Lot 1
  • 1

A Royal gilt-bronze-mounted Sèvres fond violet porcelain vase ovoïde, the bronzes attributed to Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis Louis XVI, circa 1768

50,000 - 80,000 GBP
109,250 GBP
bidding is closed


  • gilt-bronze, porcelain
  • 42cm. high; 1ft. 4¾in
made of soft paste porcelain, of ovoid form, with vine leaves and grape garlands suspended between handles terminating in ram's heads, raised on a stepped plinth base; this vase is accompanied by a signed letter dated 1909 stating its provenance


King Alfonso XII of Spain (1857-1885);
then his valet Ceferino after the King's death in 1885;
his son in law Antonio G.Espila;
from whom it was given in 1909 to Don José Mesia y Cayesa de los Cobos 4th Duke of Tamames, 10th Marquess of Campollano (1853-1917);
Collection of Marqués de Castro-Serna, Madrid;
Thence by descent to the present owner.

Catalogue Note

Comparative Literature
Deborah Gage, The Chatsworth Vases, a gift from Louis XV in 1768 to Henri Léonard Jean-Baptiste Bertin, Burlington Magazine, July 2010.
Marcelle Brunet and Tamara Préaud, Sèvres, des origines à nos jours, Fribourg, 1978, page 171, pl. 140.
Theodore Dell, Furniture in the Frick Collection, New York, 1992, page 310.

The extraordinary aspects of this vase are the unusual and brilliant purple or violet ground colour, its shape and rich gilt-bronze ornaments.

The colour
The Sèvres Factory excelled in the novelty of their designs and extraordinary challenges. To this day, Sèvres is celebrated for its quality and unequal ground colours together with its technical excellence allied to a particular flamboyance. The Sèvres vases always caught the public eye and received the most publicity and thus became the benchmark for establishing the latest style in fashion. 1762 saw the introduction of the first vases at Sèvres which were unequivocally classical, the vase ferré being one of the earliest. With the evolution of Neo-classicism, vase shapes were constantly simplified based upon Antique models.

The Vincennes factory appears to have produced an earlier purple colour copying Meissen, but this colour was very grey, such as the pair of pot-pourri vases in the Musée Céramique at Sèvres. The colour of the vases under discussion is a different purple based upon a formula produced by the painter and chef de couleurs et chimie Jean-Jacques Bailly and mentioned in his Manuscrit de Bailly, 17...-1785, under the heading Violet No.1 du septembre 1767.  This colour was very largely experimental, due to the enormous difficulty involved in its production, resulting from the fact that the formula contained alkaline. The drawback with alkaline is that because it contains oxide which liquifies when subjected to heat, it causes the colour to run or bleed, and becomes washed out when fired. Alternatively, the ground might turn black if applied too thickly. Furthermore, this ground had a tendency to craze. It would appear that this fond violet was so troublesome to produce that it soon became obsolete. This explains why, apart from the following examples, no other Sèvres wares boasting this amazing ground colour appear to have been produced or survived.

-  there are two garnitures of three gilt-bronze mounted vases ordered by Louis XV in 1768 as gifts for the Controller General of Finance, Henry Leonard Jean-Baptiste Bertin (1720-1792) and the distinguished statesman and financier Jean-Baptiste Machault d'Arnouville (1701-1794), listed in the Sèvres sales inventories for December that year. This violet colour seems to have particularly pleased the King and the sales inventories clearly refer to the Bertin and Machault d'Arnouville garnitures of vases fonds violets as being specially commissioned by Louis XV - 'Livres pour Presenter'. The garniture presented to Bertin is now in the collection of the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth, Derbyshire (see Fig. 1). The Machault d'Arnouville garniture, which has mounts attributed to Jean-Claude Duplessis, was formerly with Maurice Segoura, Paris.  

- another vase, a Louis XVI vase-oeuf, but of different design, with the same rare and exotic fond violet ground was sold, Sotheby's New York, 20 May 1989, lot 171.

- a pair of vases-oeuf fond violet, circa 1768, in a private collection and illustrated at Deborah Gage, Burlington Magazine, op. cit. page 461, fig. 18.

- a pair of cylindrically shaped vases, circa 1768, at the Musée National de Céramique, Sèvres (see Fig. 2).

- a garniture, comprising a pot-pourri and a pair of vases formerly in the collection of the Dukes of Rohan-Chabot, sold Sotheby's, The Rossi Collection, London, 12th March 1999, lot 1346.

The shape
Another highly distinctive feature is the very unusual and rare shape of the present vase, which is not traceable in the archives or amongst the models of the Sèvres factory.
The only other recorded example is a Sèvres vase ovoïde, dated 1767 in The Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore (see Fig.3)

The bronzes: Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis (1699-1774)
Apart from the deep and pulsating colour of the fond violet and the striking and eye-catching shape, the vase is further enhanced and offset by gilt-bronze mounts of exemplary quality. The exceptional aesthetic unity of the present porcelain and its mounts suggests that the bronzes were designed specifically for this vase and as such, can be attributed to Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis.
The multi-talented Duplessis was already an important sculptor, designer, goldsmith, and bronze worker in Italy, before he moved to Paris in about 1740. In France, he continued working as a goldsmith and gilt-bronze founder and was appointed orfèvre du roi in 1758.
From about 1748, Duplessis expanded his range of activities and served as artistic director of the Vincennes porcelain manufactory and its successor at Sèvres from 1748 to his death in 1774. He also supervised the work of the throwers and moulders, advised on ground colours, and supplied gilt bronze stands and mounts for the porcelain products. He created the wax models for gilt-bronze mounts for furniture and especially for porcelain objects, in which capacity he appears repeatedly in the day-book of the marchand-mercier Lazare Duvaux. Amongst Duvaux's clients, he collaborated most closely with work for the comte d'Argenson and the duc de Chaulnes.

A Royal vase
The present vase is accompanied by a letter in Spanish: (see Fig. 4'Esta faseo lo recogiá del tocador de Su Majestad el Rey Don Alfonso XII su ayuda de cámara, Ceferino,cuando aquel murió. Guardado por mi ese recuerdo durante muchos años, he tenido la honra de entregárselo al Excelentísimo Señor Duque de Tamames, buen amigo de acquel Rey nunca bastante llorado. 19 de Marzo, 909, Antonio J. Espila, Hijo político de Ceferino' / 'This vase was taken from the boudoir of his majesty the King Alfonso XII by his valet, Ceferino, when the King died. Having kept this for many years as a souvenir I was honoured to give it to the Duke of Tamames, a dear friend of the late king never enough mourned for. Dated 19th March 1909, signed Antonio J. Espila, son in law of Ceferino.'

King Alfonso XII of Spain (1857-1885)
King Alfonso XII was king of Spain, reigning from 1874 to 1885, after a coup d'état restored the monarchy and ended the unstable First Spanish Republic (see Fig. 5). In 1878 he married his cousin, Princess Maria de las Mercedes, daughter of Antoine, Duke of Montpensier, but she died within six months of the marriage. 
In 1879, he remarried a much more distant relative, Maria Christina of Austria, daughter of Archduke Karl Ferdinand of Austria.  Alfonso died of tuberculosis in November 1885, just short of his 28th birthday. During his short reign, peace was established both at home and abroad, finances were well regulated, and the various administrative services were placed on a solid basis.
It is not known how this vase initially found its way into the Royal Spanish collection. However, in view of the fond violet porcelain gifts by Louis XV for Bertin and Machault d'Arnouville, it is tempting to conjecture that the present vase might have been a Royal gift to the cousins ruling in Spain at that time.