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Work Pair of "fountain" vases

Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: neoclassicism

Pair of "fountain" vases

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola

Decorative Arts
18th century: neoclassicism

Author(s):
Muriel Barbier

This pair of vases was made in Sèvres in 1765 at a time when fashions were changing. The body of each vase is a truncated fluted column flanked by dolphins, while the lid is decorated with an imitation fountain. The shape and decoration were inspired by Greek and Roman antiquities. The two vases once belonged to Queen Marie Leczinska (1703-1768).

An innovative new shape

From 1762, the royal porcelain factory in Sèvres started experimenting with new shapes whose perfect symmetry was a change from the whimsy of the Rocaille style. This new departure was the work of Etienne-Maurice Falconet, who had been in charge of sculpting models at the factory since 1747, but now began drawing his own models. His work proved extremely influential. These two "fountain" vases consist of a truncated column standing on a torus of five moulded rings decorated with beribboned reeds. The fluted base is topped with a wreath of leaves which appears to be supporting the torus. On the upper part of the torus, rest two dolphins' heads, with their bodies and tails lying up the side of the column. The handle in the centre of the flat lid is in the shape of a water spout, giving the vase as a whole the appearance of a fountain. The plaster model for these pieces has been lost; however, an eighteenth-century drawing for this model is preserved at the Sèvres factory. 

The "fountain" vases: part of a set?

These "fountain" vases appear to have been enjoyed alongside the swan vase (OA 11024) from very early on. They belonged to the Marshal de Mouchy's wife. She was lady-in-waiting to Queen Marie Leczinska, who must have left all three vases to her when she died in 1768. This does not mean, however, that the three vases were originally designed as a single set. What is clear is that the two "fountain" vases and the swan vase were inspired by the same source. This new style became apparent in Sèvres in 1762, the year of the earliest vases in an austere neo-Classical style inspired by stone monuments. Four other "fountain" vases are known to exist - a pair in the Wallace Collection in London, and a second pair in the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore. These seem to have been designed as pairs rather than as part of a larger set.

A neo-Classical design

The background colour of the vases is the rich blue known as "bleu nouveau" which came into use in Sèvres in 1763. This blue is used for the central torus and highlights the parts left white, in particular the fluting, the leaves, and the dolphins. The various decorative elements, inspired by Antique architecture, are picked out in rich gilding. This neo-Classical style is also found in other vases of the same period. Examples are the Louvre's medallion vase (OA 10908) and the similarly ornamented Amour Falconet vase, also shaped like a truncated fluted column, known from a plaster model preserved in the Sèvres archives. This pair of "fountain" vases, along with the swan vase, are thus characteristic of the Sèvres factory's early experiments with neo-Classical forms.

Bibliography

Catalogue d’exposition : « Un Défi au goût », Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1997, p. 93
P. Ennes, « Un vase avec des cygnes et deux vases "à jet d’eau" », in La Revue du Louvre et des Musées de France, Juin 1987, n° 3, p. 201-206.

Technical description

  • Sèvres porcelain factory

    Pair of "fountain" vases

    1765

    Queen Marie Leczinska

    Sèvres, France

  • Soft-paste porcelain

    H: 33.5 cm; L: 26 cm; Depth: 22 cm

  • Purchased 1985

    OA 11025, OA 11026

  • Decorative Arts

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