The Wallace Collection

A Pot-pourri Vase and Cover in the shape of a ship (vase 'pot pourri à vaisseau') c. 1761
Treasure of the Month - June 2011

A Pot-pourri Vase and Cover in the shape of a ship (vase 'pot pourri à vaisseau') c. 1761

Sèvres soft-paste porcelain, decorated with an underglaze blue and an overglaze green ground, painted with birds and gilded.

This is the last and most elaborate of the three ship-shaped vases designed by Jean-Claude Duplessis in the 1750s. The naval theme is emphasised by the bowsprits in the mouths of the marine masks, and a royal connection is indicated by the fleurs-de-lis of France gilded on the billowing pennant. These details reveal that the design was both topical and newsworthy when it was created in 1758 because at that time France was at the height of the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) and still mindful of its naval victory at Mahon in 1756. The extraordinarily complicated combination of under and over glaze ground colours, a technical tour-de-force in the eighteenth century, and the rich gilding, including the worm-tunnel effect over the blue ground and the trelliswork over the green cartouche framing the bird painting, were highly fashionable between 1759-61.  It is likely that this vase once formed a garniture with a flanking pair of vases of a different form (vases ‘à oreilles’), with matching decoration and dated 1761, at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. All these factors suggest that our vase was immensely expensive and would probably have had a courtly provenance, but it cannot be indentified in the Sèvres sales records.

This model is always seen as an iconic Sèvres shape and has been much sought after by collectors. In fact English collectors, always the most enthusiastic purchasers of eighteenth-century Sèvres, owned all ten known examples of this shape in the nineteenth century. Today only five remain here: in addition to the Wallace Collection example, there are three at Waddesdon Manor and one in the Royal Collection.  The others can be seen in the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum in California and the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore.

Further Reading

  • For more information see Rosalind Savill, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Sèvres Porcelain, 3 vols, 1988, vol.1, pp.191-97, C256.

Gallery Talks

Lectures on this vase will take place on 10 and 27 June 2011, at 1pm, in the Back State Room.

© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2011
Text by Rosalind Savill