Spotlight: Paul Sormani, 19th Century French Cabinet Maker

When it comes to fine “meubles de luxe” or luxury furniture, there are few cabinet makers that truly stand out. However, a number of exceptional “Ebenistes” in the nineteenth century stand above the rest for their remarkable skill and versatility in styles, none more than Paul Sormani! Born in Venice in 1817, Sormani would eventually move to Paris in 1847 and become the preeminent Napoleon III period cabinet maker. He was noted for his specialized furniture reproductions in the styles of the Louis XIV, Louis the XV, and Louis XVI eras of the previous centuries, appealing to eighteenth century nostalgics.

Detail on a Paul Sormani Vitrine

Sormani won numerous medals and exhibited in Paris six times and once in London. The catalogue for the 1867 Universal Exposition described his work as one with “une qualité d’exécution de tout premier ordre” or as one with having “a quality of execution of the first order.” Though his work emulated that of bygone craftsmen, his skill far surpassed those that had come before. The nineteenth century saw a reintroduction of many former styles in furniture that were predominant under the kings of the old regime.

Gilt-bronze mounted mahogany and fruit wood table. Sold at Sotheby's for $100,000 in 2014.

Sormani wanted his work to recall the ancient traditional knowledge of artisans past with an emphasis on attention to detail, inventiveness, excellence, and a taste for beauty and luxury. Sormani fashioned works of art that came in many forms, from jewelry boxes, writing desks, and commodes to mirrors, and many smaller precious objects. His works included exotic inlays and veneers in rare woods, finely chiseled gilded bronze decorations, as well as Boulle style pieces inlaid with tortoise shell.

Under the patronage of the Empress Eugenie, wife of Emperor Napoleon III, Sormani became immensely popular with the discerning European aristocracy, going on to decorate the palaces of the French Imperial family. Sormani was a global sensation after the 1862 Universal Exhibition in London, and the esteem that followed the name Sormani would continue after his death in 1877. Owning a signed Sormani piece became a status symbol. Leaving his business to his wife, Ursula-Marie-Philippine Bouvaist, and son, Paul-Charles after his death, the furniture firm he created continued his quality and style to perfection. Pieces created after this time were then signed Veuve Sormani or Veuve Sormani et Fils (the widow Sormani and sons). The firm thrived for more than ninety years, closing in 1934 after the death of Paul Charles.

Game box signed Veuve Sormani & Fils available at French Metro Antiques

Signed lock plate and mother-of-pearl gambling chips.


Harrison Hunt
Harrison Hunt


Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.