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  As alluded to in the exhibition catalog, the tradition of luxurious French firearms goes back centuries and continued through the French industrial expositions that ran from the end of the 18th century through the 1840s. These opulent arms built upon the incredible works of firearms art that had been prepared for royalty for generations and were designed to serve as masterpieces demonstrating the highest order of ornate arms. The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of
All Nations otherwise known as The Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851 was held
as a direct response to the French Industrial Exposition of 1844. At the 1851 World’s Fair, a pair of pistols by Alfred Gauvain now on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Gallery 375 (Accession #: 2013.513.1, .2) had a vine and reptile theme similar to the current pair of pistols. They are identified as designed by Michel Lienard (1810-1870). The present pair also display similarities with the
pair by Brun of Paris exhibited at the International Exhibition of 1862 which
were sold by Rock Island Auction Co. for $373,750 in September 2020 from the Gerald Klaz Collection. Exceptional French exhibition arms like these are featured in institutional collections, and comparisons with the current pair can be made with the Royal Collection Trust’s Devisme shotgun from the 1844 Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie Francaise presented to Prince Albert by King Louis-Philippe (RCIN 1572), the MET’s Alfred Gauvain target pistols featuring designs by Michel Lienard from the same French 1844 exhibition (Accession #: 2013.512.1,.2 ), and
the Royal Armouries’ Le Page Moutier percussion shotgun from the 1862 exhibition in London (Object #: XII.4751). Also of note is the MET’s examples of ceramic work attributed to Georges Pull dating to the 1860s that are based on France’s beautiful green lizard (Lacerta) species that frequent vineyards. The ceramics and the artwork on these exhibition pistols were perhaps influenced by the 16th century work of French Huguenot ceramic artist and naturalist Bernard Palissy whose work featured casts of reptiles with floral vines.
The rifled barrels are signed “GASTINNE-RENETTE A PARIS” on the top flats, dovetailed bead front sights, and extensive leafy vine scroll engraving and chiseling in raised relief. The underside of the barrels are dated “1855” and serial numbered “894,” and there are also London proof marks and .451 caliber markings along with “crown/GR” on the breech plugs. They also have the numbers “1” and “2” respectively on various components. The bolsters have pierced vine scroll designs that coordinate with the hammers which feature a battle between a snake and a squirrel. The lock plates feature ornate vine scroll engraving. The silver furniture
is three dimensional involving pierced vine scroll patterns accented by silver
gilt creatures consisting of a beetle on the forend caps, a primate to the front of the trigger guard, and a curled lizard on the pommel. The ebony stocks feature coordinating relief carved vine scroll carving. The ebony veneer case likewise features extensive vine carving as well as coordinating engraved trim and has “GASTINNE-RENETTE/A PARIS” in gilt lettering on the royal blue lining inside the case along with a suite of coordinating loading and maintenance tools of ebony, French gray steel, and silver. The floral pattern powder measure and relief cast and chased powder flask are works of art in themselves; taken as a whole, the accessories, pistols, and case are truly extraordinary examples of the finest 19th century firearms artistry.
One of the incredible pistols from this set appears on pages 137 and 164 of “The Art of Revolver Shooting” by famous marksman, Olympian, author, and artist Walter Winans (1852-1920) and is noted as his property. These pistols are featured in his section about shooting dueling pistols in which Gastinne-Renette receives much attention. He writes that regarding dueling pistols: “The best make is Gastinne- Renette’s.” In addition to “The Art of Revolver Shooting,” he published several additional books on shooting sports as well as others on art and animal breeding, and the Gastinne-Renette gallery is also discussed at length in “The Modern Pistol” in which he calls it “the best gallery I know of in any country.” At the Olympic Games, Winans won gold in 1908 and silver in 1912 and demonstrated dueling
as a sport using wax bullets at the 1908 Olympic Games. He has the distinction
of achieving a medal both in sport and art when he also took home a gold medal for his sculpture “An American Trotter” at the 1912 Stockholm Summer Games. Art competitions formed part of the Summer Games from 1912 until 1948. A purchase agreement for the pistols from W. Keith Neal dated April 1966 also accompanies the set, and they were featured in the “Roll of Honor” in the January 1992 issue of “Man at Arms.”

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