These rare and striking candelabra are elegant and fashionable ornaments produced in the late 1770s to the specifications of the foremost Parisian dealer in luxury goods of the time, Simon-Philippe Poirier (c. 1720-1785). In the materials employed, the design and its execution, they exemplify Poirier's incessant quest for innovative inventions.
THE FLACONS DE MR POIRIER
The green Sèvres porcelain bodies of the candelabra correspond to a drawing preserved at the Sèvres factory, which is inscribed: flacon de Mr Poirier, D, 1775 du 11 Juillet, 2 pareille dont 1 fond vert, 1 bleu bleu du Roy and en petitte Roses (Rosalind Savill, The Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Sèvres Porcelain, London 1988, ill. on p. 271). The unadorned, footless shape was clearly designed as a vase à monter, intended to be mounted in gilt bronze. Poirier, one of the foremost clients of the Sèvres factory, may have had the shape created specially; he would sell the vases in his shop after they had been mounted. In 1772 Poirier had gone into partnership with his cousin by marriage, Dominique Daguerre (d. in 1796). After Daguerre assumed the sole management of the firm in 1777, he continued to enjoy a close relationship with the Sèvres factory. In 1782, he commissioned a somewhat similar urn-shaped vase, with a taller body and a lower neck, which was known as vase à monter Daguerre. The drawing for this also survives at Sèvres (Savill, pp. 468-471, ill. on p. 469).
Sèvres first produced vases à monter in about 1763, again probably at the instigation of a dealer, the marchand-galantier-parfumeur Jean Dulac (1704-1786). His signature occurs on the earliest known mounted Sèvres vase à monter, which was recorded in Madame de Pompadour's collection upon her death in 1764 (L. Roth and C. le Corbeiller, French Eighteenth-Century Porcelain at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford 2000, p. 121), as well as on some of the well-known vases à secret derived from that prototype (an apple-green unsigned example sold, Christie's, London, from the collection of the Marquess of Cholmondeley, 1 December 2005, Lot 88).
Whereas those earlier vases à monter have gently flared bodies, the flacon de Mr Poirier is boldly composed of pure geometrical shapes. Its model has been linked with the vase bouteille en écharpe which is indeed similar in shape but nonetheless differs significantly in having a stepped shoulder, a spirally fluted neck and a moulded sash draped along the body (M. Brunet and T. Préaud, Sèvres, Des origines à nos jours, Fribourg 1978; Savill, pp. 270-276, nos. C279-281). The vase bouteille en écharpe may have been created as early as 1765-1766, but the flacon de Mr Poirier represents a daring simplification of this model which probably originated in 1775, the year inscribed on the drawing at Sèvres.
In the factory records there is mention of twelve flacons de M. Poirier, all in hard paste, being produced in 1776 (Savill, p. 276, note 2), so there were obviously more made than the six implied in the inscriptions on the drawing. Few examples are known, notably a pair with bunches of roses on a white ground (the petitte Roses noted on the drawing?). These are mounted as vases and form a garniture with a similarly decorated beaker-shaped pot-pourri (sold, Ader Picard Tajan, Paris, 19 March 1981, Lot 322).
THE GILT BRONZE MOUNTS
The mounts of the garniture painted with roses are somewhat more traditional than those of the present candelabra which are in the most fashionable taste of the later 1770s. The bases with their panels filled with scrolls, their strings of pearls and borders of water-leaves, are related to the base of a large clock representing Love triumphing over Time, probably executed around 1780 by Etienne Martincourt (maître in 1762) to a design of Augustin Pajou (1730-1809) and now in the Wallace Collection (Peter Hughes, The Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Furniture, London 1996, no. 110, where it is noted that similar scrolled mounts occur on some furniture by Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806) dating from the 1780s). Besides, the idea of incorporating porcelain urns into gilt bronze candelabra was novel at the time. The very meticulous, highly detailed chasing of the gilt bronze is equally avant-garde for the late 1770s.
The Sèvres factory regularly employed the fondeur Jean-Claude-Thomas Duplessis for the mounting of vases à monter until his death in 1783, and it is possible that he was the author of the mounts on the present candelabra. However, Poirier may equally well have acquired the urns unmounted and himself selected one of his favoured craftsmen to transform them. Interestingly, the combination of rams' heads and draperies is reminiscent of a vase-shape introduced at Sèvres in 1771, the vase bouc du Barry B (cf. a pair in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Adrian Sassoon, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Vincennes and Sèvres Porcelain, Catalogue of the Collections, Malibu 1991, no. 23).