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Pot-pourri Vase, Sèvres soft-paste porcelain c.1761
Fig 2. Pierre Germain II’s design for an ecclesiastical lamp, from Eléments d’orfèvrerie, 1748.
Fig 2. Pierre Germain II’s design for an ecclesiastical lamp, from Eléments d’orfèvrerie, 1748.
Treasure of the Month - June 2008

Pot-pourri Vase, Sèvres soft-paste porcelain c.1761

Green ground, painted with birds in landscapes with buildings, and gilded.

This is the last rococo vase to be designed at Sèvres. Called the vase ‘pot pourri feuilles de mirte’, a reference to the entwined myrtle leaves on the sides and neck, the designer Jean-Claude Duplessis invented the form in 1761, though he drew on a much earlier vase as his inspiration. Here the source appears to be a design for an ecclesiastical hanging lamp by Pierre Germain II, published in 1748 (see fig 2). Duplessis has removed the chains of the lamp (though left the loops for them, which now become handles), and dropped the ceiling fixing to make a cover, and added a stem and foot. This rather bizarre interpretation of such a high-rococo source is all the more puzzling when one considers the notional Greek-key pattern round the stem. This reveals a cautious acknowledgement of the new neo-classical style, which was to overwhelm all his designs for the factory within two years.

Duplessis had a special talent for combining function and form. Here the pot pourri contained in the vase would have perfumed the room through the scrolling piercings on the neck and cover, and the myrtle leaves in relief would be a reminder that myrtle was an essential ingredient in pot pourri. It was often grown in an Orangery so that its leaves, berries and flowers could be easily available for medicinal purposes, or use in astringents and toilet waters, or in those essential pot-pourri mixtures of dried flowers and foliage which masked unpleasant smells. Perhaps Duplessis was aware of a new recipe using myrtle which was published in Le Parfumeur Royale in the same year as he created this design. Both Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour bought examples of this model in 1761 and 1762.

This vase is one of a pair, C257-8. For more information, see Rosalind Savill, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Sèvres Porcelain, 1988, I, pp.198-206.

© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2008
Text by Rosalind Savill