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).
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).
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.