This finely-chased swan relates to those which were supplied as part of a fender by the marchand-mercier Lazare Duvaux to Madame de Pompadour on 9 April 1755. They are described as:
une grille de cheminée pour les bains composée d'un cygne dans des roseaux en bronze doré d'or moulu, modèle fait exprès avec des poupées, 550 I.
These were probably intended for her Parisian home, the hôtel d'Evreux where the bathroom had just been remodelled. According to the duc de Luynes, she had fait changer le petit appartement de monsieur le comte d'Evreux et l'a fait augmenter d'une antichambre, d'une salle à manger, d'un cabinet de toilette et de plusiers garde-robes.
The inventory drawn up in 1764-'65 following the death of Madame de Pompadour lists the following items in the bedroom:
192 - deux chenets, pelle, pincettes et tenailles de fer poly avec ornements de cuivre doré d'or moulu, deux soufflets, un garde-feu de quatre feuilles de fer blanc et deux petites encoignures de cuivre, prisés 120 livres...
The choice of subject recalls Madame de Pompadour's particular taste for birds. In addition, the swan in one of Venus' attributes and Apollo assumed the guise of a swan to seduce Leda.
The species of swan found in Europe and in Asia (Cygnus olor) was first modelled by Johann-Joachim Käendler, assisted by Peter Reinicke at Meissen in November 1747. According to Ludwig Schnorr, it was not produced before the summer of 1748 and shortly thereafter it was imported by the French marchands-merciers (R. Rückert, Meissner Porzellan, 1710-1810, Munich, 1966, nos. 1117-1118).
Lazare Duvaux would certainly have turned to a sculpteur or modeleur for this project. Whilst he is known to have used a number of bronziers such as Leroy, Paffe, Gallien, Buron, Vassout, Dughé and Osmond, the marquise de Pompadour favoured Jacques Caffiéri. The latter's inventories do not, however, make any mention of swan chenets.
Three pairs of Louis XV bronze swans are known:
The first pair, sold from the collection of the Marquess of Cholmondeley, Works of Art from Houghton, Christie's London, 8 December 1994, lot 16 (£408,500).
The second pair, in patinated bronze, was illustrated by Bernard Steinitz, in his Catalogue, Paris, 1998, pp. 61-64 with accompanying note by J.D. Augarde and J.N. Ronfort.
The third pair, formerly in the collection of M. and Mme. Riahi, was sold at Christie's New York, 2 November 2000, lot 5 ($ 721,000).
The first two pairs do not have holes to the backs for fixing iron supports unlike the Riahi pair and the present example, which would indicate that they were always intended as sculptures rather than chenets.