Reflecting the taste for the neoclassical style that dominated the French decorative arts at the turn of the 18th century, several of the vases ‘Lagrenée’ produced at the Sèvres manufactory between 1798 and 1806 feature colourful arabesque friezes on a gold ground and panels with mythological scenes. The archives at Sèvres record that between 1805 and 1806 three pairs of vases ‘Lagrenée’ appear in the manufactory sales register (under the heading ‘au comptant et à crédit’) and that these were sold to the Parisian marchand-mercier, Monsieur Jacques. Each of similar form and decoration, they differ primarily in their ground colours - deep purple, lilac and plain purple. Each pair was priced at 7000 francs with a 960 francs reduction applied, resulting in a total cost of 6040 francs for each pair. It is difficult to confirm to which one of Monseiur Jacques’s three pairs the present vase belonged. However, this example certainly belonged to one of the two pairs subsequently acquired by Alexander Hamilton, 10th Duke of Hamilton.
Alexander Hamilton, 10th Duke of Hamilton (3 October 1767 - 18 August 1852) was a Scottish politician and great art collector. From 1806-1807 he served as British Ambassador to the Russian Court at St. Petersburg. In 1810, he married the daughter of William Thomas Beckford, the great collector of Fonthill Abbey, Wiltshire. The Duke of Hamilton was a great admirer of Napoleon, was fascinated by ancient Egypt and built an incredible art collection. The dispersal of his collection at Christie’s in June and July 1882 was widely reported in the press, and the sale totalled 2116 lots. The two pairs of Sèvres vases appear as lots 1707 and 1708. However, the illustrated pair falsely relate to lot 1707, as opposed to lot 1708.
Successive inventories made at the Duke's residence, Hamilton Palace, allow us to trace the two pairs of Sèvres vases from 1805 to 1876, along with the rest of the Hamilton Collection. Both pairs were initially displayed in a room known as the The Venus Closet (appearing in the 1805 inventory). After being moved several times, particularly during the redevelopment of the palace between 1825-1830, this vase was recorded in the state apartments, specifically in the Dressing Room (in the 1876 inventory): ‘A magnificent Sevre China Vase on a Square Marble Plinth 3ft high / companion to the one in the Red Room. Medallions leaving her / Bath; on opposite side Venus accompanied by Cupids.’ The description of the second pair (located in the Beckford Library) enables us to support this hypothesis: ‘2 Very fine Sevre vases, Richly painted & gilt, large Medallions / with Paintings; on square Marble Pedestals ornamented / with gilt metal figures, two winged female figures in gilt / Metal in the place of Handles. Height 3 ft 3 in’.
The ambitious decorative scheme on this type of vase required the involvement of numerous factory artists, each one responsible for a different area of the decoration such as the painted arabesques, the gilding, the grisaille medallions and the mythological scenes, the latter handled by the peintre en sujet. The archives indicate that this work was mostly executed by experienced artists including Perrenot l’aîné, Nicolas-Pierre Pithou le jeune, Etienne-Henry Le Guay, Pierre-André Le Guay and Geneviève-Julie Boitel. The two mythological scenes on this example were probably painted by Perrenot after engravings inspired by paintings that were displayed in the Galerie de Peinture du Régent, Philippe duc d’Orléans. The source engravings were published in le Recueil du Palais Royal between 1786 and 1808. Jacques Bouillard’s engraving is after a painting by Giuseppe Cesari (otherwise known as Le Cavalier d’Arpin) and represents Suzanna and the Elders. However, for the vase Perrenot adapted the composition and omitted the old men from his interpretation. For the other scene, depicting Jupiter and Danae, Perrenot uses an engraving by Philippe Trière, after the painting by Correggio, now preserved in the Galleria Borghese in Rome.
In the Sèvres archives and other related publications, the difference between the Lagrenée, Japon and Jacques vases shapes can be quite indistinct. However, if we consider the names attributed to the various preparatory drawings (Japon and Jacques being used for the same form), the names mentioned in the painters’ work records, in the sale room entries and sales records, the different selling prices and the various sizes (particularly the mention of a grand vase forme Lagrenée), we can confirm that the vase presented here is a ‘Lagrenée, premiere grandeur’. It was created in three sections and at least two different sizes were produced: the larger first size or 1ère grandeur, measuring approximately 70 cm. high and the smaller second size or 2ème grandeur, approximately 42.5 cm high. The first vase of this shape to be produced corresponds to the smaller size and is documented in the records on the 8 August 1798. The form is based on that of an antique Krater vase, described in the Sèvres archives as a ‘Vase cratériforme godronné à anses sur socle carré’.
The ormolu handles are attributed to the prominent French sculptor and bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843). They are each modelled as a winged female figure of Victory and are typical of the renewed interest in neoclassicism, largely inspired by the works of Charles Percier and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine whose designs were published as Recueil de décorations Intérieures (…). Recorded in a watercolour preserved in the Sèvres archives showing the layout of the Sèvres porcelain display at the Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie in l’an VI (1797-98) is a similar vase with winged figures for handles. A Sèvres vase 'japon' with mounts that appear identical to those of the present lot and with closely related decoration is in the Royal Collection, purchased in Paris in 1816 for George IV, RCIN 537. Three further pairs with similar decoration and mounts of the same type are known: a pair in the Newark Museum, NJ, part of the Balentine Bequest (no. 33.410a-b), a pair in the collection of Jacques Garcia at the Château du Champ de Bataille and a pair from the Château Groussay, sold on the premises by Poulain/Sotheby's, 2-6 June 1999, lot 221.
Christie’s is grateful to Bet McLeod for her assistance in the research of this lot.
1. It is interesting to note that only one pair is described in the archives as ‘la pair sans bronze’ (the pair without bronze) perhaps suggesting that each pair could have been offered for sale without the mounts, at the reduced price.
2. The painting is illustrated in the sale catalogue ‘Tableaux et Dessins Anciens et du XIXe siècle’, Sotheby’s, Paris, 26 June 2014, lot 21.
3. Reproduced by Geoffrey de Bellaigue, French Porcelain in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, Vol. II, London, 2009, p. 524, fig. 120.4.
4. Illustrated and discussed in detail by Geoffrey de Bellaigue, ibid., Vol. II, London, 2009, cat. no. 120, pp. 518-525.
5. See Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion: Château du Champ de Bataille, Paris, 2014, pp. 96-99.