Lot 20
  • 20


250,000 - 400,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • 62.5cm high, 56.5cm wide, 23cm deep; 2ft., 1ft. 10 1/4in., 9 1/16in.
the body of the elephant in frosted and pearlised crystal with a harness, draped and ornamented with gilt-bronze, supporting a palanquin in the form of an Indian temple carved with the god Ganesh in low relief, the palanquin in the form of a liqueur set containing a removable stand containing four decanters in engraved and gilded crystal with a harness for two rows of six goblets with handles, standing on a bevelled and diamond cut crystal tray with a gilt-bronze border and handles forming the trunk and heads of the elephant


This 'elephant' liqueur set is in overall excellent condition. There are minor scratches and chips across the gilt-bronze mounts. The gilding off the rim of each glass and elephant horns presents some minor wear, however consistent with age and use.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

COMPARATIVE LITERATURE M. Lerch and D. Morel, Baccarat, The Legend of Crystal,Catalogue of the Exhibition at the Petit Palais, October 15th 2014-January 4th 2015, memorial exhibition of 250 years of the factory of Baccarat.

D. Sautot, Baccarat, Paris, 1998.

J.-L and V. Curtis Nansenet, Baccarat, Paris, 1991.

M. Beauhaire Mr. Béjanin, H. Naudeix, Napoleon's Elephant, Verona, 2014.

This liqueur set is to date one of two prestigious examples known and identified by the Baccarat Factory as being one of the rare examples having been made for or just after the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris, as can be seen in the black and white photograph in the archives of the Baccarat Manufactory (fig.2). The model enjoyed great success, which launched other examples some years later and in around 1920 there was a specific commission for the Maharaja of Baroda to celebrate the Elephant Festival in India. This initial model has certain technical characteristics in common with other examples made by Baccarat in about 1878, which differ totally from the series of re-editions made by the renowned manufacture between 1982 and 2004. The fortunate appearance on the market in 2015 of the other only example of this first model (Sotheby's London, Treasures, 8th July 2015, lot 45, £425,000) was an exciting moment and an opportunity to admire the rarity and quality of the Baccarat Elephant cave à liqueur.

In effect, the body of the elephant is made in two sections in a mould of blown polished frosted crystal glass. These two distinct parts (front and rear) were skillfully assembled by a system of rods and nuts hidden by the long drapery issuing from the palanquin. The drawing here illustrated (fig. 3) is a very interesting document in that it shows the dots located above the front and rear legs indicating that the elephant's body is hollow. The ears were molded and attached separately.

Another distinctive element is the gadrooned border on the middle portion of the palanquin which differed from later revivals, since these later models have been made without a precise drawing either after the black and white photograph, or on the basis of a detailed preparatory drawing of the earlier model, (see fig. 1), but not from a detailed preparatory drawing (as was the case for the dromedary "le vaisseau du désert "), which will be discussed later. 

With regard to the re-editions of 1982–2004 amongst which it is worthwhile citing one sold by Me Kohn, Cannes, 3rd August 2007, and one from the Hôtel Crillon, presented at the Petit Palais in Paris during the Baccarat exhibition, The Legend of Crystal. These re-additions have been made in plain crystal and (not in two sections joined together), with the ears molded with the rest of the body. The bronze is stamped with the round mark and the signature 'Baccarat’. This information was kindly provided by Madame Michaela Lerch, Curator/Head of Baccarat Heritage Department.

The Elephant set enjoyed its hour of glory in the 1878 Exhibition and it was even exhibited some years later in bronze supporting a clear crystal vase enhanced with polychrome enamels directly inspired by Japanese prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige (fig. 4). Heralding the fashion for Japonisme, this elephant model also coincides with the opening of a branch of Baccarat in India in 1886.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, rich motifs painted in polychrome enamels with gilded glassware and Oriental ceramics inspired European decorative arts and it was therefore entirely natural that the Baccarat factory presented at the 1878 Universal Exhibition a number of examples directly inspired by Islamic works of art and the fashion for Orientalism at the time. The dromedary brûle-parfum is well documented due to a preparatory drawing preserved in the archives of the Baccarat factory of which two versions were made. These examples illustrate the perfect mastery of the Baccarat crystal workshops and the 1878 Exhibition confirmed their dominance in this field.

The present piece was inspired by a project of the architect Jean-Antoine Alavoine following the desire of Napoléon I to redevelop Paris by erecting to the east of Paris a pendant to the Arc de Triomphe. Under the direction of Dominique Vivant Denon, it was ultimately decided that "there would be erected on the place of Bastille, a fountain in the form of an elephant made from the bronze melted down from the cannons captured from the Spanish insurgents.’ After many drafts and procrastination, it was the project of Jean-Antoine Alavoine which was finally adopted in 1812 (fig. 1). This bronze colossus measured fifteen meters high and sixteen metres long and eventually rose to twenty-two meters. It was richly decorated in order to hide the clever hydraulic mechanism to power the fountain under the drapery.

A life-sized plaster model was erected pending the final consecration but with the collapse of the Empire, the new regime deemed that the project was too grandiose and reminiscent of Napoléon and its past glory.`The foundations of this fountain were begun on the Place de Bastille which would support a guargantuan bronze elephant and the plaster model survives to this day in a nearby warehouse’ (Louis Rainiez Lanfranchi, Voyage à Paris ou esquise des hommes et des choses,1830).This plaster giant was forgotten but made happy passers-by, rats and a resourceful young boy who lived there who Victor Hugo instilled with all the characteristics of Gavroche in Les Miserables. It would be finally destroyed in 1846. Finally, a luxurious reduction of this fountain project can be seen today at Baccarat in the form of a liqueur set.


It all began in 1764 when King Louis XV accorded to the Bishop of Metz permission to establish a glass factory on their land, in the small village of Baccarat in Lorraine, in order to compete with the celebrated Bohemian production. Lorraine is traditionally a glass making region, due to the abundance of silica in the soil and due to its large forests which supplied the wood to fuel the ovens. The Baccarat manufactory rapidly became a leading producer with highly skilled maître-verriers. The Restoration fostered the emergence of a new knowledgeable bourgeoisie anxious to promote the art of French living and the art of dining where crystal took pride of place also consolidated by the first royal commissions. In 1823, Baccarat presented for the first time at the National Exhibition, "crystal decorated with simple carving in which its merit was in the purity of the material, in the elegance of form and the relatively modest price." Louis XVIII was seduced by the quality of the pieces presented which received the praise of the jury and the first gold medal. As a result of its success and an increasing reputation, the manufactory following its research gradually consolidated its reputation which allowed it to dominate the French market. The opening of a shop in Paris in 1832, cemented this dominance and it was not only a question of a simple sales depository, but also the relocation of the workshops, commercial offices and becoming the ambassador of the Lorraine manufactory in Paris. After the success brought by the National Exhibition of Products and Industry which succeeded until 1849, the Expositions Universelles, which began in 1851 served to increase the prestige of Baccarat. Thanks to special orders for chandeliers, emblematic projects such as the Harcourt Service, it became an icon, the reputation of the factory based both on exceptional technical mastery and extraordinary creativity that had seduced Louis XVIII, Charles X and Louis-Philippe continued during the Second Empire and the splendour of the Expositions Universelles of 1855 and 1867.
The young Third Republic wanted to perpetuate this tradition by highlighting its industry and artistic expertise by hosting the Exposition Universelle of 1878. It attracted thirty-six countries on the Champs de Mars keen to promote their creations and attracted nearly sixteen million visitors. The Visitor's Guide discussed the stand of the Baccarat crystal workshops and commented on the Temple of Mercury, a glass creation in crystal five meters high, supported by six Corinthian columns which housed "a court composed of candelabra, chiselled decanters, delicious goblets with a lightness, sparkling chandeliers, prisms and pearls, where colours of the rainbow played so that one believed it to be under a shower of diamonds."