A late Louis XV goût grec gilt bronze-mounted Chinese famille verte porcelain vase

A late Louis XV goût grec gilt bronze-mounted
Chinese famille verte porcelain vase – circa 1765-1770 

The porcelain Kangxi (1662-1722)

Height: 51 cm. (20 in.)    Width: 44 cm. (17 ½ in.)

 

Provenance

Claude-Pierre-Maximilien Radix de Sainte-Foy (1736-1810); his sale, Paris, 22 April 1782, lot 134 (sold 490 livres to Langlier);
Jacques Langlier (1730-1814); his sale, Paris, 24 April 1786, lot 192 (sold 400 livres to Dulac);
Antoine-Charles Dulac (1729-1811)
The Collection of Giuseppe Rossi

This superb vase, of impressive scale with its bold goût grec mounts retaining their original lustrous gilding, is a rare example of the use of famille verte porcelain in the repertoire of objets montés promoted so fashionably by the marchands-merciers. It is also remarkable for being documented in not one but two late 18th century sales in Paris, giving a rare insight into the dynamic trade in works of art at that time.

The vase is first recorded in the sale catalogue of part of the collection of Claude-Pierre-Maximilien Radix de Sainte-Foy, held on 22 April 1782 in Paris (the catalogue for this sale was sold Christie’s Paris, 22 April 2016, lot 46). It is notable that this catalogue was written under the direction of Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun (1748-1813), the picture dealer, celebrated expert and husband of the painter Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun.

The present vase is included in the section of the catalogue dedicated to “Coloured Chinese porcelains” as lot 134 and is described as follows:
Un vase forme d’urne ouverte fond blanc, à dessins de plantes et de papillons coloriés, enrichi de gorge à cannelure, de têtes de lions portant anneaux, de culots, panneaux brettés et piedouche à feuilles de soleil sur son socle quarré Hauteur 19 pouces [51.4 cm] largeur 15 pouces [40.6 cm]

Every detail on the present vase is described, including the flowers and butterflies on the porcelain, the lion masks holding rings and the fluted collar: it also significantly described the vase as ‘ouverte’ i.e. conceived without a lid. The slight discrepancy in width measurement could be explained perhaps by the fact that the cataloguer in 1782 did not include the lion masks when measuring the width.

Numerous lots in the catalogue are accompanied by annotations and designs illustrating the objects by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin (1721-1786), including the present vase, reproduced next to its lot number. In his annotations, Saint-Aubin also noted the hammer price of 490 livres, as well as the purchaser of the vase, Langlier (fig. 1).

Fig. 1 – The Radix de Sainte-Foix sale catalogue annotated by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin

 

Radix de Sainte-Foy

Claude-Pierre-Maximilien Radix de Sainte-Foy (1736-1810) began his diplomatic career as the attaché of the Embassy in Vienna and was then promoted to the more lucrative post of Treasurer of the Navy. Upon the accession of Louis XVI to the throne, the Comte de Vergennes (1719-1787) became Secretary of State of Foreign affairs. He surrounded himself with competent colleagues to develop the diplomatic corps including Radix de Sainte-Foy, who was initially then sent to the court of the Duke of Zweibrücken in present-day Rhineland.

 
However, Radix de Sainte-Foy quickly returned to finance, and became from 1776 Surintendant des finances for the Comte d’Artois (1757-1836). The future Charles X was a spendthrift, as is marvellously illustrated by Bagatelle, his home in the Bois de Boulogne constructed in two months as a result of a bet with Marie Antoinette. Thanks to his various responsibilities and to his connection to Vergennes, Sainte-Foy rapidly built a considerable personal fortune, with which he purchased the Château de Neuilly as well as a hôtel particulier on the rue Basse-du-Rempart in Paris, for which he commissioned Jean-François Chalgrin (1736-1811) to complete the interior decoration. The rue Basse-du-Rempart is no longer extant, on account of the reconfiguration and enlargement of Paris’ grand boulevards during the reign of Napoléon III.

Radix de Sainte-Foy’s rapid rise in fortune and close connection to an extravagant Prince gained for him a great deal of enmity. Louis Petit de Bachaumont wrote, “this financer is impertinent in his luxury”. Accused of embezzlement by Necker (1732-1804), directeur général des Finances from 1777, he was forced to flee to London in 1782 and to sell a large part of his collection. Radix de Sainte-Foy was, however, eventually able to make amends, and played an important role in the counter-Revolution, becoming chef du cabinet secret des Tuileries when Louis XVI was detained there. Though incarcerated during the Revolution, he was subsequently liberated, and in 1798, purchased the former Abbaye d’Ourscamp, which had become national property. Radix de Sainte-Foy died in 1810.

Radix de Sainte-Foy’s hôtel particulier on the rue Basse-du-Rempart was constructed by Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart (1739-1813) for Bouret de Vézelay and was exceptionally luxurious. Its collections included furniture in Boulle marquetry but also numerous Chinese and Japanese porcelains. Other vases from Radix de Sainte-Foy’s collection are today in the British Royal Collection including a pair of Chinese turquoise porcelain vases with fish scale decoration (RCIN 478.1-2) and a garniture of three vases in Sèvres blue-ground porcelain decorated with soldiers (RCIN 2289.1, 2289.2 and 2290). Radix de Sainte-Foy would have met all the most fashionable artisans and marchands-merciers of Paris through his mistress, the Duchesse de Mazarin, a noted patron of the celebrated bronzier Pierre Gouthière and the architect François-Joseph Bélanger.

 

Jacques Langlier

Jacques Langlier (circa 1730-1814), who acquired the vase in the Sainte-Foy sale of 1782, was a hat merchant, but was better known as a dealer in paintings and objects of curiosity. Installed in the quai de la Mégisserie, he moved to the rue Sainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie and became known in 1786 as a marchand-mercier and a picture dealer. Like many marchands-merciers of the era, Langlier acquired stock at public auctions. In 1777, he acquired drawings from the sale of the Prince de Conti, and in 1782, he was also a buyer in the sale of Radix de Sainte-Foy. Following financial difficulties, Langlier was forced to sell a considerable part of his collection on 24 April 1786, including pictures, furniture and seventeen lots of porcelain from the Far East.

Among these lots, the present vase can be identified as number 192 in the sale of 24 April 1786. Notably the catalogue for this auction was also produced under the direction of Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun. The vase was sold to Antoine-Charles Dulac for 400 livres.

 


Antoine-Charles Dulac

Antoine-Charles Dulac (1729-1811) was a painter and member of the Académie de Saint-Luc from 1758, and was very active in public sales up to the end of his life, purchasing paintings in 1803 from the auction of François-Louis-Joseph de Laborde-Méréville. His father Antoine was a marchand and must have been related to the celebrated Jean Dulac, ‘marchand-gantier-parfumeur et bijoutier’, based on the rue Saint Honoré and creator of the famous ‘vases Dulac’ with their Sèvres porcelain bodies and intricate pop-up candelabrum mechanisms.


Possible attribution

The Sainte-Foy vase belongs to a distinct group of vases with similar bold à la Grecque mounts and unusual choices of highly coloured Chinese porcelain in contrast to those usually employed by the marchands-merciers, which tended to be largely either powder blue or celadon wares. Other vases in the group include:

  • a turquoise-glazed Ming dynasty Chinese garden stool with fluted collar, lion’s masks and leaf-cast socle virtually identical to the Sainte-Foy vase. This vase, now in the Château de Versailles (fig. 2), was acquired by Louis XVI at the sale of the Duc d’Aumont’s collection in 1782 (the same year as the Sainte-Foy sale)
  • a second one without a collar, but with the same handles, lion masks and socle as the Versailles/Duc d’Aumont vase, sold Christie’s London, 13-14 November 1984, lot 671
  • a third one with richer mounts and even larger in scale, but nevertheless clearly related to this group, sold Sotheby’s Paris, 15 December 2010, lot 93 (€960,750)

Fig. 2 – Late Louis XV gilt bronze-mounted Chinese porcelain garden stool, circa 1770
Versailles, musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon (T 423 C)

 

Intriguingly, the lion masks on this group are remarkably similar to those both on the ‘vases Dulac’, and the iconic goût grec model of clock supplied by the bronzier Robert Osmond to the celebrated early connoisseur of neo-classicism Lalive de Jully. Could it be that this distinctive group of colourful porcelain vases with distinctive mounts was originally commissioned by Jean Dulac (which could explain Antoine-Charles-Dulac’s acquisition of the vase in 1786, to buy back one of this family’s creations) with mounts by Robert Osmond?

 

A possible earlier provenance: Jean de Jullienne

Stylistically, the mounts on this superb vase are earlier than the date of the Sainte-Foy sale in 1782, and it is thus intriguing to note the following entry, lot 1461 in the sale of the collection of the great connoisseur collector Jean de Jullienne in 1767, which was remarkably held at the Louvre:


‘Un grand vase de porcelaine de la Chine très agréable, tant par sa forme, & le beau coloris [sic] varié des bocages, que par la composition de sa monture en bronze de goût antique : il porte 19 pouces de haut, sur 17 de diametre’

Although the description is not detailed enough to lead to an exact match, the description of the ‘bocages’ in the porcelain, the large height and diameter (which would imply the same rounded shape as this vase) and the mention of ‘antique’ bronzes, all correspond to the present vase.