Pair of Percussion Target Pistols Made for Display at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, 1851,

Signed by Alfred Gauvain French

Made by the Parisian gunsmith Alfred Gauvain (1801–1889) for display at the Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in London in 1851, these pistols are masterpieces of iron chiseling in the Renaissance Revival style that was popular in mid-nineteenth-century design. Designed by the sculptor and ornemanist Michel Liénard (1810–1870), they were praised at the time as works of modern art that rivaled in beauty of execution many older firearms preserved in national museums. The inspiration for the lizards, snakes, and frogs amid vine branches was perhaps provided by Renaissance goldsmith's works (silver by Wenzel Jamnitzer of Nuremberg) and ceramics (French Palissy ware).

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 375

Public Domain

Pair of Percussion Target Pistols Made for Display at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, 1851

Gunsmith: Signed by Alfred Gauvain (French, Paris 1801–1889 Paris)

Designer: Designed by Michel Liénard (French, La Bouille 1810–1870 Brussels)

Barrelsmith: Barrels by Léopold Bernard (French, Paris, active 1832–70)

Date: dated 1851

Geography: Paris

Culture: French, Paris

Medium: Steel, wood (ebony), gold

Dimensions: L. of each pistol 17 1/4 in. (44 cm); L. of each barrel 11 3/8 in. (28.8 cm); Cal. of each barrel .46 in. (12 mm)

Classification: Firearms-Pistols-Percussion

Credit Line: Purchase, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Bequest, 2013

Accession Number: 2013.513.1, .2

Signature: Signed on each barrel with gold in Gothic script: Gauvain a Paris; stamped on the underside of each barrel: GAUVAIN A1851; signed on each lockplate with gold in Gothic letters: Gauvain • Paris.

Inscription: Stamped on each breech plug: the numbers 1 and 2, respectively.

Marking: Stamped on each breech plug: L.B. beneath a crown, with a star below (the oval mark of Paris barrelsmith Léopold Bernard (active ca. 1832–70).
An East Coast institution (until 1983; said to have been given or bequeathed by a collector; Antique European Arms from the Collections of Dr. Charles S. Hendricks and two East Coast Institutions sale, Christie's East, New York, November 17, 1983, no. 260, as "Another Pair," by Alfred Gauvain of Paris, for $40,000, to Eric Vaule for Klaz); Dr. Gerald Klaz, Culver City, California (1983–2013; sold to MMA).
London. The Crystal Palace. "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations," May 1–October 15, 1851.

The Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue: The Industry of All Nations 1851. London: George Virtue, 1851. p. 220, ill. (one of the pair).

The Illustrated Exhibitor, A Tribute to the World's Industrial Jubilee: Comprising Sketches, by Pen and Pencil, of the Principal Objects in the Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, 1851. London: John Cassell, 1851. pp. 498, 501.

Wyatt, M. Digby. The Industrial Arts of the Nineteenth Century,... Illustrations of the Choicest Specimens... at the Great Exhibition... 1851. Vol. 2. London: Day & Son, Ltd., 1851. pl. 105.

Christie's East. Antique European Arms. New York: Christie's East, November 17, 1983. no. 260.