script 'Diehl A Michel-le-Compt 19 Paris'.

Ledoux-Lebard, Denise, Les Ebénistes du XIXe siècle, Les Editions de l'Amateur, (Paris), 1984; pps. 164-7.


Ledoux-Lebard, Denise 'Les Ebenistes du XIX Siecle', Les Editions de l'Amateur, (Paris) 1984, pps. 164-7.
C. Payne, 19th Century European Furniture, Suffolk, 1981; S. 35 (biogr. Details).
‘The illustrated catalog of the Universal Exhibition of 1867’, Art Journal, Virtue and Co, 1867 London.
exhibition catalog, Art in France during the Second Empire, Grand Palais, Paris, May-August, 1979, p.55, 133-134.
J. Meyer, Great Exhibitions London-Paris-New York-Philadelphia 1851-1900, Antique Collectors Club, 1988.

Charles Guillaume Diehl

An Important Napoleon III Empire Revival Oak Cigar Cabinet on Stand

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