Vase (vase ‘du roi’), Sèvres porcelain, c.1776 (C328)
This rather cumbersome model is all too easily ignored. But it has hidden secrets revealed by the Archives at Sèvres.
Visually it is perhaps most remarkable for its flowers in high and low relief which, either as realistic sprays of lilies across the body or crisp garlands of flowers entwining the form and its medallions, are masterful in their detail and naturalism. In fact the lilies are crucial to the purpose of the model which was designed to celebrate the coronation of Louis XVI on 11 June 1775. It first appears in the Sèvres documents in July 1775, where it is listed in the assemblers’ workshop ledgers.
Our undated example was bought by Sir Richard Wallace for his father in 1859, and then it had an odd cover tightly sealed to the vase. It is without artists’ marks, but the decoration bears a striking resemblance to a pair of vases ‘Adélaïde’ at Harewood House in Yorkshire. Named after Louis XV’s daughter, Madame Marie-Adélaïde, who was Louis XVI’s aunt, they are dated 1776 and marked by Pierre the painter and Boulanger the gilder. Both did overtime work in 1776 and miraculously their records reveal that the vases were part of a garniture, flanking a central vase ‘du roi’. But the Harewood vases were never intended to have covers, having gilded sprays of foliage inside the necks. The only way to confirm that our vase might have been the centrepiece of this set was to see if our cover was a later addition and that it too had gilding inside the neck. Careful warming of the resinous wax sealant (with a hair drier) lifted the cover and the thrill of discovering the gilding that you can see today was immense. The three vases indeed formed a matching garniture.
The factory’s sales records are equally exciting, indicating that they are probably the three vases bought by Madame Marie-Adélaïde herself in 1777 for 1,320 livres, bringing to six the number of pieces of her Sèvres porcelain in the Wallace Collection (see also C340-1 Study, C454-5 this case and C488 Back State Room). One hopes she delighted in the family connections between two vases of a model dedicated to her with a third designed for her nephew.
The Archives at Sèvres are 250 years old this year and they are a brilliant resource for our understanding of these works of art. If they no longer survived, then the history of our vase would be completely forgotten.
- The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Sèvres Porcelain by Rosalind Savill, The Trustees of the Wallace Collection, London, 1988 (available in the Shop)