These spectacular vases, with their bold 'à la Grec' mounts, embody the most robust neoclassicism of the 1760s and 1770s, while reflecting the constant search for innovation promoted by the marchands-merciers of Paris. They still retain the sumptuous richness of their original gilding.
DULAC AND THE SEVRES VASES-CLOCHES
Styling himself as 'Dulac marchand gantier-parfumeur et bijoutier rue Saint Honoré près de l'Oratoire à la tête d'or', Jean Dulac proclaimed in his advertisment that he could provide:-
garniture de cheminées )
vases montées ) en or moulu
pendule de bureaux )
A parfumeur by profession, Dulac appears consistently in the sales register at Sèvres from 1758-1776. Dulac acquired the majority of the production of this model, known as vases-cloches, purchasing a total of twenty between 1772 and 1779, at prices varying from 60 to 84 livres, dependent on the ground colour - the fond lapis being far more expensive than the green. By 1774, however, Jean Dulac had sold to his successor 'Les droits de vente par commission des porcelaines de la Manufacture de Sèvres dont il tient dépôt'.
Several vases-cloches are recorded at that time, predominantly in Sèvres porcelain, some mounted with gilt-bronze and others decorated with a landscape on a green ground or with roses.
It seems that Dulac's vases were often conceived as amusing mechanical gifts. Around 1767 Dulac produced a 'pot-pourri chinois auquel on a adapté un petit orgue qui lui sert de soubassement'. A related vase, possibly orginally supplied to Madame de Pompadour and now at the Wadsworth Athenaeum, conceals a reduction in silver of the equestrian statue of Louis XV that had just been unveiled in the place de la Concorde. This same vase, mounted with satyr handles, is signed under the lid 'Dulac Md rue St. Honoré Invenit'. and dated 1763, the year beyond the marquise's death. The earliest recorded example of this type, it was probably the prototype for the later vases-clocks. (see L. Roth and C. LeCorbeiller, French Eighteenth-Century Porcelain at the Wadsworth Athenum, The J. Pierpont Morgan Collection, London, 2000, Fig. 65).
A pair of vases with lion-mask handles of this model was delivered to the King of Poland for his use at the Lazienski Palace, Warsaw. They are similarly signed 'DULAC MD. RUE ST./HONORE A PARIS/INVENIT' (illustrated in P. Verlet, Les Bronzes Dorés Français du XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1987, pp. 72-3, figs. 66-7 and also illustrated here), while the duc de la Vrillière possessed a further pair, valued at 800 livres in 1777.
While it is certain that Jean Dulac created this type of vase, as his use of the word 'invenit' confirms, it is interesting to note that the Manufacture du Sèvres had the right to sell them directly. This fact is confirmed by the two vases-cloches at the Palace of Pavlovsk, which were acquired directly from Sèvres in 1782 through the intermediary Prince Baryatinski for the sum of 1680 livres. Recorded in the chambre à coucher and then in the cabinet de travail of Grand Duke Paul's appartments, they comprise a garniture with a third pot-pourri vase of identical model to the present vases-cloches (illustrated in A. de Gourcoff, Pavlovsk The Collections, Vol. II, Leningrad, 1993, p. 150, fig. 20). However, the attribution of this group to Dulac is further confirmed by Horace Walpole's visit to Madame Dulac in the autumn of 1765. For Walpole acquired, amongst other things, three closely related vases mounted with satyr-masks for his friend John Chute of the Vyne, Hampshire, at a cost of 19 guineas.
The lion-mask model obviously found favour amongst the Court, both at home and abroad. During the Revolution, a pair of vases-cloches candelabra of this exact model and colour was seized. Delivered by the marchand Jean Dulac before 1774 to Madame du Barry, these candelabra were held at the château de Louveciennes during the Revolution and were subsequently transferred to the Palais de Luxembourg, where they were described in an inventory as:'5475 deux vases porcelaine gros bleu renfermant des girondoles à trois bobèches en bronze doré ainsi que le socle et autres ornements dudit vase'.
Christian Baulez, in L'Estampille L'Objet d'Art (June 1992, p.34-53), identified the vases of Madame du Barry with those that entered the collection of the château de Fontainebleau in 1850, and which remain there to this day. The Fontainebleau vases are stamped with an 1833 Tuileries inventory number and in the earlier 1826 inventory of the Tuileries, they are clearly described in the 'appartement des valets de chambre du Roi',:- deux girandoles en bronze doré à trois branches portées chacune par un vase en porcelaine fond bleu azur ayant draperies et tête de lion aussi en bronze doré'.
Although it is certainly possible that the 'girandoles' at Fontainebleau can be identified with those delivered to Madame du Barry, this conclusion could equally validly be applied to the pair with château d'Eu inventory marks of 1841 sold at Christie's London, 2 December 1997, lot 40 (£353,500).
A further pair of this model, almost certainly acquired in Paris by Comte Stroganoff and subsequently sold in Berlin from the Gallery Lepke, 13 May 1931, lots 164-165, was sold from the Laura Collection, Sotheby's/Poulain Le Fur, Paris, 27 June 2001, lot 76 (FFr.6,867,000/$892,710).
This model also found particular favour with English collectors, as there are numerous examples recorded in English 18th and 19th Century Collections. Among those sold at Christie's London are:- a pair from the collection of the Earl of Stair, inherited by marriage from the duc de Coigny (1737-1821), Maréchal of France and confident of both Louis XV and Louis XVI (6 April 1978, lot 50): a pair with apple-green porcelain bodies from the collection of Lord Ashburton (19 March 1964, lot 59); a pair from the collection of H.M.W. Oppenheim (10 June 1913); a pair without covers but with their pop-up fittings from the collection of the Earl of Swinton (4 December 1975, lot 51); and a pair, lacking their candelabra, from the collection of the Marquess of Cholmondeley, Houghton Hall, Norfolk (8 December 1994, lot 83, £219,000).
There were in fact three marchand-merciers by the name of Dulac established in the rue Saint Honoré between 1760 and 1790. Traditionally, 'Dulac' has been identified as either the marchand Antoine Dulac or his son Antoine Charles. In reality, however, the marchand-mercier who specialised in the commercialisation of Sèvres porcelain was Jean Dulac.
The son of Charles Dulac, Jean was born in 1704 and became a marchand-gantier-parfumeur before 1740. First married in 1728, following the death of his first wife he remarried in 1743. At this date, his furniture and effects were valued at the notable sum of 24,000 livres. He was appointed marchand privilégié du Roi on 16 May 1753 and, following that, marchand-bijoutier. Jean Dulac resided on the rue Saint Honoré, the majority of the building being allotted to the workshops and parfumerie. His signboard of 'le berceau d'or', inherited from his father, appears in several of his bills, while others carry the phrase 'Dulac marchand-gantier-parfumeur et bijoutier rue Saint Honoré près de l'Oratoire à la tête d'or'. Dulac's trade flourished and for several decades he supplied the leading European nobility.
He retired, childless, in 1774 having made his fortune, but kept an eye over the shop, which he had rented out following the sale of part of his stock to P.A. Le Baigue for 66,000 livres. The latter replaced Dulac as marchand privilégié du Roi on 24 February 1775. Dulac died in his house in the rue Saint Honoré in 1786, leaving his cousin, the painter Charles Louis Clérisseau, as one of his principal heirs.