The present model of a pacing lion was conceived in 1817 as a pair with a lioness, designed by Alexandre-Evariste Fragonard to accompany Egyptian canephoric figures bearing baskets as part of an elaborate dessert service and to flank a central basket or corbeille 'canéphore supported by four female figures.
Jean-Charles-Nicholas Brachard l'aîné, employed at Sèvres as a sculptor, translated Fragonard's fantasy into three-dimensional reality two years later. It would appear that only the lion was ever made, never the lioness. Drawings of Fragonard's project for both and a plaster of Brachard's original model are retained at Sèvres.
The marks on the present two corbeilles 'Lion', as the model is also known, provide precise information as to the identities of those who worked on them and the dates when this work was done.
The first lion and its basket both have incised marks indicating a firing date of October 1818. The lion was repaired by Alexandre Brachard. However, he seems to have been paid for his work prior to the firing. Records for September 1818 note a payment to him of 45 francs for each of two 'basket-bearing lions'; those for June 1818 list a bonus of 10 francs for 'one basket-bearing lion No. 1 of 10 October 1818'. The gilding on the basket was executed 29 June 1819 by Catherine Elizabeth Godin for which she was paid 10 francs each.
The second lion is incised with a kiln date of 3 July 1819; its basket has a gilder's mark for 24 April of the following year. Its basket is incised with the initials 'Ch' for the repairer Mathias Chanou. Records indicate a payment to him in July 1819 of 20 francs for each of two lion baskets.
The first entry in the sales records for a lion canéphore is dated 1818 and notes 150 francs for the lion, 100 francs for the basket, and 40 francs for the tôle-peinte base as the basis for the 290 franc selling price. Entering the saleroom 26 December 1818 and exhibited at the Louvre in January 1819, the 'pair' were delivered to Monsieur le chevalier de La Malle conseiller d'État Membre du comité du contentieux on 2 February 1820. The first of the present 'pair', incised with the same date as that of the payment record and with 'No. 2' is almost certainly one of these.
Given its gilding date of 24 April 1820, the second of the two present examples is likely that delivered to the prefet M. Destouches 2 June 1820, oddly entered in the saleroom ledger on 1 July of that year.
Further saleroom entries are dated 1823, 1845 and 1849. Extant examples include the single example sold twice by Sotheby's - once in London, 23 June 1992, lot 201 and again in New York, 22 October 1995, lot 331 - and the single example retained in the ministry of foreign affaires [Tamara Préaud and Marcelle Brunet, Sèvres des origines à nos jours, Fribourg, 1978, p. 291, no. 354]. Unfortunately, published details on these two examples do not include any information on marks, making it impossible to place them confidently within the context of the manufacturer's records.