Alfred de Rothschild (1842-1918)
Son of Baron Lionel de Rothschild and a respected banker, art collector and philanthropist in his own right, Alfred de Rothschild served on the board of the National Gallery and helped establish The Wallace Collection. His personal art collections included important paintings, French furniture and Sèvres porcelain not unlike those of his friend, Richard Wallace. He lived in at 1 Seamore Place, London and at Halton in Buckinghamshire. It is thought that the present vases were in his collection by 1887. Upon his death in 1918, the contents of Seamore Place were inherited by Almina Herbert, 5th Countess of Carnarvon.
Almina, Countess of Carnarvon (1876-1969)
Legally the daughter of Marie (aka Mina) Boyer Wombell and Captain Frederick Charles Wombwell, Almina Wombell is now acknowledged as the natural daughter of Alfred de Rothschild. Indeed, the name Almina is a hybrid of her father and mother’s first names. Almina’s dowery of some £500,000, provided by Alfred de Rothschild at the time of her marriage to George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon in 1895, enabled the earl to maintain the family seat, Highclere Castle (the setting for the fictitious Downton Abbey), and to fund his many art and archeological projects. Chief among these was financial support for Howard Carter’s excavations in the Valley of the Kings that led to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb in 1922.
In 1918, when Almina inherited the contents of Seamore Place from her father, some of the works of art were sold directly to the noted dealer Arnold Seligmann. The balance, including the present lot, made up the contents of a single-owner sale held at Christie’s King Street galleries in 1925. Lot 259, the present set of vases, was acquired by Seligmann for his Paris gallery. They were purchased by his American client, Mrs. Henry Walters.
Mrs Henry (Sarah aka Sadie) Walters (1859-1943)
Although she did not marry the noted American railroad magnate, yachtsman, art collector and philanthropist Henry Walters (1848-1931) until 1922, Sadie and her first husband, Pembroke Jones, had lived with their close friend Henry Walters since the turn of the century, traveling the world collecting art. With the death of his father in 1894, Henry Walters inherited the core of the art collection that survives today as the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. Henry added to it, housing it in a purpose-built Renaissance style mansion in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore and opening it to the public in 1909 as the Walters Art Gallery. Upon his death in 1931, the house and contents were bequeathed to the City of Baltimore.
Henry’s younger widow Sadie continued the family tradition of buying art and antiques, her taste running to 18th century French decorative arts. She purchased the present set of vases from Arnold Seligmann in Paris sometime after the dealer acquired it at the Carnarvon auction in 1925. In 1941, an eight-day two-part single owner sale was held at Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York to disburse the bulk of her collection. The sale ran to a total of 1456 lots [Part 1: 23-26 April 1941; part 2: 30 April, 1-3 May 1941], with the present vases offered as lot 1364.
The sales records for Louis XVI’s purchases of 1776 note the following: 2 vases ferré Soldats at 480 livres each or 960 livres in total and further down on the same page 1 Vase ferré beau bleu Soldats at 600 livres. The prices would seem to indicate a pair of the second size combined with a single of the first size decorated with scenes of soldiers – a description which could easily fit the present lot. However, it could also easily fit a garniture of vases in the English Royal Collection since 1826 (de Bellaigue, cat. nos. 30 & 31) – of similar shape, size, ground color and decoration as the present vases with one immediately noticeable difference – the beau bleu ground is gilt overall with oeil-de-perdrix, a richly patterned surface worthy of a king. On the other hand, that there are differences in decorative details found on the present three vases can be interpreted as a reinforcement of the likelihood that entries in the factory’s sales records for the king’s purchases in 1776 refer to the present three vases, given that the wording of the two entries also varies.
Certainly, the three vases can be documented by word and illustration as have been together and described as a garniture since at least the last quarter of the 19th century. From the earliest documentation through their acquisition at auction in 1981, the three vases were mounted as a garniture on gilt bronze bases. These 19th century mounts were almost certainly added and the pinecone knops replaced either prior to the acquisition of the vases by Alfred de Rothschild or at his request. These mounts are very similar to those found regularly on vases in the Royal Collection and in the Wallace Collection, mid-19th century additions. The catalogue illustrations for the auction sales of 1925, 1941 and 1981 all show the mounts in place and the finials as found today.
The attribution to Jean-Louis Morin (1732-1787) of the military encampment scenes is based on marked examples of the same or similar scenes found on Sèvres vases of similar date and, in some cases, of the same shape. Morin was active at Vincennes and Sèvres 1754-1787 as a figure painter specializing in marine and military scenes. Although none of the three vases in the present lot bears the capital M used by Morin as a mark, the scenes themselves serve as a signature in that they appear on other marked examples that are certainly by the same hand. See de Bellaigue, op. cit., cat. nos. 31 & 32 for the same scene of a soldier speaking to a woman cooking over a fire, soldiers at a table in the background found on the vase illustrated at the right in the present catalogue illustration; Savill, op. cit. cat. nos. C261-262 for other vases Ferré similarly painted.