French Bronze, often referred to as "Bronz doré" or gilded bronze, is a type of bronze work that is synonymous with high-quality craftsmanship, particularly in the realms of decorative art and sculpture. This form of bronze work saw its heyday during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in France, though it continues to be highly regarded today.
French Bronze is a material made of a mixture of copper, tin, and often other metals, such as zinc, lead, or nickel. The process of casting French Bronze involves making a mold of the object to be created, typically from clay or wax, and then pouring molten bronze into the mold. Once the bronze has cooled and hardened, the mold is removed, revealing the cast object.
The gilding process (adding a thin layer of gold to the surface of the bronze) is what distinguishes French Bronze, or Bronz doré, from other types of bronze works. This process is known as "fire gilding" or "mercury gilding," a highly hazardous method due to mercury's toxicity. It involves mixing gold with mercury to form an amalgam, which is applied to the bronze. The object is then heated until the mercury evaporates, leaving a layer of gold adhered to the surface. Because of the health risks associated with mercury, this method is no longer commonly used.
The 17th and 18th centuries, known as the Louis XIV, XV, and XVI periods, were the pinnacle of French Bronze craftsmanship. The French court's desire for luxury items resulted in a surge of high-quality bronze works. Artists like André-Charles Boulle were famous for their work with bronze during this period. Boulle's furniture, often inlaid with bronze doré and tortoiseshell, is considered some of the finest of the period.
The 19th century, particularly the Second Empire and Napoleon III periods, saw a resurgence in the popularity of French Bronze. Designers like François Linke were known for their exquisite bronze work during this era. Linke's furniture, often heavily ornamented with bronze doré, was prized for its excellent craftsmanship and creative design.
Though specific numbers and facts can be hard to find due to the nature of artistic work and its value being highly subjective, it's safe to say that French Bronze pieces, especially those from notable periods or creators, can fetch high prices at auctions today. For instance, a pair of 19th-century French Bronze candelabras sold at a Christie's auction in 2017 for $40,000. This reflects the enduring value and desirability of French Bronze works.