Though Desportes' career began in Poland painting royal portraits, it is his animal works and still lifes for which he is most famous. In 1699, after having been recalled to France from Poland by Louis XIV, Desportes was reçu into the Académie Royale. The following year, he became the official painter of hunting scenes and animals for Louis XIV and continued in this role under Louis XIV. What so impressed Louis XIV was the accuracy and realism of Desportes' pictures. The critic P.J. Mariette wrote in his monograph of the artist that 'the secret of his success was that he made it an inviolable rule to work only from nature'.
This elaborate still life is composed of two silver serving dishes - a tureen filled with peaches and a dish standing upright - a gilt-bronze or vermeil ewer, on which perches a parrot (identifiable as an African Grey), and a brace of three, red-legged partridges, all laid out on a length of brownish-red velvet. The tureen, which is richly ornamented with escutcheons and boars' heads and trotters, was created by Thomas Germain (1674-1748), the foremost French silversmith of the early 18th century. A pair of such works, dating from 1726-9, is in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (fig. 1). Another example, executed in 1733-4 for Louis, duc d'Orléans, was from the Penthièvre Orléans service, one of which was sold at Sotheby's, New York, 13 November 1996, lot 3 (private collection; fig. 2) and the other is in the Detroit Museum of Art. Germain also designed the dish in which the peaches are reflected. He and Desportes lived in close proximity of each other, for they had both been granted lodgings in the Louvre by the royal fine arts administration.
The ewer, with its arabesques in relief and four tiers of antique figures allegorizing the bounties of summer, may be attributed to the workshop of Nicolas Delaunay (d. 1727), the director of Monnaie des Médailles from 1696. Here Desportes probably adapted his model from a painted Study of Pieces of Silver and Vermeil, which in 1784 was sold, together with numerous works documented in his studio at his death, to Louis XVI, who had them deposited in the royal porcelain manufactory in Sèvres. Similar ewers are featured in Desportes' Still Life with fruits, flowers, animals and musical instruments of 1717 in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Grenoble, and Still life with a bronze relief, of circa 1741, which was formerly in the Cailleux collection, Paris.
Desportes depicted Germain's tureen and dish of the same motif of two dead partridges in another still life, dated from circa 1739, now in the National Museum in Stockholm (fig. 3). This work he sold for 700 livres, to Sweden's ambassador to France, Count Carl Gustav Tessin. Here the silver receptacles are complemented by a second silver dish by Germain, which is topped by a gilded putto holding Neptune's trident, an ornate dish and a silver gilt ewer with a dragonhead handle and a triton holding a spout. One writer has noted that 'Desportes's still life grew even richer in variety and seem to reflect the epicurean interests that created the first great age of French cuisine'. Such is the case with his depiction of a large buffet, dated 1740, that formerly belonged to the Arturo Lopez-Willshaw collection at Neuilly. There the same tureen and dish also appear, along with other pieces by Thomas Germain.
The present still life has been examined by Pierre Jacky, who will include it in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Desportes. We are also grateful to Joseph Baillio for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.