This magnificent vase is a masterpiece of the skillful art of mounted objets, perfected by marchands-merciers such as Lazare Duvaux in the 1740s and 1750s. It unites a precious and extremely rare dark amethyst body with superbly cast and chased gilt-bronzes attributed to the chief designer and sculpteur at Sèvres Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis.
Demonstrating many of the recognisable characteristics of Duplessis' style, such as the homogenous unity of form and bold decoration, suggesting that the mounts were made specifically for this large amethyst body, and the substantial and symmetrical acanthus scroll mounts of the highest quality, illustrate the superb modelling and chasing for which Duplessis is renowned. Comparable vases attributed to Duplessis, with closely related bases and scrolling handles, but incorporating celadon porcelain bodies, are now at the Musée Nissim de Camondo, and at Waddesdon Manor (illustrated in G. de Bellaigue, Furniture, Clocks and Gilt Bronzes, vol. II, 1974, p. 764). The mounts featured on these vases are particularly reminiscent of the designs Duplessis realised for soft and hard paste Sèvres porcelain during the period 1748 to 1774, when Duplessis was artistic director at Vincennes and its successor, Sèvres. A drawing of this design survives in the Sèvres archive (L.H. Roth, C. Le Corbeiller, French Eighteenth-Century Porcelain at the Wadsworth Atheneum, p. 105, fig. 59-1). Examples of these Sèvres porcelain vases are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (24.214.5) and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (C.357-1909). Here, the body is of precious amethyst, which, like lapis lazuli, was among the most costly hardstones to be employed.
Amethyst (or ‘Prime d’amethyste’) was also found on antique engraved stones (cameos and intaglios) and was collected in its own right by mineral collectors such as François Boucher (1703-1770), the duc Charles-Alexandre de Lorraine (1712-1780), Achille-Joseph de Robert de Lignerac, duc de Caylus (c. 1733-1783) and Louis XV’s mistress Jeanne Bécu comtesse du Barry, dit Madame du Barry (1743-1793). Amethyst also appears in listed in inventories and sale records, mounted in precious gilt-bronze settings, including:
- ‘194. Deux vases d’ametiste, richement & elegament ornes de bronze dore’, Sale, Paris, 21 November 1774, Collection of Jean-Baptiste du Barry, comte du Barry-Ceres (1723-1794), exiled after the death of Louis XV in 1774, and sold by his son, vicomte Adolphe du Barry.
- ‘466. Deux vases [en prime d’améthyste] de forme allongee, garnis d’un bandeau a fleurons, d’anses en consle, guirlandes sur les faces, & de plinthe… le tout de bronze dore’, Sale, Paris, 27 February 1777, Collection Pierre-Louis-Paul Randon de Boisset (1708-1776).
- ‘255. Un vase forme de cassolette, couleur d’amethyste foncée avec cristallisations variées; à gaudrons & moulures’, Sale, Paris, 16 April 1792, Collection Francois Michel Harenc de Presles (1710-1802).
- ‘Prime d’amethyste, formant pots-pourri, garnis de guirlandes, gorge, anses, couvercle découpé a jour, culot, piédouche cannele a focle ouvrage en bronze dore’, Sale, Paris, 21 February 1799, Collection Francois-Felicite Cochu (1710-1798).
Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis, père (d. 1774), Turinese by birth, sculptor, designer and fondeur-ciseleur, is known chiefly for his work as a modeller at the Sèvres factory, including a design named after him - Vase Duplessis - with distinctive overscrolled handles such as those on the present vase. Documented bronzes by him are extremely rare: among the best known examples are the mounts for the Bureau du Roi of Louis XV and a mounted Sèvres vase of flowers on shaped base given by the Dauphine Marie-Josèphe to her father Augustus III, King of Saxony in 1749 (Serge Gauthier, Les Porcelainiers du XVIIIe Siècle Français, 1964, p. 169).
French actress Jacqueline Delubac (d. 1997) was known for her elegance and style as well as her distinguished acting career spanning many decades. She had also developed a discerning eye as a keen art collector and together with her first husband, diamantaire Miran Eknayan, formed a remarkable collection of modern and contemporary works of art by great masters including Renoir, Manet, Modigliani, Picasso and Rodin. Together with her second husband, Sasha Guitry, she lived in a hotel particulier decorated by the celebrated designer Henri Samuel, where in true ‘Samuel fashion’ works of art of different styles and periods were mixed and intelligently and stylishly juxta positioned: the extraordinary picture and sculpture collection was arranged around Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture such fauteuils by Cresson and secretaire by Montigny. This remarkable amethyst vase, extremely rare, finely worked and precious, will have been a bold, eye-catching feature in this elegant interior.