France, Paris. Wood, steel and gold.
Private collection, France
Blanchard is recorded as working at 36 rue de Cléry, Paris, circa 1825-1850, and on 16th January 1821 he was granted a patent for a percussion rifle. In 1837 the firm was joined by Charles Hypolite Houllier, a gun-maker from Liége, whom had married Blanchard’s daughter Lucrèce in that year. Henceforth the firm traded as Houllier-Blanchard, continuing at rue de Cléry. The gun-makers Houllier-Blanchard exhibited in London at The Great Exhibition of 1851 and at the International Exhibition of 1862, and were awarded prize medals at each. A further award was gained in Paris at the Exposition Universelle in 1867.
The barrel-maker Albert Henri Marie Renette is first recorded in 1793, then successively between 1809-1834 as gun-maker and barrel-maker, 60 rue Popincourt, later at no.96. Renette variously signed himself Renette père / Cannonier du Roi / and Arquebusier du Roi, each version giving testimony to his abilities and high standing. Renette held a number of firearms patents: commencing on 16th March 1820 with a duel-system gunlock (flintlock and percussion) which was added to with an improvement on 22nd September of that year. He was awarded a bronze medal at the Paris Exposition of 1823, a silver medal in 1827 and an honourable mention in 1834.
To date very little is known about the engraver Renneson other than his name appearing on a series of 23 surviving sheets of designs for the ornamentation of firearms which he published in 1807-8. The designs are however of a highly distinctive graphic quality and it is of little surprise that occasionally they are found, as with the present guns, reproduced quite faithfully on French firearms of the period.
To judge from the surviving Renneson designs and from further surviving sheets from other sources it would appear however, almost certainly, that Renneson in turn drew his inspiration from others. Again, the evidence is found in a just few surviving published sheets of designs, in this case for engraved mounts for a fowling-piece by Augustin Dupré (1748-1833), preserved in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.
In his earlier career Dupré had achieved high renown in both France and in the young United States of America as a goldsmith, medallist, engraver and designer. A former student of the sculptor David, he had in fact begun as an engraver of weapons at the Royal arms manufactory. He is today best known for his designs for French gold and silver coinage. In 1787, as medallist to Louis XVI, Dupré was chosen by Thomas Jefferson, the United States Minister to France, to design a gold medal to honour, posthumously, the Continental naval officer John Paul Jones. Prior to this Dupré had created the Libertas Americana in 1783, and among his other US commissions were the Greene medal of 1787, the Morgan and Jones medals of 1789, the Diplomatic medal, 1792, and two medals of Franklin, 1784 and 1786.
Dupré fell from grace under Napoleon as First Consul but evidently continued as a designer of firearms ornament, working in the early 19th century in association with Biennais and possibly with Boutet also.
The Renneson sheets also compare closely with 13 sheets of designs published in Paris but probably post-dating the Renneson sheets, by another contemporary, signed Lucas. These designs are preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (Cabinet des Estampes, Le 25. Pl.131:3,4).
The guns built undoubtedly for use as a pair, with minor differences, their respective silver mounts decorated in complete accord, and each near-perfectly preserved in little-used condition throughout. The two sets of barrels forged in a fine twist pattern with charcoal-grey finish, each signed in gold capitals on the rib, decorated with damascened and engraved differing bands of gold neo-Classical foliage at the breeches and muzzles, and gilt breeches pounced and engraved with matching linear bands of rosettes and beadwork enclosing the barrel-forgers’ marks of ALBERT HENRI RENETTE (Neue Støckel 921). Each set of barrels also struck on the underside of the breeches with its respective serial number together with the date 1825, no. 189 additionally stamped 206 and dated 1822 on the underside of the rib. Each with case-hardened breech-tang finely engraved with further neo-Classical foliage and border ornament. The locks near-identical, both pairs retaining much of their strong case-hardened colour and signed BLANCHARD À PARIS in gold within gold ovals, with bevelled edges, rainproof pans, the cocks each engraved with a dragon spitting bolts of lightning, and the steels and the top-jaws of the cocks each boldly chiselled with neo-Classical anthemion ornament burnished in bright contrast to the hardening colour and in mirror image to the tail of each lock-plate. With highly figured red walnut half-stocks, the grips and fore-ends finely carved with a diaper pattern of scale-like small leaves with minute nodules between, the butts each with carved raised cheek-piece decorated with a graceful rosette and cornucopia volute tapering to the rear, and each with an elaborate stags’ head trophy carved prominently at the base of the grip. Full silver mounts finely cast in low relief and engraved with a series of sujets de chasse drawn directly from the published pattern sheets of Renneson, the various contemporary and neo-Classical vignettes correctly differing over the two guns and in doing so providing an intended natural flow of corresponding imagery. Including trigger-guards each cast with an architectural patera moulding ahead of the bow, one decorated on the bow with a duck retrieved by a game-dog and at the finial with the figure of a sportsman in contemporary dress, the other with a fox vignette at the bow and with the figure of Diana the Huntress on the finial; the butt-plates each decorated with four naturalistic vignettes, one with a boar pursued by dogs, a pointer at work, a cock pheasant and hind, the other engraved with the accompanying Red stag, a pointer and rabbit, a pointer and pheasant and with a partridge on the lower finial; the rear ramrod-pipes similarly engraved, one involving a neo-Classical owl and the other a deer, the forward pipes decorated with border ornament cast in low relief, and each gun retaining its original brass-tipped ebony ramrod.
Size: Length 133 cm / 52.3 in