Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bouillotte: Game, Table, and Lamp

La Bouillotte
after Bosio.
Via "Tweedland" The Gentleman's Club
The Devoted Classicist finds it interesting that some home furnishings were historically made for one particular purpose.  Such is the case of the French game, bouillotte ("BOO yot"), inspiring both a table and a lamp.  Although neither the specific table nor the particular lamp type are required to play the game, both were developed to meet the needs of the card game.

Le Supreme Bon Ton No. 4
Image via Wikimedia Commons.
The gambling card game, bouillotte, dates from late 18th-century France, based on the game Brelan.  It was very popular in 19th-century France, and in the United States from about 1830.  Bouillotte is said to be one of the games that led to the development of poker.  As in poker, chips are used as wagers or payments during the game.

La Bouillotte
A hand-colored satirical etching on the
Congress of Vienna with five monarchs
playing cards for the countries of Europe
while Napoleon interrupts their game. 1815.
Image: British Museum.
The game was so popular that special tables of the same name were introduced just for that purpose.  These tables were usually round in form with a diameter of about 27 to 30 inches, having a pierced brass gallery encircling the top, often marble.

An Italian bouillotte table of inlaid walnut
and Ritsona Red marble with
a brass gallery and feet.  Circa 1780.
30" high by 27" diameter, currently available at
Florian Papp via 1st Dibs.
The gallery held a second loose top that would have a leather or felt inlaid playing surface that might be reversible to show a decorative inlaid wood design.  Over the years, these second tops might have been damaged or lost, or might have been used for the replacement for the damaged marble top.  In any case, the antique tables are attractive whether they have the second top or not and very much in demand today, along with good reproductions still being made. 

Two views of a bouillotte table
signed by Jean-Jacques Pafrat,
and made in Paris in 1785.
The view on the left shows the
removable top with a leather playing surface.
The view on the right, revealing the marble top,
shows the pull-out surfaces for lighting and a
drawer for the cards and game chips.
Image: artfinding
The game also inspired a special lamp of the same name.  During the first period of use, these lamps were referred to as flambeau couvert (a large candlestick lamp), flambeau bureau (desk lamp or candlestick), or flambeaux des jeu (lamps for gaming tables). A candelabra form rises from a dish that held the game chips and comes equipped with a single shade, usually painted metal (tole peinte), that can be lowered on a central stanchion to shield the eyes from glare as the candles burn down.  Although many variations of the form are often called bouillotte lamps today, The Devoted Classicist reserves the term for only those with both the dish and the adjustable shade.  
A bouillotte lamp in gilt bronze
made in Paris circa 1810.
Currently available at the Stockholm
antiques dealer Polstjernan via 1st Dibs.

A bouillotte lamp with the base inscribed
"Flaton & Priemer, Berlin"
currently available from Harbor View Center
For Antiques via 1st Dibs.
There were uses for the lamp other than just for the game, of course.  Today, it is still a favorite desk lamp for stylish traditional interiors.
"Man Reading By Candlelight"
by the Danish artist Georg-Friedrich Kersting, 1814.
Image via private collection.
Note the uses of clear glass collars
(bobeches) to catch the wax candle
drippings of this bouillotte lamp
in this unidentified image from
"Tweedland" The Gentlemen's Club.
In today's interiors, all sorts of variations of bouillotte tables and bouillotte lamps are used in a variety of ways, especially flanking a sofa.  But it is always helpful to be mindful of the original use.

The Blue Room of the White House
as it appeared circa 2005,
showing a 1902 McKim sofa flanked by
a pair of bouillotte lamps and two bouillotte tables
 in a photo by jrazz12 via The White House Museum.
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  1. I vaguely remember reading something about this lamp's origins a long, long time ago and I'm glad to know more about its history. A bouillote remains one of my favorite lamps!

    Am I right in thinking that Mark Hampton was particularly fond of a bouilotte?

    1. Blue, you may be correct. I always think of MH putting a pair of lamps on a pair of tables flanked by a pair of chairs and so forth. But he favored the architectural and the classical forms of furnishings, so I would not disagree. Thank you for commenting.

  2. Toby Worthington and I have been in discussion about the perils of dripping wax, and whilst the bobeches certainly help, (especially when they are not part of the construction of the candlestick), errant wax candles might need something the size of a saucer to prevent dripping. Enter the battery operated candle....
    and no, I don't have shares in the manufacturer.

    1. Columnist, I have discovered that even 'dripless' candles can indeed drip. The shade would help, however. I wonder if anyone is painting his battery-operated candles black to conform to Sister Parish's preference? Thank you for commenting.

  3. I have seen these tables many times and had no idea they were originally designed for the game of bouillotte. They looked so small! especially the ones in the WH picture on each side of the sofa. Am I to assume that a table like this with a brass railing and marble in the center is a bouillotte?
    The bouillotte lamps have always been a favorite. I have a small one sitting on my desk. Another one was lost in a move which really burns me!!

    1. There is some difference of opinion, and I hope some experts will comment. The consensus of a small, informal survey is that yes, these are all considered bouillotte tables, but antiques dealers today generally note them as occasional or side tables with a brass gallery. Thanks for your comments, J.

  4. Having sold many bouillotte table, the fact that these tables once owned a second top is fascinating. Of course, that is what the gallery was for. Thanks for this informative post--let's hope that a return to decorating with traditional top-notch antique furnishings is about to blossom. Mary

    1. Mary, I am trying to do my part, not only with this blog, but my private practice and my volunteer support for my local museum. It's all along the lines of the-more-you-know-the-more-you-appreciate, I contend. I appreciate your comment.

  5. Word from Mindy Papp, of the distinguished dealer Florian Papp in New York City, contacted me to say that the "raised galleries helped keep the dice and playing pieces on the table thus form follows function equals beauty." So the marble tops provided a durable surface and were not necessarily just a second top beneath a removable surface held by the gallery.


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