This pair of candelabra of an idealized exoticism, coincides with the fascination for the Far East and its culture, which profoundly developed in the West from around the middle of the 17th century. One of earliest collectors of Eastern works of art was Amalia of Solms, (1602-75) wife of Frederick Henry Prince of Orange, who had access through the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie
), and who amasses displays of porcelain from as early as the 1630’s. Two of her daughters, Louise Henriette (1627-1667) - wife of the Elector of Brandenburg - and Albertine Agnes (1634-96) - wife of William Frederick of Nassau Dietz - were in the forefront of spreading the fashion to Germany. Mary Stuart, who married William of Orange, Amalia’s grandson, is credited by the writer Daniel Defoe with bringing to England, the “custom or Humour as I may call it of furnishing houses with China ware”.
From the beginning of the 17th century, French connoisseurs became avid collectors of works of art from the Far East. Alphonse Lopez, a Spanish refugee who settled in France in 1610, became Cardinal Richelieu’s financial agent, purchased "mille curiosités des Indes
" in Amsterdam and sold them at public auction in Paris (See H. Belevitch-Stankevitch, op. cit.). Portuguese dealers brought their trade goods from the Far East to the fair at St. Germain-des-Pres, which operated for around five weeks at Easter. The level of demand for Chinese porcelain in France was so intense that the Duchess of Cleveland, Charles II’s mistress, sold her collection in Paris in 1678. The Mercure de France, describing the event which took place at the summer fair of St. Laurent, on the Rue du Faubourg St Denis, refered to the exoticism of porcelain, illustrated by the commonly-held belief that the material needed 100 years burial in the ground before reaching its perfect texture (See H. Belevitch-Stankevitch, op. cit.).
This passion for oriental wares in France included a predilection for figures and figural groups. Known as pagodes or magots – these two words are interchangeably used for images of mortals and immortals from the Far East and are collected individually, or incorporated into larger objects. Interest in magots became a phenomenon, which Denis Diderot describes in 1765 as “Ce règne des Magots
” (See D. Diderot, Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des Sciences des arts et Métiers
, Neuchâtel, 1765). Madame de Pompadour, a tireless patron of this fashion, bought deux girandoles sur des magots gris
, amongst other similar references, by the Marchand Mercier, Lazare Duveaux. Marie Leszczyńska (1703-1768) wife of Louis XV, writes to the Marquis d’Argenson in 1745, "et vous savez comme je suis à mon aise avec mes Pagodes
" (See D. Kisluk-Grosheide, op. cit.). In 1740, the trade card of another Marchand Mercier, Edmé François Gersaint featured a display of Pagoda figures of different sizes, including an enormous example mounted on the top of an oriental lacquer cabinet (See illustration). Gersaint’s card was designed by Francois Boucher, who incorporated magots into a number of his pictures including the etching for Fire
from the series on The Four Elements
Some idea of the value placed on these figures is shown by the sale catalogue of Louis XV’s secretary, Jean Louis Gaignat (1697-1768) which occurs just after his death. A copy of the sale catalogue is illustrated by Gabriel de Saint Aubin (1724-1780) making it possible to visualize the lot sold. Lot 109 shows a figure of a magot comparable to the present lot, similarly holding a fan in his hand (See illustration; for a similar figure in white porcelain, made at the Chantilly manufactory around 1735-40, see Linda H. Roth, op. cit. no. 17). This and the subsequent lots are described in the sale catalogue as “de première qualité, des plus agréables & des plus précieux
”. This magot was sold for 1/20th of the value of lot 16 in the same sale, Anton Van Dyck’s Portrait of Guillaume Richardot and is son
, which entered the private collection of Louis XVI and is now in the Louvre (inv. No. INV1244). Another sale catalogue annotated by Saint Aubin, of the Maximilien Radix de Sainte Foix’ sale, 22 April 1782 and the days following, shows another magot comparable to ours.
Financial stakes were so important that magots and other oriental figures were amongst the earliest items to be copied in French porcelain. The discharge marks on the silver mounts of the candelabra suggest that the latest date for the porcelain figure is 1732, a date at which the Manufactories at St Cloud and Chantilly for example, were producing oriental figures in white porcelain. Dominque François Chicaneau, advertises “toutes sortes de figures grotesques” from St Cloud in 1731 and at Chantilly, while the director, Cinquaire Cirou was given patent letters in 1735, to manufacture porcelain “pareille à celle qui se faisait antérieurement au Japon”, and it is thought that porcelain was being produced at Chantilly as early as 1731, a year after the manufactory’s founding and Cirou’s appointment as director.
Our two magots originally held a rod in their hands, which in the Chinese model was probably the handle of a Ruyi sceptre. A pair of similar candelabra with white porcelain magots and French gilt-bronze clock mounts, was sold by Christie’s Paris, 14 April 2015, lot 86. A similar pair of figures, also in Blanc de Chine porcelain, but from the kilns at Dehua in China, is still at Burghley house. It is recorded in the 1688 inventory as “1 Ball’d fryor sitting (in) my Ladys Dressing room” (See https://collections.burghley.co.uk/collection/a-chinese-figure-of-budai-kangxi-1662-1722/).
Relatively little porcelain with early 18th century French silver mounts survive. This is probably more attributable to the change in taste towards ormolu from about 1740, than to the sumptuary laws which forced so much silver to the melting pot. The few pieces with silver mounts that remain, tend to be simple shapes like beakers and bowls and almost never elaborate forms like these candelabra. Another two-light candelabra, forming an inkstand, with Japanese porcelain figure and silver mounts by Paul Leriche, Paris, 1726-32, was sold from the collection of D. David-Weill in 1971 (his sale Mes Ader, Picard, Tajan, Palais Galliera, Paris, 24 November 1971, lot 41). The naturalistic treatment of the silver mount, shaped as a leafy branch and the carving on the nozzles are strikingly comparable to our candelabra. Silver mounted porcelain very often lacks a maker’s mark. Where a maker’s mark exists during this period, it is often found to be that of Paul Leriche who was known to have applied mounts to white porcelain pieces from the Manufactory of St Cloud (See C. Le Corbeiller, op. cit., p. 297). Of the twelve items recorded with Paul Leriche’s maker’s mark, eleven of them carry discharge marks for 1726-32, the same dates as the present pair of candelabra.