A PAIR OF ORMOLU-MOUNTED SEVRES (HARD PASTE) PORCELAIN BLACK-GROUND CHINOISERIE VASES (VASES 'A BANDEAU') 1792, DECORATED BY PIERRE-ANDRE LE GUAY AND CHARLES-ANTOINE DIDIER, THE MOUNTS OF SIMILAR DATE AND ATTRIBUTED TO FRANCOIS REMOND Each of baluster form with ormolu dragon handles, the dragons perched on slender tapering fretwork supports terminating at the join of the vase to the socle, the waisted black-ground necks decorated in gold and platinum with pendant interwoven garlands and beads, above central projecting white-ground horizontal bands painted on each side with polychrome chinoiserie scenes of European courtly figures in Oriental costume by pagodas, bridges and urns, the black-ground lower portion decorated in platinum and gold with chinoiserie conical canopies edged with bells below pendant swags and above foliate branches issuing from ribbons with arrows at intervals, each on an ormolu socle cast with a band of berried egg and dart ornament above down-turned stiff-leaves on a circular foot and square plinth base (both with restored chip to top of neck and with an associated crack; one with a tiny chip to top of neck; minor wear to gilding in places) 12¾ in. (32.5 cm.) high overall (2)
A PAIR OF ORMOLU-MOUNTED SEVRES (HARD PASTE) PORCELAIN BLACK-GROUND CHINOISERIE VASES (VASES 'A BANDEAU')
12¾ in. (32.5 cm.) high overall (2)
EUROPEAN FURNITURE & WORKS OF ART
All other categories of objects
Valérie Bougault, 'La passion du Sèvres', Connaissance des Arts, October 2004, No. 620, p. 58. Sir Geoffrey de Bellaigue, French Porcelain in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen, London, 2009, Vol. II, pp. 507-508. John Whitehead, Sèvres at the Time of Louis XVI, 2010, p.
Auctioned by the Revolutionary Government of France at the lottery sale at Château de Saint-Cloud in September 1797, lot 26. Anonymous sale (Provenant d'une collection particulière, Paris); Sotheby's, Paris, 15 December 2003, lot 121.
THE PROPERTY OF DIMITRI MAVROMMATIS
THE PORCELAIN AND ITS DECORATION
In the early 1790s, Sèvres produced a selection of table wares and vases with sumptuous decoration in the manner of Asian lacquer. Created by painting different shades of gold1 and platinum on a black ground, the effect is arguably one of the richest decorations on porcelain ever achieved, and technologically it was also one of the most complex. Of the approximately 40 entries in the Sèvres records for vases and other pieces of form decorated using this technique (in factory parlance 'fond noir Chinois' or 'fond noir Chinois en or'), only 23 are known to have survived, of which nearly all are now in public collections. Of these, only 17 are vases. Traceable in the factory records for 1792, the present pair are the only vases à bandeau recorded as decorated in this style. Uniquely combining colourful Chinoiserie scenes with the faux-lacquer decoration, they are also the only known 'vases fond noir Chinois en or' surviving in private hands.
Although the present vases are not marked, they must correspond to a pair of vases which were recorded as being worked on by Didier in July 1792 (having already been painted by Le Guay) and worked on again by Le Guay in October, before coming out of the kilns on 10th December 1792. The 1792 Painters Registers describe, under the work of Didier: 'Le 13 juillet 1792: 2 Vases, peints par M. Le Guay décoration Chinoise sur le fond noir'.2 The same register for October 1792 records, under Le Guay's work: 'Le 15 8bre: 2 vases à Bandeau fond noir Sujets Chinois'.3 The pair of vases painted by Le Guay are the only vases with this type of decoration which are described as 'à Bandeau', or with a band, relating to the projecting horizontal bands below the necks. Other black-ground vases are described in the records with terms such as 'Chinois' or 'Chinois en or', but in this instance the decoration is specifically 'Chinoise sur le fond noir' (Chinese on a black ground). The two vases are then recorded in the Kiln Register for 10th December 1792 as '2 Vases fond noir Chinois Coloriés, Le Guay Didier' (2 black ground vases coloured Chinese [scenes by] Le Guay [and] Didier).4
The decoration of these vases reflects the romanticised regard with which Europe still viewed the Far East in the 18th century. The colourful scenes show whimsical visions of Oriental life as viewed through a fanciful European lense, and have much in common with chinoiseries painted on soft-paste porcelain at Sèvres in earlier decades.5 Some of these were inspired by engravings of paintings by François Boucher, Jean Pillement or Jean-Antoine Watteau, but frequently, as is the case here, an engraved source remains illusive. It is possible that engraved sources for the four scenes on these vases have yet to be discovered, but it is equally probable that the scenes were the product of the painter Le Guay's imagination.
Le Guay's whimsical scenes are uniquely complemented by shiny black grounds decorated in gold and platinum. The black-grounds decorated with chinoiseries by Didier do not specifically imitate Asian lacquer, but they are certainly inspired by it. In the 18th century Asian lacquer (and in particular Japanese lacquer) was viewed by Europeans with a sense of awe as it was not known exactly how it was made. In France lacquer had been highly prized since the 17th century, and by the 1730s lacquer chests or screens were cut up in order to make furniture or transform them into wall panels or other decorative devices more appropriate for the European interior. As this was a prohibitively expensive method of furnishing, a large number of lacquering workshops sprang up all over Europe producing 'japanned' furniture and other decorative elements which imitated Japanese and Chinese lacquer. Some interiors were furnished with a combination of Asian lacquer and European imitation lacquer.
The relationship between porcelain and lacquer was not new in Asia,6 but once planted in Europe, the idea grew to produce different and innovative decorative effects. Meissen was the first European porcelain factory to develop lacquer-style decoration, but the style was perfected at Sèvres with astonishingly fine gold and platinum decoration.7
Just as Sèvres rarely imitated the forms of Asian prototypes (the majority were new creations), only a few pieces actually imitate lacquer decoration faithfully. In her essay for the Schwarz Porzellan exhibition catalogue, Selma Schwartz noted that Sèvres primarily derived decorative elements from 18th century Cantonese lacquer rather than 17th century Japanese lacquer.8 The majority of lacquer style pieces are a mixture of fanciful European chinoiseries and influences from China and Japan. Schwartz observed that the decoration of black-ground pieces can be divided into roughly three groups; 'those after engravings by Pillement, those that seem to be inspired by Cantonese lacquer or Chinese woodcuts, and those (the majority) that cannot be related to any single source and are often a comical depiction of generic chinoiseries'.9 The gilt double-canopies fringed with bells on the lower parts of these vases bear a resemblance to those found in Pillement's 'The Ladies Amusement', printed in London in 1762 and other engravings, but if these engravings did inspire Didier it seems that they served to spark his imagination rather than provide a prototype to copy.
In spite of the vogue for lacquer throughout the 18th century, a taste which never waned but was more intense at times than at others, it was not until about 1790 that Sèvres began making vases and other objects with black grounds decorated in gold and platinum. The first attempts of lacquer-style decoration using gold and silver on a black ground were soon abandoned after October 1781, primarily because silver did not lend itself well for this purpose. Silver soon oxidized, going black, leaving it almost invisible against the black ground. Consequently, during the 1780s, red and brown grounds with lacquer-style decoration in silver and gold were mainly used instead. It was the introduction of platinum which revolutionised decorative possibilities, as it achieved 'silver' decoration on a black ground with permanence.10
France's economy was in decline in the years before the Revolution and the financial situation at Sèvres worsened at the end of the 1780s. By autumn 1789 delays in payments of salaries had become common, and exasperated workers had even seized the cashier, Barreau, threatening to hang him from the lamp-post by the factory entrance. Suppliers were also kept waiting and this included the bronzier Thomire, who still hadn't been paid for the majority of an invoice (for 107,703 livres) which had been oustanding since 1784.11 It is extraordinary then that such a technically difficult form of lacquer-style decoration should have been attempted when the factory was depleated of funds and suffering from the political unrest of the times. The vast majority of pieces made in this style were made between 1790 and 1793. Very few pieces were made in the years immediately after that, probably because the factory lost the majority of its best clients to emigration or execution in the Revolution. The rarety of these vases is almost certainly because the Revolution took place; had political events unfolded differently it is very probable that more lacquer-inspired pieces would have been made. In the first years of the early 19th century there was a renewed production of small numbers of lacquer-inspired pieces, but this was short-lived and the last appearance of this decoration on vases is in 1806.
THE ORMOLU MOUNTS
The ciseleur-doreur François Rémond (1747-1812) was considered one of the foremost doreur sur metaux of the Louis XVI period. He succeeded in attracting prestigious (and demanding) clients including Marie-Antoinette (through the ébéniste Jean-Henri Riesener), the Princess Kinsky (whose commissions for the Hôtel Kinsky in Paris are discussed by C. Baulez in 'Le Luminaire de la Princesse Kinsky', L'Objet d'Art, May 1991, pp. 84-99), the duc de Penthièvre, and the comte d'Artois to whom he supplied a garniture for his Boudoir turc, including the famous ostrich candelabra, now in Versailles (inv. V4776 et V4777). He also collaborated extensively with the celebrated Marchand-Mercier Dominique Daguerre, to whom he supplied work between 1778 and 1792 valued at the staggering sum of 920,000 livres.
Dominique Daguerre, who had become junior business partner and then successor to Simon-Philippe Poirier, was the principal supplier to Marie Antoinette and the Court. Daguerre specialised in supplying objets de luxe and, following the Revolution, particularly to George Prince of Wales (later George IV) and the English nobility. In the 1780's he opened a shop in Piccadilly, London to supply the Prince of Wales and his circle, including the Duke of Bedford and Earl Spencer.
Daguerre, with the architect Henry Holland (1745-1806), was in charge of work at Carlton House for the Prince Regent, and especially the Chinese drawing Room. The dragon and fretwork mounts on these vases bear a striking resemblance to those on a pair of black-ground Sèvres vases decorated with chinoiseries in gold and platinum in the British Royal Collection.12 Dating to circa 1791-92, the Royal Collection vases were possibly bought by George IV in 1815, and were placed on two console tables by Adam Weisweiler with similar mounts which had been supplied by Daguerre (together with candelabra and a clock) for the Chinese Drawing Room at Carlton House in circa 1790.13 Sir Geoffrey de Bellaigue noted that the close relationship between the mounts on the Royal Collection vases and those on the Royal Collection Weisweiler tables could possibly suggest that they were both supplied by François Rémond. Surviving correspondence between the comte d'Adhémar and Antoine Régnier, the Director of the manufactory, confirms that Rémond provided mounts for Sèvres vases in the 1780.14
THE HISTORY OF THE VASES
The whereabouts of these vases until 1797 is not certain. It is possible that they could be the vases which were sent to the depots of the Commissaires du Muséum National and descibed tantalisingly as 'No. 52. Deux Vases fond vieux Lacque de la Chine aussi de Porcelaine de seves. Pour anses des dragons ailés la base doré d'or moulu'.15 But as de Bellaigue points out, this description could refer to either the Royal Collection vases or the present vases. However, the description of a pair of vases in a lottery sale in September 1797 is unambiguous. The Revolutionary Government organised parties at the Château de Saint-Cloud to sell confiscated luxury goods including porcelain from various factories by lottery. Entitled 'Exposition des tapisseries des Gobelins, Porcelaines de Sèvres, et description des Tableaux existans au château de Saint Cloud. A Paris, Fructidor an Vème', the sale catalogue lists lot 26 as follows: 'No 26 - deux vases à bandeau, fond noir, imitant le laque' (two vases with bands, black-ground, imitating lacquer). Given that the Sèvres records list only one pair of vases with chinoiseries executed in colours on black-ground vases, and that the lottery sale catalogue specifies that they were 'à bandeau', the vases in the Saint-Cloud sale must be the present pair.
1. Different colours of gold were obtained by mixing other powdered metals into the yellow gold powder. Silver was added to create 'green gold' and copper was added to create 'red gold'. For a discussion of this and the introduction of hard paste porcelain at Sèvres, see See Antoine d'Albis, 'Hard-Paste Porcelain Plates from Sèvres with Chinoiserie Decoration in Colored Golds and Platinum', Metropolitan Museum Journal, 2002, No. 37, p. 274. 2. Archives Sèvres, Cité de la céramique Vj'5 fo 105. 3. Archives Sèvres, Cité de la céramique Vj'5 fo 137 ro. 4. Archives Sèvres, Cité de la céramique Vl'3, fo 219 ro. As this is the only mention in the Registers of chinoiseries executed in colours on black-ground vases, the entry must refer to the present vases. 5. See Tamara Préaud, 'Sèvres, la Chine et les "chinoiseries" au XVIIIe siècle', The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, 1989, Vol. 47, pp. 39-52. 6. In China, black wares, or wares that looked black, had developed alongside the taste for lacquer. See Linda Rosenfeld Shulsky, 'Famille Noire and Mirror-Black: The European Taste for Black-Ground Ceramics of the Kangxi Period (1662-1722)' in Schwartz Porcelain, Museum für Lackkunst and Schloss Favorite bei Rastatt 2003-2004 Exhibition Catalogue (English edition, Munich, 2004), p. 31. 7. Meissen had first developed glazes which imitated lacquer in circa 1710-11, but the decoration in gold and cold-colours executed by Japanning workshops was not as refined and it was not fired onto the surface as the technology for firing the colours permanently had not yet been developed. 8. Selma Schwartz, 'Chinoiserie decoration on black-ground Sèvres Porcelain', in Schwartz Porcelain (English edition, Munich, 2004), p. 102. 9. Selma Schwartz, ibid., p. 102. 10. This is because platinum does not tarnish like silver. See Antoine d'Albis, ibid., p. 274. The first clear evidence of gold and platinum decoration at Sèvres is in the records for Le Bel: '1 gobelet Boizot, frize en platine et or', AMNS, Vj5, fol.I341, 10th February 1790. 11. A. d'Albis, ibid., p. 268-269. 12. Sir Geoffrey de Bellaigue, ibid., pp. 504-509. 13. Cf. de Bellaigue, ibid, p. 505 and note 10. 14. Cf. de Bellaigue, ibid, pp. 505-506. 15. Archives du Musée du Louvre, M4.
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