The service to which this pair of ice-pails belonged was given to the portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) by King Charles X of France, on 11 November 1825, as a gesture of gratitude for the former’s completion of portraits of the King and his son the Dauphin.1 The portraits were commissioned by King George IV in 1825 and Lawrence travelled to the Tuileries Palace to begin work that year, five years after his continental tour to paint the European leaders united in the alliance against Napoleon.
Lawrence was arguably the most successful portrait painter in England of his time. He was appointed Court painter to the King of England in 1782 and president of the Royal Academy in 1820. His catalogue of works includes portraits of George IV and his family, The Duke of Wellington and Sir Horace Walpole.
The service was a refined and expensive gift, selected from the factory directly by Charles X. It was the second service planned in 1824 and is recorded in the Sèvres factory archives credit ledgers, which indicate that the Vicomte de La Rochefoucauld (who was responsible for the Département des Beaux-Arts) gave the order for the gift on 14 October 1825.2 Here the service decoration is referred to as ‘Marli bleu, fries en rezeau or et platine. Riches Bouquets de fleurs dans le milieu. Le tout conforme au dessin’.3 These documents include drawings for the ground colour and gilding pattern. The decoration is typical of the experimental work carried out under Alexandre Broigniart. The innovative technique of printing in gold and platinum, perfected by Louis-Charles Constans in 1817, was used here to create the elaborate border decoration. Unlike the silver previously used, platinum did not tarnish and kept its whiteness through the years, though its use was extremely costly. Most of the service pieces, including the ice-pails, were painted by the talented flower painter Gilbert Drouet4 in 1824-25 and gilded by Antonine-Gabriel Boullemier (known as Boullemier jeune). On completion, the service included 72 plates (out of the 75 intended) and various pieces of form including this pair of ice-pails, which are listed in the factory archives as a pair of ‘glacières Chanou’ against a cost of 400 francs. The service was one of several gifts given to Lawrence by the French King, and in addition, the former was also made a ‘Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur’ by the French monarch.
Lawrence was hugely appreciative and proud of the service gift. The painter left instructions in his will that the service, which he ‘had the honour to receive from that Monarch as a mark of his distinguished favour, a superb service of Sèvres porcelain’, was to be left to the Royal Academy, with the express wish that it should be used on the King’s birthday and on other public occasions. In the event, Lawrence’s estate was saddled with such debt that the executors wrote to the Academicians asking them to purchase the service instead. The request was declined and the service was eventually sold at Christie’s, London, on 5 July 1834, along with most of Lawrence’s possessions. It appears that the ice-pails (lot 21) may well have been purchased by a Robert Vernon for four guineas, a successful businessman who inherited a collection of Old Master paintings and put together a collection of contemporary painters’ works. It is probable Vernon purchased the service pieces because of the connection to Sir Thomas Lawrence.
1. Both portraits are now in the Waterloo Chamber in Windsor Castle, along with the series of anti-Napoleon alliance portraits also by Lawrence.
2. Rochefoucauld’s presentation letter to Lawrence was accompanied by an unpriced factory invoice listing the pieces. Both letter and invoice are held with Lawrence’s papers at the Royal Academy.
3. A blue border, the frieze with gold and platinum trelliswork. Rich bouquets of flowers to the centres. All conforming to the design.
4. Active at Sèvres from 1785.