PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION (LOTS 411-412)
THE BEAUHARNAIS DESSERT PLATES
LOTS 411 & 412
The present two sets of plates are from dessert services ordered from the Paris porcelain firm of Dihl et Guèrhard by Josephine de Beauharnais shortly after her divorce from Emperor Napoleon I in 1809 (lot 411) and by her son Eugène de Beauharnais almost immediately thereafter (lot 412).
Josephine's service comprised over 200 pieces and was intended for use at formal receptions held at Malmaison, her home outside Paris. Deliveries are recorded for 1811 and 1813. It included four centerpiece baskets of which one was recently sold on behalf of the Steinhardt-Sherlock Trust (Christie's, New York, 9 June 2009, lot 98) as well as baskets of variant form, gilt biscuit figures of putti at various pursuits, various shaped serving dishes or compotiers, cups and saucers and plates.
Neither the shapes nor the decoration were unique to the service but the combination of design elements and certainly the inclusion of her crest on the important serving pieces and plates were. Two styles of plates were provided, some finely painted with scenes, most likely by Jean-Louis Demarne (1744-1829) and Martin Drolling (1752-1817) and others completely gilt and burnished with her crest of an eagle within a crowned ermine mantle, the borders of both types ciselé with vines, leaf-tips and rosettes.
Josephine's son, Eugène de Beauharnais (1781-1824), commissioned a similar service for himself at about the same time. Smaller in scale, it included neither elaborate serving pieces nor the gilt biscuit figures of Cupid included in his mother's service. On his service, a simple script initial 'E' replaced her crowned crest.
Differentiating the non-crested pieces for which the same shapes appear in both orders is difficult. This is particularly true of the plates painted with scenes. Current scholarship holds that those painted after paintings at Malmaison are from Josephine's service and those with landscapes, genre scenes and historic subjects are more likely from that made for her son.
Upon the death of Josephine at Malmaison in 1814, Eugène, since 1806 married to a Bavarian princess and styled the Duke of Leuchtenberg, and his sister Hortense inherited the contents of their mother's home including the furnishings and paintings. Although works of art were sold to satisfy Josephine's debts, the recently purchased Dihl et Guèrhard dessert service was kept by Eugène and combined with his own. In 1839, his youngest son, Maximilian Joseph Eugène Auguste Napoleon de Beauharnais and 3rd Duke of Leuchtenberg, married Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, daughter of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. The Tsar only agreed to this love match between his oldest daughter and a German duke with the proviso that the couple would reside in Russia. They set up housekeeping in St. Petersburg, eventually moving into the newly built Mariinsky Palace, named after Maria.
The two Dihl et Guèrhard services were shipped to St. Petersburg in 1839 along with other works of art originally from Maximillian's grandmother's collection at Malmaison. They remained in possession of the Leuchtenberg family until 1919, at which time they were absorbed into the Hermitage collections. The widow of Maximillian and Maria's youngest son Georgii took responsibility for the two dessert services, known collectively as the Eugène de Beauharnais Service, and for the family's other works of art - both pieces originally from her husband's great-grandmother's collection at Malmaison and those inherited from her mother-in-law.
Wary of the politically volatile situation in St. Petersburg, she made a hand-written inventory of the holdings, submitting it 10 March 1919. Coverage under such a certificate meant that the Leuchtenberg Collection was now under the protection of the government and could not be removed from the premises. Regardless, Leuchtenberg House was taken over by the Soviet government (it became the Palace of Labor) and the works of art removed to storage at the Novo-Mikhailovsky Palace. From there, they were eventually moved to the Winter Palace and were absorbed into the collection of the Hermitage via the State Museum Fund.
During Joseph Stalin's regime, works of art from the Hermitage collections were sold to the West as a way of obtaining hard currency. Such was the case with the present two sets of plates, recorded in the journal entry of Mary Mallory Harahan for Tuesday 26 July 1932 as follows:
"I bought at Torgsin in Astoria 32 porcelain plates, Gold decorations all over with Crest others with E. These plates and compote I also bought was present from Napoleon to Elizabeth (sic) and were in the Hermitage. These are great treasures also the plates made for Yusupov I bought in Imperial Palace." [The Yusupov plates mentioned are offered as lots 318-325 in the sale of Russian works of art, Christie's, New York, 13 April 2011.]
Although approximately 60 percent of the original compliment of Dihl et Guèrhard dessert wares is still retained in the Hermitage, pieces from these services can now be found at Malmaison and in other private collections. See Natalia Kasakiewitsch, "Das Service des Eugène de Beauharnais", Keramos, Heft 141, Juli 1993, p. 13-32 and T. Rappe, et al, France in Russia: Empress Josephine's Malmaison Collection, Exhibition Catalogue, Hermitage Rooms at Somerset House, London, 2007, pp. 41-55 and 86-93, cat. nos. 16-38 for a detailed discussion of the service, the history of its ownership and its decoration.
Josephine de Beauharnais (1763-1814), deliveries recorded in 1811 and 1813.
By descent to her son Eugène de Beauharnais (1781-1824) upon her death in 1814.
Eugène de Beauharnais, circa 1813.
LOTS 411 and 412:
By descent to his son Maximilian Joseph Eugène Auguste Napoleon de Beauharnais, 3rd Duke of Leuchtenberg (1817-1852) upon his death in 1824.
By descent to his wife, Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna of Russia and Duchess of Leuchtenberg (1819-1876) upon his death in 1852.
By descent to their children, Leuchtenberg House, St. Petersburg.
Registered as under the protection of the government at the request of son Georgii Maximilianovich Leuchtenberg's widow, 1919.
Transferred from Leuchtenberg House to storage in the Novo-Mikhailovsky Palace and eventually to the Winter Palace and the Hermitage via the State Museum Fund.
Mrs. Mary Mallory Harahan, 1932.
By descent to the present owners.