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The domed lid with berried finial above a pierced neck, with twin scrolled handles and acanthus base
12½ in. (32 cm.) high
Jacqueline Delubac; sold hôtel Drouot, Paris (Mes Ribeyre et Baron), 16 March 1998, lot 38.

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Jamie Collingridge
Jamie Collingridge

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Lot Essay

Embellished with finely-chased and richly gilt ormolu mounts on a bold scale, this precious amethyst vase is a superb example of the finest bronzes d'ameublement executed by Pierre Gouthière at the start of his career. It was conceived during the early, experimental phase of the 'Antique' Style, still retaining aspects of the preceding rococo 'assagie' style to the base. Amethyst was a rare precious hard stone, hardly found on this large scale, and the present vase represents a unique example of an objet d'art incorporating this costly material.

Pierre Gouthière (1732 - circa 1814) was the most celebrated bronzier of the Louis XVI period, and one of the handful of craftsmen of the 18th Century whose fame never diminished, along with Boulle, Cressent and Riesener. A maître-doreur-ciseleur in 1758, he was appointed doreur ordinaire de Menus Plaisirs in 1767, though on his signed pieces he generally used the title 'ciseleur-doreur du Roy' (H. Ottomeyer/P.Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, Munich, 1986, vol. II, p. 566). Working extensively for Marie-Antoinette, and ultimately her principal supplier of bronzes, Gouthière often worked together with the architect-designer François-Joseph Bélanger (1744-1818), the first collaboration taking place in 1769-70, when Gouthière supplied the mounts for Marie-Antoinette's jewel-cabinet which was designed by Bélanger. In 1770-71, he supplied bronzes for Mme. du Barry's Pavillon de Louveciennes, for sums amounting to over 100,000 livres, another indication of his position as the most prominent ciseleur-doreur of his day, whose unrivalled talent gained him much acclaim and fortune (P.Verlet, Les Bronzes Dorés Français du XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1987, p. 210). One of his most important clients in the 1770 was the duc d'Aumont, whose fabled collections included various items by Gouthière, and who was personally responsible for his appointment at the Menus Plaisirs.

As James Parker highlighted in the definitive introduction to the recent reprint of Baron Davillier's 1870 edition of the original sale catalogue (Le Cabinet du Duc d'Aumont, New York, 1986), much of the extraordinary fame of the duc d'Aumont's collection emanates from his objects and furniture made from hardstones, created for him between 1770 and 1782 in the workshops he had set up at the hôtel des Menus-Plaisirs. This reputation was greatly enhanced by the fact that the majority of these items were acquired at the sale by Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Of the 383,322 livres realised, over half of this (251,420 livres) had been spent by the King and Queen, and they acquired 56 lots between them. However, whilst the Queen's purchase of five lots was for her own cabinet and were paid for from her Privy purse, the motivation for the King's extravagance was philanthropic. Since 1768, there had been a plan to establish a public museum in the galeries du Louvre, and these purchases, including the Medici vases, were intended as an endowment for the newly-born musée du Louvre (A. Pradère, French Furniture Makers, Paris, 1989, p. 396).

The duc's interest in ancient and precious marbles had apparently been fired by his purchase from the maréchal de Richelieu of two antique porphyry vases brought back from Italy. A passion shared by a number of his contemporaries - particularly Marie-Antoinette - the marbles from which the duc's objects were created had been mined in antiquity, and the fulfiment of this passion was only made possible by the rich pickings gleaned from archaeological excavations in Italy in the 18th century. As the Observation or introductory text in the sale catalogue reveals, 'M. le Duc d'Aumont, jaloux de donner le plus grand caractère à son Cabinet, a fait les plus grandes recherches pour se procurer à Rome et dans tout l'Italie les marbres les plus rares...'.
When the duc decided to set up a workshop in 1770 at the hôtel des Menus-Plaisirs to cut and polish precious marbles and embellish them with gilt-bronze mounts, he turned to those with whom he had already worked. Thus, while Belanger was appointed as architect-designer, a Genoese sculptor, Augustine Bocciardi (fl. 1760-90) was responsible for cutting and polishing and the sculptor Guillemin is credited with inventing a new technique for giving marbles a 'polis ferme et brilliant'. The gilt-bronze mounts, however, were all created by Gouthière, and indeed the d'Aumont sale catalogue itself paid tribute to this reputation by annotating every lot to which he had contributed with the initial 'G'. In all, the duc commssioned 51 pieces from Gouthière, and the latter was owed the enormous sum of 76,955 livres on his patron's death. Bélanger's claim was also by no means insubstantial, petitioning for 24,000 livres for 'un grand nombre de plans, dessins et esquisses par lui faits pour le feu duc.. tant pour l'architecture de bâtiments que pour vases...et autre objets de curiosité de son cabinet'.

The present vase is closely related to various superb ormolu-mounted hard stone vases executed by Gouthière between his arrival at the Menus Plaisirs in 1767 and the duc d'Aumont's death in 1782, many of which were included in the latter's aforementioned sale. Lots 1 to 29 were executed in porphyre de première qualityé, porphyre vert, jaspe etc., all with splendid mounts and fetching the highest prices, particularly when they were by Gouthière himself. Most of these mounts were entirely 'Antique', in the full-blown neo-classical style, incorporating classical figures and a large range of naturalistic motifs used for rims, borders and bases. A superb example is the serpentine vase, lot 11 in the d'Aumont sale, now in the Louvre, which displays all these motifs as well as Gouthière's finest chasing and dorure au mat (P. Verlet, Les Bronzes Dorés Français du XVIIième Siècle, Paris, 1987, fig. 34). "The process consists in coating the gilt bronze with a mixture of salts, called 'le mat' and heating it continuously above a fire. [...] The coating is thus removed from the gilt bronze pieces and, after being plunged in cold water, these appear matte. One can then burnish certain areas using 'burnishers'" (J. Robiquet, Vie et Oeuvre de Pierre Gouthière, Paris, 1921, p. 87).

The Riahi vase, however, appears to pre-date most of the items Gouthière conceived for the duc d'Aumont in the 1770s, and may have been excuted as early as 1760-65. The pierced domed lid and berried finial as well as the scrolling handles demonstrate an early Neo-Classical idiom, both in form and in chased finish. However, the scrolling base is still exemplary of the rococo 'assagie', a symmetrical restrained rococo, which developed in the late 1750s. The design of the scrolling feet issuing from acanthus on the four-sided base is an example of this final flush of the rococo, which would soon disappear.

Jacqueline Delubac (1910-1997) was a French actress who was married to the actor, dramatist and film-maker Sacha Guitry, with whom she starred in several films before the dissolution of their marriage in the 1950s. She began a successful acting career in Valence and travelled to Paris where she met Guitry. Despite their twenty-five year age difference, the pair went on to make together ten of the twenty-five films which constituted her career. Stylish and charming, Jacqueline and her second husband, Myran Eknayan, formed a highly distinguished collection of modern pictures, including works by Bacon, Léger, Manet, Picasso, Renoir and others. After her death in 1997, the Musée des Beaux Arts de Lyon dedicated galleries in both her and her husband's name. Jacqueline's refined but eclectic tastes were evident not only in her collections of fine art and furniture, but equally in her wardrobe, which is now preserved in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.


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