The Wallace Collection

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Jug and Basin (pot ‘à l’eau tourné’ et jatte ‘Hébert’) 1767
Treasure of the Month - June 2007

Jug and Basin (pot ‘à l’eau tourné’ et jatte ‘Hébert’) 1767

Sèvres soft-paste porcelain, decorated with a green ground overlaid with gilded dots (mouches), painted with children in landscapes by C.-E. Asselin, and gilded probably by E.-H. Le Guay. (museum number C454-5)

Despite being intended simply as a hand-rinsing device on the dressing table, this is a very remarkable piece with a royal provenance. The decoration is especially rare and elaborate, and also at the very height of fashion in 1767.

The three scenes are of Savoyard children with, on the jug, a child being taught to play the hurdy-gurdy, after Greuze and from Aliamet’s engraving L’education d’un jeune Savoyard acquired by the Sèvres factory in 1765. On the basin both subjects are after Boucher (also modelled by Falconet as biscuit sculpture at Sèvres): in La lanterne magique the children look in a magic lantern or peepshow, and in Le tourniquet they play a children’s version of roulette.

Savoyard peasants from the Savoy Alps used to spend their winters tending their cows in barns beneath their own living quarters. They occupied themselves making wooden toys and puppets, remedies from mountain herbs, and training marmots (resembling small beavers) to dance to the bagpipes or the hurdy-gurdy. Then in the summer when the cattle went out to pasture, they would descend to the fairs held around Paris and other cities and sell their wares. They also specialised in mechanical toys, like the magic lantern where exciting scenes of far-away places were lit by candlelight within a darkened box, or such guessing games as tourniquet where children bet on where the spinning ball would land. Savoyards, echoing Rousseau’s idea of the noble rustic spirit, became increasingly fashionable, and aristocratic children used to dress-up in Savoyard costume to have their portraits painted.

The gold dots on the green ground are masterful, increasing or diminishing in size as they cover the
curves of each piece, and with the criss-cross hatching of each dot contrasted by burnishing in the lower right-hand edge, creating the three-dimensional illusion of real gold discs (paillons). Though worn, the effect is still visible today.

Rather touchingly, given its affectionate treatment of children, the set was bought by two of Louis XV’s unmarried daughters, Mesdames Adélaide and Louise, for 360 livres in December 1767. They often bought pieces of Sèvres porcelain together, sharing the cost and keeping them either at Versailles or at their chateau at Bellevue. Who kept this set when Madame Louise became a Carmelite nun three years later is not known.

Acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford, probably in Paris, by 1865.

Further Reading

  • The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Sèvres Porcelain by Rosalind Savill, The Trustees of the Wallace Collection, London, 1988 (available in the Shop)