Each with a flask-shaped baluster body surmounted by a fluted and scrolled ovoid neck centred to each side by a rockwork shell, flanked by putto herms suspending floral gardlands, the shaped rectangular base with ribbon-tied reeded border cornered by cabochon-cast clasps, on foliate scrolled pierced oval feet
12½ in. (32 cm.) high; 6¼ in. (16 cm.) wide; 4¾ in. (12 cm.) deep (2)
In the collection of William Beckford at Fonthill Abbey, Wiltshire, where recorded as 'third day's sale', lot '*15' in Christie's, 17-25 September 1822 postponed sale, and subsequently sold Phillips, 9 September-27 October 1823, lot 1205, to 'Emmerson'.
In the collection of Bertram Wodehouse Currie at Minley Manor, Hampshire, where recorded in 1908.
Christie's, London, 27 March 1953, lot 20, purchased by 'Sangeorgi'.
Catalogue of the Collection of Works of Art at Minley Manor, London, 1908, illustrated in the 'Drawing Room'.
Ed. P. Hewat-Jaboor, B. McLeod, William Beckford, 1760-1844: An Eye for the Magnificent, New Haven and London, 2002.

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Lot Essay

First listed in Christie's 1822 catalogue of the contents of William Beckford's (d.1844) Gothick mansion, Fonthill Abbey, these vases in rare clair-de-lune porcelain and sculpted in relief with a sacred peach, are mounted in the most superbly modelled and beautifully chased mounts that can be attributed to Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis (d.1774), one of the most significant bronziers of the second half of the 18th century.


These sumptuously mounted vases in the late rococo style of circa 1760 represent a reaction to the fanciful asymmetry of early rococo, the Goût Pittoresque of the 1730s and 1740s. The feet and spouts are curved, and the upper rim is centred by large shell-like rocaille, but the overall design is fully symmetrical. The reeded lower border, the naturalistic garlands of flowers, and the figures of draped boys at the sides - supporting the rim with their right hand and holding the floral swags with their left - herald the advent of a new classicism. At a time when an aggressive neo-classicism, the so-called Goût Grec, was already being advocated by a small number of avant-garde patrons and artists, many preferred the generous, sweeping forms of this rococo rectifié.

Designs for Vincennes and Sèvres porcelain during the artistic directorship of Duplessis from 1748 to 1774 assist in attributing this craftsman to spectacular ormolu pieces such as the present vases; a Sèvres jardinière, a 'cuvette Mahon', illustrates the ebullient scroll base favoured by the craftsman (S. Eriksen, G. de Bellaigue, Sèvres Porcelain: Vincennes and Sèvres 1740-1800, London, 1987, p. 316, no. 129). The organic and fluid manner in which the rich ormolu mounts of these vases correspond to the porcelain body, and simultaneously emphasise, without overshadowing, the beauty of the rare celadon is also reflected in a vase with mounts attributed to Duplessis, sold from the collection of the Earls of Harewood at Christie's, London, 5 July 2012, lot 29 (£1,161,250).


These vases are part of a small group of vases with identical mounts. Beckford himself owned another pair of vases with the same mounts, the celadon decorated with relief key pattern, now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (accession no. 49.7.80, 81). The Metropolitan pair is probably that listed in Christie's 1822 catalogue of 'Magnificent Effects at Fonthill Abbey...' as 'tenth day's sale', [lot] '14, A pair of tooled and embossed old sea-green jars, magnificently mounted, with boys and festoons of flowers, scroll mouths and stands, chased and gilt - time of Louis XVI'. The 1822 sale was cancelled when a prospective buyer for the mansion, John Farquhar, was found and the pair now at the Metropolitan Museum do not appear in the subsequent sale held by Phillips in 1823, but were removed to Lansdown Crescent (Bath), and in 1844 after Beckford's death, to Hamilton Palace, the country seat of Alexander Hamilton, 10th Duke of Hamilton, Beckford's son-in-law. An 1844 inventory taken after Beckford's death, lists a 'Pair of Sea Green Vases mounted by Germain' with an inscription in the margin, 'Taken to HP [Hamilton Palace] Dec 1844' (Ed. P. Hewat-Jaboor, B. McLeod, William Beckford, 1760-1844: An Eye for the Magnificent, pp. 328-29 and 417 f/n 3). Additionally, a List of Articles of Vertu, Furniture etc. Etc. sent from Bath to Hamilton Palace records 'A Pair of Sea Green Vases mounted by Germain' (ibid.). Germain refers to François Thomas Germain (d. 1791), a French silversmith who also worked in ormolu. The mistaken attribution to Germain is almost certainly due to the fact that Duplessis' oeuvre was not as recognized in the early 19th century. Beckford would have been impressed by Germain's status as a foremost 18th Century French silversmith, his title of sculpteur-orfèvre du roi and his important clientèle (ibid.). The Metropolitan Museum pair are almost certainly the pair sold from Hamilton Palace in 1882, and illustrated in a line drawing in the sale catalogue (17 June-20 July 1882, lot 248).
The third pair of vases with identical mounts but with a prominent moulded vertical line ornamentation on the celadon featured in the portrait of Pierre-Joseph-Victor de Besenval, Baron de Brunstatt by Henri-Pierre Danloux. The Besenval pair sold at Christie's, London, 6 December 2007, lot 130 (£658,900).

Virtually identical bases occur on other museum pieces, such as a pair of 'clair de lune' pagoda vases in the Rijksmuseum (C. Jörg, Chinese Ceramics in the Collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1977, no. 266) and a bottle-shaped vase in the Wrightsman Collection (F.J.B. Watson, The Wrightsman Collection, vol. II, Furniture, Gilt Bronze and Mounted Porcelain, Carpets, New York, 1966, p. 239). Closely related base mounts also adorn a Chinese celadon carp vase in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum (Designing the Décor, Lisbon, 2006, p. 188).


Most probably acquired by Beckford in Paris in the latter part of the 18th century or early 19th century, or through a London dealer with French associations such as Baldock, Decaix, Daguerre, Fogg, Vulliamy or Maelrondt. Beckford took up residence in Paris in 1788 when he rented the sumptuous hôtel d'Orsay on the rue de Varenne. Beckford, who had supported the Revolution, was in Paris at the fall of the Bastille in 1789, returned from October 1790 to June 1791, November 1791 to May 1793 and again from May 1801 to May 1803. He also employed agents to act on his behalf, including Captain Nicholas Williams, who, when Beckford had to flee Paris when under threat of arrest in 1793, travelled to Paris for him from July 1797 to November of that year. He further employed the bookseller Auguste Chardin after Williams' departure and, from 1802, engaged his friend and confidant Chevalier Gregorio Franchi (d. 1828) to represent him for purchases.
In 1822, having accrued a spectacular collection at Fonthill Abbey comprising furniture, pictures, metalwork, curiosities and porcelain including these vases, Beckford found himself in financial difficulty and was forced to sell the contents, which were listed as more than one thousand lots. These vases in Christie's 1822 sale were listed as [lot] '*15, A pair of oriental grey Jars of compressed shape, with the Sacred Peach in relief; the necks superbly mounted, and the feet also of or-moulu'. In 1823, the contents of Fonthill Abbey were finally sold at auction, held by 'Mr. Phillips', which took place over more than six weeks using cataloguing previously prepared for the annulled sale (Mr. Phillips, 9 September-27 October 1823). On 18 October 1823, these vases, situated in 'St Michael's Gallery', sold as [lot] '1205, A pair of Oriental grey Jars, of compressed shape, with the sacred peach in relief; the necks superbly mounted, and the feet also of or-moulou'. The vases were acquired by Emmerson [Thomas Emmerson, art collector]. In 1908, the present vases were at Minley Manor (Hampshire) in the collection of the Currie family where they were described as, 'PAIR OF VASES. Quatrefoil section, beaker-shaped with bulbous neck, covered with a celadon glaze. Louis XV. Ormolu mounts. Height, 11 ins. The bill says from "The Font-Hill Collection" and describes them thus:- "Oriental grey jars of compressed shape with the sacred peach in relief, the necks superbly mounted and the feet also in ormolu." Purchased from Whitehead [Thomas Miller Whitehead (d. 1898), collector and dealer] for 1050l.' The vases were photographed in the 'Drawing-room' (Catalogue of the Collection of Works of Art at Minley Manor, privately published, 1908). The 'Preface' notes that the collection was formed between 1866 and 1896 in the main by the author's father, Bertram Wodehouse Currie (d. 1896). The contents were formerly at Coombe Warren (Surrey) and no. 1 Richmond Terrace but moved to Minley Manor in 1888. The vases were subsequently sold by Christie's London, 27 March 1953, lot 20, and purchased by 'Sangeorgi'.

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