The general design of this vase is due to Étienne-Maurice Falconet (1716-1791), who designed several vase models for Sèvres from 1766. The vase à rubans was produced in two sizes from 1763. The plaster model and moulds are mentioned in the inventory of the 1st January 1764. The plaster model published by Albert Troude is still preserved in Sèvres. (Illustrated by Albert Troude, Choix de modèles de la Manufacture Nationale de Porcelaines de Sèvres, s.d., 1897, pl. 113) (fig. 1). This name most probably refers to the ribbon which circles the neck of the vase. This model has also been called vase à couronnes. On the 12th November 1765, Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond bought a garniture of three vases with one vase à couronnes and two vases Dannemark à gaudrons with green ground which are still preserved at Duke of Richmond’s country seat Goodwood House, the vase à couronnes being of the second size.
Another garniture composed of a vase à couronne and two vases à feuilles de mirte was purchased by Minister Henri-Léonard Bertin in December 1766. A third five piece garniture was in the collection of the Right Honourable The Earl of Harewood, sold Christie’s London, 1st July 1965, lots 25 and 26. This garniture has been identified by Vincent Bastien as bought in May 1774 by the Abbé de Breteuil (Vincent Bastien, ‘Une exceptionnelle garniture de Sèvres’, L’Estampille/l’Objet d’art, November 2010, pp. 54-59, no. 462). The central vase of this garniture is described as ‘vase à baguettes rubans beau bleu figures’. Another garniture of five pieces dated 1772, with a green ground painted with pastoral figures by Charles-Nicolas Dodin was composed of one vase à baguettes, two vases à feuilles de lauriers and two vases flacon. This garniture was purchased by Madame Victoire during the annual sales that Sèvres held at Versailles. The garniture was recently presented at Versailles (Marie-Laure de Rochebrune, Splendeur de la peinture sur porcelaine du XVIIIe siècle, Charles Nicolas Dodin et la manufacture de Vincennes-Sèvres, exhibition catalogue, Versailles, 2012, pp. 122-128, nos. 49, 52).
About fifteen of vases of this shape are known, the oldest one dated 1764 is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Eight of these fifteen vases are of the first size, two of which are preserved in the British royal collections and two others are in the Wallace collection. (Sir Geoffrey de Bellaigue, French Porcelain in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, London, 2009, Vol. I, pp. 312-316, nos. 37-38; Rosalind Savill, The Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Sèvres porcelain, London, 1988, Vol. I, pp. 233-243, C267-269,). One which had previously been in the collections of Barons Alphonse, Edouard and Guy de Rothschild, was recently presented for auction at Hôtel Drouot, Paris, Pescheteau-Badin, 10th June 2010, lot 112).
Two pair of vases à rubans or à couronne of the second size are known, one preserved at the Victoria & Albert Museum in the Jones Collection (published by Cecil H. Smith, Catalogue of The Jones Collection, London, 1924, part. II, no. 143, pl. 20), the other, formerly in the private collection of the Comtesse d’Aubigny (sold at Christies, London, 21st June 1976, lot 162).
The presented vase is very close to a bleu nouveau ground vase à rubans, of the second size, also painted after Watteau, taken from the engraving l’Aventurière, and also dated 1769 and painted by Charles-Eloi Asselin. The vase was recently sold at Sotheby's Paris, 9th November 2012, lot 117. Only a very few minor variations in the gilding excludes the theory of a pair (fig. 2).
The scene on the present vase is inspired by the painting l’Enchanteur by Antoine Watteau. This little painting on copper was successively owned by Jean de Jullienne, Jean Henri Louis Orry de Fulvy founder of the manufactory at Vincennes, then Jean de Boullongne, contrôleur général des Finances from 1757 to 1759, he himself a client of Sèvres. Today the painting is kept with its pendant l’Aventurière, in the Musée de Beaux-arts, Troyes. The painting on the present vase is taken from the engraving by Benoit Audrans, which is still retained at Sèvres (fig. 3).
This vase comes from two of the most famous collections of the 19th century : Those of Prince Anatole Demidoff (1812-1870), and then to the German branch of the Rothschilds in Frankfurt am main.
The Palais de San Donato
Anatole was born in St. Petersburg on the 5th April 1812 into the extremely wealthy Demidoff family which built its fortune from industrial mining in the Ural mountains of Russia. As early as 1815, his father, Nicolas Demidoff (1773-1828) had left Russia permanently and took up residence in Paris at l'Hôtel Montholon in 1802 and at l'Hôtel de Montesson in 1811. When his wife died in 1818, he began to build a luxurious residence in San Donato near Florence, which he had decorated with contemporary and old master paintings, and antiques which he acquired with frenzy on the art market. The library had nearly 40,000 volumes. At the death of Nicolas in 1828, Antatole lived between Paris and San Donato, became State Councillor and Chamberlain to the Tsar of Russia. His passion for Napoleon Bonaparte led to his marriage to Princess Mathilde (1820-1904), daughter of the Prince Jérôme Bonaparte (1784-1860), King of Westphalia (1807-1813).
His enormous art collection was displayed in the fourteen salons of the San Donato palace (fig. 5) and was gradually sold in Paris in 1863, 1868, 1870, and in Florence in 1880. In the 1870 sale the vase was offered as lot 155 (fig. 4), described as:
“beau vase de forme ovoïde, en ancienne porcelaine de Sèvres, pâte tendre, fond bleu de roi, à deux anses enroulées, ornées de lauriers en relief et dorés. Il offre, sur la face principale, un grand médaillon ovale de la plus grande finesse d’exécution représentant un groupe de trois figures, musiciens en costume Watteau dans un parc. Le médaillon opposé offre un bouquet de fleurs. Le piédouche cannelé est orné d’un bandeau à perles et le bord supérieur d’une torsade émaillée gros bleu et or. Le couvercle est surmonté d’un bouton sphérique repercé à jour. Très belle qualité de l’époque de Louis XV.”
[a beautiful vase of ovoid shape, in old porcelain of Sèvres, soft paste, royal blue, with two coiled handles, adored with laurels in relief and gilded. The main face, with a large oval medallion finely executed representing a group of three musician figures in Watteau costume in a park. The opposite medallion offers a flower bouquet. The fluted pedestal is adorned with a beaded band of by pearls, the upper part with enameled torsade in blue and gold. The cover is surmounted with a spherical button. Very beautiful quality of the time from Louis XV.]
The Rothschild collection and taste.
It was Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) who founded the current dynasty of bankers of the Rothschild family (fig. 6). Forbes magazine describes him as “one of the founding fathers of international finance” and ranks him as 7th of the most influential businessmen of all time” Mayer Amschel and his five children known as the “five arrows” spread the Rothschild banking empire through Europe with Amschel in Frankfurt, Salomon in Austria, Nathan in England, Carl in Naples and James in France. Wherever they went the family and their descendants used their wealth to build palaces to display their exceptional collections of works of art.
Mayer-Carl von Rothschild, the eldest son of Carl (1788-1855), married his cousin Louise de Rothschild (1820-1894). They became the biggest collectors of the family, amassing more than 5000 unique works of art which were kept in their homes in Frankfurt and in the Villa Günthersburg. When he died all his possessions were divided between his widow and his daughters, and part of his outstanding collection of gold objects was dispersed at Gallery Georges Petit in Paris on the 12th-13th June 1911, and other pieces through sales of the effects of his daughters and many descendants.