These beautifully modelled vases are based upon designs by the French sculptor Jacques-François-Joseph Saly (1717-1776). At the age of 21, Saly had won the Prix de Rome in Paris, and he moved to Italy where he studied at the Académie de Rome between 1740 and 1748. In 1746 he executed 30 drawings of vases, based upon classical examples which he embellished with contemporary decorative elements. These were engraved and presented to the Director of the Academy, Jean-Baptiste Troy, and were later published by the print-seller Basan (Eriksen, op. cit., p. 375)
The prints were extremely popular, and it is through the dispersal of these designs that Saly was to have his greatest influence. Although a sculptor himself, Saly is not known to have executed any models from his own designs. The authorship of the present examples therefore remains unclear. The extremely high quality suggests that they were executed by an accomplished artist, and the facial type of the nereids resembles the work of contemporary artists such as Augustin Pajou, whose two ideal female heads (illustrated in Paris and New York, Musée du Louvre and Metropolitan Museum, Augustin Pajou - Royal Sculptor 1730-1809, 20 Oct. 1997 - 19 Jan. 1998 and 26 Feb. - 24 May 1998, J. Draper and G. Scherf eds., nos. 72 and 73) display the same wide-set eyes and heart-shaped faces. However, despite the documented links between the two artists - Pajou is known to have finished a marble relief of Diogenes Saly was working on at the time of his death - the enduring and widespread popularity of Saly's designs makes it difficult to attribute the present terracottas to a particular artist or period.