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Each oval bombé and on four cast foliate scroll feet, the sides applied with acorn and oak leaf swags hung from circular medallions engraved with the script initials 'GS' below a German Prince's crown, with two cast ram's mask handles, with husk border above a foliage band, the detachable cover cast and chased with rosettes and with a foliage and ribbon-tied reeded fruiting finial, the oval stands cast and chased with rosettes and with husk borders terminating in foliate scroll bracket handles, on four fluted oval bun feet, the stand engraved with script initials 'GS' below a German Prince's crown, each marked under tureen, stand, liner and inside cover, further marked under tureen, edge of stand, on cover bezel, finial and liner rim with the décharge of Jean Baptiste Fouache, further struck with a later French tax mark, further stamped with inventory numbers S3 and S4 on the stands, S3A and S4A on the tureens, S3A S4B on the liners and S3C and S4C on the covers
The stands 22½ in. (57 cm.) wide
617 oz. 8 dwt. (19,204 gr.) (2)
Baron Robert de Rothschild (1880-1946).
Ancienne Collection Baron Robert de Rothschild; Palais Galliera, Mes. Couturier-de-Nicolay-Couturier, Paris, 2 December 1976, lot 63.
C. Bouchon, Le baron Robert de Rothschild (1880-1946), collectionneur et mécène, fig. 9, photograph of vitrine including the tureens during the 1926 Paris exposition d'orfèvrerie française civile.
D. Langeois, et al., Quelques chefs d'oeuvres de la Collection Djahanguir Riahi, Milan, 1999, pp. 265-269.
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Exposition d'orfèvrerie française civile, 1926, illustrated only.
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Lot Essay

The Riahi Auguste Tureens are masterpieces of the Neo-Classical style produced by the greatest French silversmith of the late 18th century. Robert-Joseph Auguste who was born in Mons in 1723, the son of Christophe Auguste 'bourgeois de Paris'. Claire Le Corbeiller notes in her article 'Robert-Joseph Auguste, Silversmith - and Sculptor?' (The Metropolitan Museum Journal, 1996, vol. 31, pp. 211-2) that Auguste has not been the subject of study for a biographer or archivist. However, as Corbeiller demonstrates, a considerable amount of information is known about his career and work. He entered his first mark in 1757 at the relatively late age of 34 having worked for other goldsmiths for some ten years, presumably as a compagnon or journeyman; thus establishing his reputation as a goldsmith of extraordinary skill and invention. In 1745 he created works for King Louis XV and in 1755 he fashioned two figures in gold for the marchand-mercier Lazare Duvaux, which were later acquired by the King's mistress Madame de Pompadour. Tragically they no longer survive. In the 18th century they were believed to have been modelled by the sculptor Etienne-Maurice Falconet (1716-1791). Auguste's reputation was such that when the set was sold from the collection of Pierre Randon de Boisset (1708-1776) in 1777 his name was highlighted in the catalogue entry - an extremely unusual practice at the time; the lot being described as 'in superb taste and of perfect quality by Monsieur Auguste'. The figures were in the form of a Dutchman proffering an oyster accompanied by a sack-carrying peasant. Corbeiller also suggests that a group of two putti on a rocky shell base fashioned in gold and sold by Lazare Duvaux to Madame de Pompadour in 1753 may similarly have been the work of Auguste.

Auguste was appointed l'orfèvre ordinaire du roi in 1777 having collaborated on the crown and coronation regalia of King Louis XVI. Elaine Barr makes note of his versatility in her chapter Neoclassicism in C. Blair ed., The History of Silver (London, 2000, p. 143). She cites his work with the court jeweller Ange-Joseph Aubert, especially their collaboration over the creation of the crown and regalia. She also focuses on his role as a bronze worker: a marble column with bronze mounts by Auguste, after designs by Charles de Wailly, was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1761. In the 1760s when he is described as a marchand-joaillier he produced gold snuff boxes, five of which are known to survive in museum collections and one is at Althorp, Northamptonshire, which was bought by John, 1st Earl Spencer while in Paris in 1769. Corbeillier discusses his role as an orfèvre sculpteur, op. cit., pp. 216-217.

Auguste's most productive years date from 1770 to 1785 and he was held in high esteem in foreign courts. It was during these years that he supplied foreign diplomats such as Count Gustaf Philip Creutz (1731-1785), a Swedish diplomat and statesman, ambassador to Paris in the 1770s and Earl Harcourt, King George III's ambassador to the French court from 1769. His greatest surviving commissions were for the royal courts of Portugal, Russia, Denmark and King George II of Great Britain for his court at Hanover. Apart from the Hanover service, which was sold in the 1920s, examples from these services can be seen in the respective Royal or State collections. The largest part of Auguste's Hanover service is now in the Rothschild Family collection on display at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire. Further pieces, including a recently acquired pair of tureens, are in the collection of the Louvre, Paris.

Auguste worked closely with his foreign patrons' agents, supplying preliminary drawings and designs. We know this from the surviving correspondence between Auguste and King George III's agent in Hanover and between Empress Catherine's agent Baron Grimm and Auguste as recorded in L. Réau, Correspondance artistique de Grimm avec Catherine II, Archives des l'art français, vol. xvii, 1932, p. 89. In one letter the Empress complains that drawings she had received that morning were exactly what she did not want, 'full of animals, figures and ornaments, as seen everywhere'. However, the differences between patron and goldsmith were solved and Auguste supplied the Russian court with four Gubernatorial services in the highly fashionable Neo-Classical style for the cities of Ekaterinoslav (1776-1778; see lot 32), Kazan (1778), Nizhny Novgorod (1778-1779) and Moscow (1782-1783).

It was not only foreign diplomats, aristocrats and monarchs who sought Auguste's work. In a letter to James, 7th Earl of Findlater (d. 1811), dated 20 January 1776, Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), the great silver manufacturer and industrial innovator wrote 'as I have not seen any of the best production of Monsr. August [sic.] I therefore presume I have seen nothing. His fame I am persweded [sic.] is found in superior Merit because I have heard so many Noblemen of good Tast [sic.] concur in ye same opinion of him - I am therefore desirous of availing myself of your Lordship's good Offices at Paris in ye Spring' (C. Lever, Goldsmiths and Silversmiths of England, London, 1975, p. 84).

Auguste was socially well-connected as seen by the list of guests who attended his marriage. They included Madame de Pompadour's brother, the Marquis de Marigny (1727-1781), the architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot (1713-1780), and Charles Nicolas Cochin (1715-1790), the engraver, designer, art critic and opponent of the Rococo style. In a letter written by Cochin to the Marquis de Marigny in 1765 he commends Auguste above all his contemporaries 'it is difficult to single out anyone in the art of silver manufacturing other than M. Auguste, all the others being more or less salesmen, incapable of making things themselves but offering items in their own name, made by others'.

The Riahi tureens, which are dated 1775-6, are in the highly developed Neo-Classical style as promoted by Cochin. They epitomise the very greatest of Auguste's works from the mid 1770s. They are very similar to a tureen or pot à oille made by Auguste in 1771 for the Hanoverian minister in Paris Otto von Bloehme (sold Christie's Geneva, 26 April 1977, lot 306). The form of the tureen and cover is identical with minor variations on the stand border. The Riahi tureens are directly related to a pair of pots à oille once in the collection of Michel Ephrussi (1844-1914) (one shown here and illustrated in Henri Bouilhet's L'Orfèvrerie Français aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles, Paris, 1908, p. 243). Bouillet had not handled the tureens at the time of writing in 1908 when he described the one illustrated as 'un exemplaire de toute rareté'. One of a pair of tureens made by Auguste in 1775 later entered the collection of Madame Dhainault, sold at Sotheby's, London on 10 December 1936, lot 46. Their very close resemblance to the present lot makes it almost certain that they once formed part of the same service. Michel Ephrussi, a banker and art collector, was a member of a Ukrainian Jewish family who had established themselves in Paris in the mid-19th century. He was the brother-in-law of Béatrice de Rothschild (1864-1934) and a cousin of Baron Robert de Rothschild who owned the Riahi tureens. Michel Ephrussi fought a duel with Count Guy de Lubersac in 1900 after he made anti-semitic comments concerning Robert de Rothschild. The duelers met on an island in the Seine at Neuilly. Ephrussi was wounded but soon recovered.

There has been considerable discussion regarding the engraved initials GS beneath the German prince's crown which appears on the body of the tureens and on the stands. It was suggested that the initials could be for Prince George Friedrich Carl, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen (1763-1803), however there is no evidence to connect the tureens with the house of Saxe-Meiningen. If the assumption that the engraving dates from the time of manufacture is put to one side there are a number of further possibilities. A date in the early 19th century for the engraving makes it possible for the tureens to have belonged to Prince Georg Carl Friedrich, Duke of Saxe-Altenburg (1796-1853), Prince Georg I Wilhelm, Prince of Schaumberg-Lippe (1784-1860) or Prince Gunther Friedrich Karl II, Prince of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen (1801-1889). If one follows the convention used by the children of King George III of Great Britain, who regularly presented personal gifts engraved with their initials, the GS initials could relate to the Christian names of the owner. The pots à oille from the Ephrussi collection, apparently unengraved, and a further pair of tureens by Auguste of the same date, engraved with an Irish crest, in a private collection, suggest that these pieces may have formed a dinner service sold in the years following the French Revolution.

Baron Robert de Rothschild (1880-1946) was the youngest son of Gustave de Rothschild (1829-1911) and his wife Cecile Anspach (1840-1912). He married, in 1907, Gabrielle Beer (1886-1945). In keeping with the Rothschild family tradition he was both a great collector and a philanthropist. His interest in the work of Robert-Joseph Auguste is shown by his ownership not only of the present magnificent pair of tureens but also a pair of wine-coolers and two glasses coolers which were also exhibited in 1926 at the Exposition d'orfèvrerie française civile hosted by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (p. 23, no. 140 and 141). The Riahi tureens appear in a black and white photograph of the exhibition (published in C. Bouchon, Le baron Robert de Rothschild (1880-1946), collectionneur et mécène, fig. 9) but they do not appear to be listed in the catalogue. His generosity also enabled the Musée des Arts Décoratifs to purchase a number of drawings arrtibuted to Auguste's workshop when they came up at auction in 1925.

Other members of the French branch of the Rothschild family were significant collectors of French 18th century silver, and often acquired collections en bloc and then divided them up amongst different branches of the family. Alphonse de Rothschild (1868-1949), father of Guy de Rothschild and cousin to Baron Robert acquired a large part of the Hanover service made by Robert-Joseph Auguste for King George III of Great Britain as Elector of Hanover. This service was broken up after the King of Hanover sold very large holdings of plate to the Vienna dealer Gluckselig in 1924. Half of the Hanover service was acquired by Baron Alphonse, who bequeathed some pieces to the Louvre, with the remainder being sold by his heirs in 1982. These are now at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, having been acquired by Rothschild Family Trusts in 2002. Some of these pieces may also be visible in the photograph of the vitrine, which includes the Riahi tureens, taken during the 1926 Paris exhibition cited above.


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