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Sèvres. Pair of mounted vases (vase à monter) c.1785. Hard-paste porcelain, gilt bronze mounts, onyx stand. Overall height 35 cm; dimensions excluding stand 32.7 x 19.2 x 12.8 cm. Purchased by George IV. RCIN 253.2. The Royal Collection © 2009, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 

The elegance and beauty of these vases lies in the skilful combination of a simple form, mottled brown-black ground in simulation of lacquer and finely chased gilt bronze mounts, including mermaid figures and lion’s paw monopodia.

The vases resemble an annotated drawing that survives in the manufactory archives, dated 14 March 1785. Designed by Louis-Simon Boizot (1743-1809), this vase was intended to be fitted with mounts supplied by Pierre-Philippe Thomire: Vase Serpent Boizot fait pour Monte par Monsieur Tomire.

The vases were displayed at Carlton House under protective glass domes. (Text adapted from French Porcelain for English Palaces, Sèvres from the Royal Collection, London, 2009)

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Sèvres. Pair of mounted vases, 1789-90. Hard-paste porcelain, decorated in platinum and two tones of gold, gilt bronze mounts. 1 33.5 x 11.5 x 11.5 cm .2 33.7 x 11.5 x 11.5 cm. Acquired by George IV, possibly from the dealer, Robert Fogg, in 1812. RCIN 2344.1-2. The Royal Collection © 2009, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 

The inspiration for this model may have been one of the so-called Etruscan vases sold to Louis XVI by Vivant Denon (1747-1825) in 1786. This collection was placed on deposit at Sèvres to provide inspiration for the artists and sculptors. Only one other pair of vases of this form is known.

The fashion for black-ground chinoiserie scenes at Sèvres, variously described as fond noir or fond écaille, reflected the taste for oriental-inspired decoration and reached its height between 1790 and 1793. A possible source for the two figures worshipping a monkey seated on a column is an engraving published in 1759 by Pierre-Charles Canot (b.1710) after Jean-Baptiste Pillement.

The prevailing neo-classical style is represented by the gilded swags and garlands and scrolling arabesques, which, stylistically, are close to the gilt bronze mounts fitted to furniture in the Louis XVI style.

On left-hand vase: painted in gold: interlaced LLs, with (on either side) (?)M, forming the date-letters (?)MM for 1789. On right-hand vase: painted in gold: interlaced LLs with (on either side) n, forming the date-letters nn for 1790. (Text adapted from French Porcelain for English Palaces, Sèvres from the Royal Collection, London, 2009)

5

Sèvres. Pair of mounted pot-pourri vases (vase à monter) c.1790. Hard-paste porcelain, decorated in platinum and two tones of gold, gilt bronze mounts. 1 42 x 33.9 x 20.6 cm .2 42.7 x 34 x 20.7 cm. Possibly bought by George IV from the dealer, Robert Fogg, in 1815 for £157 10s. RCIN 2347.1-2. The Royal Collection © 2009, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 

The fanciful oriental scenes are rendered in two tones of gold and platinum on a black ground. The vases probably conform to designs provided by the marchand mercier dealer/decorator, Dominique Daguerre, who would have added the bespoke gilt bronze mounts.

The known sources for chinoiserie decoration on black ground Sèvres porcelain, introduced at the factory c.1790, include engravings after designs by Jean-Baptiste Pillement, Cantonese lacquer patterns, Chinese woodcuts and debased generic chinoiserie scenes. In this instance, two scenes on the vases are taken from engravings by Jean-Jacques Avril (1771-1835) after Pillement, published in the series Cahier de Balançoires Chinoises.

The use of platinum on a black ground, as a substitute for silver (which tarnishes), was a technical innovation introduced at Sèvres c.1789. It was used extensively in the 1790s on black ground vases and tableware decorated with chinoiserie scenes.

Painted on both, in gold: crowned interlaced LLs, flanked by the letters G and I (G omitted on one vase), the mark of the gilder Etienne-Gabriel Girard. (Text adapted from French Porcelain for English Palaces, Sèvres from the Royal Collection, London, 2009)