Catalogued as ‘a good Louis XVI style urn-shaped porcelain clock’, a French timepiece offered at John Nicholson’s (25% buyer’s premium) on April 15-16 was deemed by eager bidders to be something even more enticing. Pitched at £600-800, it sold at £16,500.
Clocks such as these first appear in the Sèvres factory records for 1775 as Vase Pendule à Dauphins. An adaptation of the similar vase à dauphins made by the factory in the 1750s, it takes the 14in (36cm) form of a fountain with two gilt white dolphins, each spouting jets of water that form the cover.
Only a handful are known: one surviving at the Sèvres Cité de la céramique museum and two others that have appeared for sale at Christie’s in recent years. One (with an ormolu rather than a porcelain foot) came with a royal provenance to the bathroom at Louis XVI’s apartments at Versailles and sold accordingly in 2013 at £433,875. A better price comparison is perhaps the damaged example sold in June 2016 for £43,750.
All surviving versions have marks for the gilder Etienne-Henry Le Guay but have movements and dials signed by different makers – in keeping with the factory records that suggest they were sold at 24 livres each to clockmakers. The example sold here in Haslemere, part of the contents of a large London property, is signed to the dial Noël Leroy a Paris with the movement probably associated.
Country house source
It was not the only piece of Sèvres making waves in the UK regional rooms in the spring.
The sale at Rowley’s (22.5% buyer’s premium) in Ely on May 8 included a garniture of three gilt-decorated Sèvres porcelain vases – the largest 19in (48cm high).
They came from the same Bedfordshire country house as many of the better lots in the sale (including a painted and giltwood neo-Palladian wall bracket, c.1735, in the manner of William Kent that sold for £11,000 – as featured in Bid Barometer in ATG No 2493).
Although catalogued as 19th century, this garniture more probably dated from the end of the Louis XV period, modelled during the first wave of neoclassicism known as the goût grec. Close inspection of online images suggest they carried the date letter T for 1772 and the gilder’s mark 2000 for Henry-François Vincent (1733-1809).
He previously worked with his father at Saint-Cloud and was described in the records as “five feet high, very fat, pale-faced, and with blonde hair in round curls,” when he moved to Vincennes on a wage of 36 livres a month in 1753.
By the time he was 22 in 1755, he was earning 60 livres as a gilder although further pay increases were delayed as punishment for insulting a bookkeeper. He worked at the factory until 1800 using the mark 2000 (vingt cent) as a pun on his surname.
These vases were in poor condition – in the family for many years, they were broken and crudely repaired – but attracted three principal phone bidders against a £200-300 guide. Outbidding two rivals from France, a UK ceramics dealer bought them at £16,000.
By 1800 the Sèvres factory was serving the needs of the empire rather than the ancien regime. It called for a fresh approach to porcelain design.
Both typical of the imperial output, two plates were offered by Chiswick Auctions (25% buyer’s premium) as part of an interiors sale on May 13.
With red printed factory marks for 1807 and 1809, these were both finely decorated with classical subjects. One depicted a female bust in profile, the other a scene depicting the tale of the ‘Corinthian Maid’ Dibutades, who drew around her lover’s shadow on a wall in order to preserve his image as a memento while he was away.
This poetic explanation for the origin of painting was particularly popular during the 18th and early 19th century.
A catalogue addendum meant that the pair, guided at just £200-300, were properly recognised. With some wear to the gilding, they brought £3200.