TO BE SOLD ON THE INSTRUCTIONS OF THE TRUSTEES OF THE BEDFORD ESTATES
Nicolas Beaujon, (1718-1786), banker to the French Court. Purchased by the marchande-mercier Madame Légère 1787 at the Beaujon sale on 25th April 1787, lot 307.
Acquired either by Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford (1765-1802) or John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford (1766-1839), and thence by descent.
Recorded in the inventory on the death of Nicolas Beaujon, together with two other vases and described as `trois grands vases de porcelaine de la chine fond bleu-turque garnis de bronz doré 450' . (Three large Chinese bleu-turque porcelain vases ornamented with gilt-bronze- 450'),
The sale catalogue description of April 1787 describes it as `Une urne couverte, a grosse panse ornée de gorge a baguettes et a fleurons, boutons et rosaces a tetes d`aigle et rinceaux terminée par un pied a quatre consoles et plate-bande en bronxe doré. Hauteur 30 pouces, diamètre 18 pouces. Le vase et les deux suivant sont d`une forme majestueuse et d`un genre d`ornament male'. ( see illus.)
This magnificent vase of exceptional scale and quality represents the largest recorded ormolu mounted vase of its type. The form of the finely cast and chased mounts is in the Transitional style. The eagle handles and the symmetrical form reflect the Goût Grec style but the scroll form of the base still shows Baroque influences. Goût Grec is the style applied to the earliest expression of the neo-classical style in France. It refers specifically to the decorative arts and architecture of the 1750s to the late 1760s. The style tended to be more fanciful than historically accurate although some architectural surveys in Greece were being carried out at this time. The origin of the style may be found in the suite of furniture designed by Louis-Joseph Le Lorrain for the Parisian financier, Ange-Laurent de la Live de Jully ( now in the Mus. Condé, Chantilly). The form of the vase perfectly encapsulates the history of the fashion for mounted porcelain in France. ` The French do not have any aversion for foreign culture, which they adopt easily, but the thing is they like to add or remove things to it , that`s what we call `le goût français', thus wrote Jean Baptiste de Voyer, Marquis d`Argenson, in his Chinese Letters, between 1739 and 1740, according to Kristal Smertek in Rococo Exotic: French mounted porcelain after the allure of the East, New York, 2007, p.9.
The enthusiasm for this type of exotic porcelain originally commenced with the various `Compagnie des Indes' which from 17th century onwards, traded with the Orient in all manner of luxurious Oriental ware and which so inspired the Parisian marchands-merciers, who were driven to supply their illustrious clientele with the latest fashion and novelties such as gilt-bronze-mounted objects. As soon as the Oriental ware arrived in Europe, the rarest pieces were cut, carved or even associated before being applied with gilt-bronze mounts. These pieces remained the pinnacle of fashion for much of the second half of 18th century being supplied by such marchand-merciers as Lazare-Duvaux, who is recorded as supplying numerous commissions of gilt-bronze mounted porcelain.
The cobalt blue colour of this vase was used in China as early as the Tang dynasty (618-907) and is the cosmological colour symbolic of Heaven. Cobalt was imported into China until the early 15th century when native sources of pigment were used. The evenly applied glaze and lustre of this large vase represents the great technical proficiency attained by craftsmen during the Qing period (1644-1911) and can also frequently be seen on Imperial wares of this period.
Nicolas Beaujon and l'hôtel d`Evreux
The vase originally formed part of the collection of the famous French banker Nicolas Beaujon. He was born in Bordeaux in 1718, the scion of two wealthy local commercial families, the Beaujons and the Delmestres. In 1753 he married Louise Elisabeth Bontemps, the grand-daughter of Alexander Bontemps ( 1626-1701) who was the valet de chambre of Louis XIV. He moved to Paris having made a fortune in commodities. There he played a crucial role in financing the government of Louis XV, in particular lending enormous sums during the Seven Year`s War which enabled the navy to function. During this period he became a Farmer General and also gained entry into the Conseil d`Etat or Council of State. Now one of the richest men in France in 1773 he bought the l`Hôtel d` Evreux in Paris (today known as the Elysée Palace, the official residence of the President of France) which had belonged to Madame de Pompadour. The palace was built in 1718 for the Comte d`Evreux, by the architect Armand-Claude Mollet. It was sold in 1773 to Beaujon for one million livres. He made substantial alterations both to the Palace and also to the gardens around it under the direction of the celebrated architect Etienne-Louis Boullée. Beaujon had by this time assembled an important and substantial art collection which included such masterpices as Holbein`s `The Ambassadors', now in the National Gallery London and Frans Hals` `Bohemian' , now in the collection of the Louvre.
The vase was originally placed on a chimney piece in the salon au cabinet des tableaux which was the principal room of the private apartments of the banker, which had windows opening onto the flower garden. Furnished with three mirrors, the colour scheme of the room was blue and white and designed specifically to harmonise with the present vase and two other vases forming a garniture. Other furnishings in the same room included a rock crystal chandelier and a clock by Vassé modelled with the Three Graces.
On Beaujon`s death an inventory was carried out and the vase and two others which then accompanied it, were described in the inventory of the contents of the cabinet des tableaux français under inventory number 704 as `three large Chinese bleu-turque porcelain vases ornamented with gilt-bronze- 450.
After the death of the financier, the palace belonged to the Duchesse de Bourbon and subsequently Prince Joachim Murat. It then became the residence of the Emperor Napoléon who signed his abdication there on 22nd June 1815 in the palace`s `silver boudoir'. Other famous residents included Russian Tsar Alexander I, the Duke of Wellington and Louis XVIII`s nephew, the Duke de Berry. The Elysée Palace became the Presidential Palace in 1848, which it has remained to this day.
The group of vases were subsequently sold on April 1787 at auction for 1340 Livres to the dealer Légère. As the 5th Duke was carrying out alterations to Woburn Abbey ( see introduction) at this time and was known to have acquired French pieces, it seems possible that the vase may have been bought by him from Légère. However there are no surviving records of any acquisitions by him from Légère but records do survive of some acquisitions by John Russell, 6th Duke, from the marchand Lignereux in 1803. Although these records do not record the purchase of this vase, it seems a strong possiblity that he could also be the purchaser of the vase.
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