Department of Decorative Arts: 19th century
© 2007 RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola
On the death of his wife in 1840, Baron de Feuchères (1785-1857) donated her estate to several institutions, including the Hospices Civils de la Ville de Paris. In recognition of this, the hospices presented him with this outstanding vase, today to be found in the Louvre. The silversmith chosen for the work was François-Désiré Froment-Meurice (1802-55), who reverted to the neoclassical style for this work.
A work in honor of Baron de Feuchères
Baron de Feuchères (1785-1857) had married Sophie Dawes in 1818, thinking she was the daughter of the Duke de Bourbon, whereas in fact she was his mistress. As soon as he realized this, he separated from his wife and went off on military campaigns overseas. When his wife died in 1840, he gave away the estate he had inherited, the amount to be shared between the Paris Hôtel-Dieu (general hospital), the Hospice des Ménages, the Hospice de Nîmes, the flood victims of the Gard, and the flood victims of the Ardèche. By way of thanks, the Hospices Civils de la Ville de Paris presented the baron with this vase bearing a cameo portrait of him by James Pradier, an inscription, and the coats of arms of the baron and of the city of Paris. The vase, then, mentions both benefactor and recipient. François-Désiré Froment-Meurice was chosen to undertake the commission as official silversmith to the city of Paris.
A revival of classicism
The vase, which is classical in shape, is particularly somber in design. Ovoid, it sits on a small pedestal decorated with a border of water lilies and vine leaves. The crux of the base consists of malachite cabochons alternating with rosettes, and the lower part of the belly of the vase is embelished with finely drawn oak and laurel leaves. This highly naturalistic treatment of ornamentation is at variance with true neoclassical style and illustrates the wide-ranging artistic inspiration of Froment-Meurice and the gradual abandonment of an antiquarian style. The belly with its burnished ground has a malachite portrait on one side and, on the other, the plaque carrying the inscription. The elongated neck bears the coats of arms mentioned earlier. The two handles, the work of the sculptor Alexandre Schoenewerk (1820-85), represent War (crowned with laurels, standing on the head of a Gorgon and holding a sword) and Charity (urged on by two children).
Subtly worked materials
The main body of the vase is in silver gilt. The decorative greenery stands out against the deadened ground. Several other decorative features, such as the handles and arms, are in silver, producing a somewhat polychrome effect. This interplay between gold and silver is typical of the period. The two figures were separately cast and molded (by Louis-Augustin Mulleret), and once set, attached with screws, using a technique handed down by the silversmith Odiot. This masterpiece of precious metalwork was completed by the expert skill of Pradier, who made the portrait of the baron in malachite. The malachite stands out against the burnished gold ground and again at the crux, hints of green that serve to emphasize the polychrome effect. This hard stone, seldom used in France, gives the vase a most original appearance.
BibliographyEUZET M., "Pradier intime, bijoux et camées", in L'Estampille l'Objet d'art, n 380, mai 2003, pp. 71-75.
Exposition Trésors d'argent. Les Froment-Meurice orfèvres romantiques parisiens, Musée de la vie romantique (4 fév.-15 juin 2003), Paris-Musées, 2003, p. 26 et 188.
Exposition Un Âge d'or des Arts décoratifs 1814-1848, Grand palais (10 oct.-30 déc. 1991), Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1991, pp. 429-430.
Jean-Jacques PRADIER, known as James PRADIER (Geneva, 1790 - Bougival, 1852)
Silver, gilded silver, malachite
Malachite medallion by Pradier; figures modelled by Schoenewerk
Gift of Mme Gide, Baronne de Feuchères, 1890 , 1890
Display case 1
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