The Wallace Collection

Pedestal and covered vase, 1761 - 3
Treasure of the Month - July 2017

Pedestal and covered vase, 1761 - 3

Design, Charles de Wailly (1730 – 1798); mounts, Augustin Pajou (1730 – 1809) (modelling), Robert-Joseph Auguste (1723 – 1805) (chasing), Jean Lafeuillade (gilding); porphyry and marble cutting, Jacques Adam; stucco, Jean-François Hermand

Charles de Wailly is recognised as one of the most innovative and influential architects of the Enlightenment, but his contribution to the decorative arts is less well known. In 1761 he was commissioned by the wealthy aristocrat and art lover, Marc-René d’Argenson, marquis de Voyer, to refurbish his house overlooking the Palais Royal in Paris. This was de Wailly’s first major project after returning from studying in Italy and he produced strikingly neoclassical designs both inside and out. He used the Ionic order from the Erechtheion in Athens, and clearly positioned the architect and his patron at the forefront of the debate over the merits of Greek architecture. This vase and pedestal were part of the rich furnishings of the house.

Hardstone vases with their Antique connotations were beloved by eighteenth-century art connoisseurs. The most valuable were made from porphyry and hardstones from Rome, where excavations had unearthed not only ancient vases but also architectural fragments, which were transformed by skilled marble cutters into new vases in the Antique style. Here de Wailly has radically transformed an old porphyry vase with the addition of gilt-bronze mounts and by displaying it on this magnificent pedestal, which he also designed. The pedestal was immediately the subject of much comment when it was exhibited at the Salon of 1761, ensuring its widespread publicity.

The vase and pedestal were early examples of the new ‘Greek taste’ that swept through Paris in the early 1760s, and de Wailly employed some of the foremost artists and craftsmen in Paris for the project, many of whom went on to become leading practitioners of the neoclassical style. The female figures and the models for the rams’ heads and other mounts were modelled by de Wailly’s close friend, the sculptor Augustin Pajou, while Robert-Joseph Auguste, better known as one of the leading Parisian silversmiths, was responsible for chasing the bronze mounts. This is an example of the way in which the two disciplines could cross over, with Auguste demonstrating that his workshop was able to chase other metals to superb effect.

Both pedestal and vase anticipated subsequent designs in the decorative arts, particularly of chimneypieces and metalwork. In the mid-1790s a French luxury goods retailer supplied the Prince of Wales with eight wooden pedestals of very similar design for the Great Drawing Room at Carlton House, while Auguste produced silver candlesticks and dinner services using both the female busts and rams’ heads. Rams’ heads became a popular motif of the ‘Greek taste’ and the term figure appeared in numerous renditions of gilt-bronze candlesticks, candelabra, mounted vases and corner mounts for furniture for the next fifty years.


Gallery talks

11 and 25 July at 1 pm, with Helen Jacobsen