DUKE ALBERT OF SAXE-TESCHEN
Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen (1738-1822) was the youngest son of August III of Poland, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. He was educated at the court in Dresden and embarked on a military career. In 1766, he married Archduchess Marie-Christine of Habsburg-Lorraine (1742-1798), favourite daughter of Empress Maria-Theresa and elder sister of Marie Antoinette. His marriage secured him a considerable fortune, which enabled him to form an extraordinary collection, renowned both for its quality and quantity. The Duke and Archduchess were joint governors of the Southern Netherlands from 1780 to 1792 and were based at the château de Laeken, near Brussels.
A key figure who assisted the duke in forming his collections was the Austrian ambassador to Venice, comte Durazzo (1717-1794), whom the duke met in 1773. The ambassador encouraged the duke to collect on a grand scale and to establish a collection ‘qui soit au service d’une cause plus noble que les autre collection et qui sache flatter des yeux, tout en développant l’esprit’. The influence of French encyclopaedists, especially d’Alembert, was significant for this vision. In 1775-76, the duke and archduchess carried out a Grand Tour to Italy, which also matured their tastes for collecting. In mid-1776, after two years of continuous purchases, their collection already numbered thirty-thousand items, but this would increase dramatically and during subsequent landmark sales such as Basan, Crozat and d’Argentville numerous important purchases were made. With a budget of one million, two hundred thousand florins dedicated to purchases of works of art, the duke was one of the wealthiest collectors in the second half of the 18th Century.
Travelling under the name comte and comtesse de Bely, the duke and archduchess travelled to Paris in 1786, especially to purchase works of art. Correspondence with her sister Queen Marie Antoinette reveals that they visited the celebrated marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre (d. 1796) in the same year. Interestingly, they received a Gobelins tapestry from the King. Later, two important transactions would mark the history of the collection: the purchase of eight hundred drawings from Prince Charles-Antoine de Ligne and the exchange of drawings and engravings with the Imperial Library in 1796. Part of these collections now form the nucleus of the rich collections of works on paper of the Albertina, their Vienna residence, which they established on their return to Austria.
THE SAXE-TESCHEN ALBUM OF DRAWINGS
The present vase features in the so-called Saxe-Teschen album, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (F. Watson, Mounted Oriental Porcelain, Washington, 1986, p. 126) depicting works of art from the collection of the Duke and Archduchess of Saxe-Teschen. The drawings are dedicated to the decorative arts and include luxurious French furniture, oriental porcelain, both mounted and unmounted, clocks and various other categories. Some of the drawings are finished, others are unfinished, and the exact origin of the ensemble of drawings remains unclear. The depicted works of art are of different dates, some in the rococo style, others in bold goût grec, such as the present vase, and further items in a pure neo-classical style, suggesting that these drawings, or at least some of them, were not preparatory drawings, but rather are drawings of a group or part of an existing collection. Watson discusses that some drawings of porcelain-mounted furniture were perhaps used by the marchands-merciers Simon-Philippe Poirier (d. 1785) and his successor Dominique Daguerre to show items from their stock to clients or alternatively these may have been of items already in their collection at Laeken.
The present vase features on a plate depicting four items of porcelain where it is numbered XXI. It is surmounted by a description which notes the figuring of the celadon porcelain very precisely: ‘Cette pièce est de la même espèce de porcelaine, mais d’un blanc tirant un peu plus sur un gré bleuâtre, et dont les rayes ou crevasses sont moins rapproches, elle est pareillement montée en bronze’. It is flanked by no. XX, a more highly-finished drawing of a large baluster-shaped vase with florid rococo mounts, which is very similar to a vase in the Louvre. The latter has mounts bearing the ‘C’ couronné poinçon tax mark, employed on any alloy containing copper from March 1745 to February 1749, proving an approximate date for the execution of this vase. Interestingly, this places the two vases, nos. XX and XXI, although depicted on the same plate, more than twenty years apart. A further drawing in the album, numbered XIII, is of a monumental vase executed around 1765-70 with lion masks and which is known in at least three versions. One was sold from the collection of Karl Lagerfeld, Christie’s, Monaco, 28 April 2000, lot 350.
MOUNTS BY DUPLESSIS
The bold and beautifully-chased mounts of the present vase have generally been attributed to the maître fondeur Jean-Claude-Thomas Duplessis (d. 1783). Son of Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis (d. 1774), bronzier and orfèvre du Roi, Jean-Claude-Thomas is first mentioned in 1752 when he was assisting his father in making models for the porcelain manufactory at Vincennes. In 1765 he is registered as maître fondeur en terre et sable. His father seems to have been active until circa 1763 after which date he does not seem to have had any real workshop. Bronzes made during the mid-1760s may therefore be considered as a collaboration of father and son including, for instance, those for the celebrated Bureau du Roi executed by Jean-Francois Oeben (d. 1763) and Jean-Henri Riesener (d. 1806) between 1760 and 1769 (S. Eriksen, Early Neo-Classicism in France, London, 1974, pp. 174-175). This monumental and richly-mounted bureau is embellished with a mixture of ‘antique’ bronzes such as garlands, vases and ribbon-twist in combination with earlier motifs such as the scrolling candle-branches in sweeping and sinuous shapes characteristic of Duplessis’ oeuvre.
Duplessis père and fils’ principle clients were some of the most illustrious amateurs of the 18th Century and included, besides Louis XV, Lazare Duvaux, Augustin Blondel de Gagny and Laurent Grimod de la Reynière. Vases were a significant part of the oeuvre of Duplessis fils and he published two series of vases in 1775-80 (P. Verlet, Les bronzes dorés français du XVIII siècle, Paris, 1999, p. 415) and the Almanach des Artistes of 1777 lists that he was a ‘bon dessinateur’ and ‘travaille d’apres ses dessins’.
GUAN-TYPE GLAZED PORCELAIN
The Guan-type glaze used on this vase imitates the Guanyao glaze from the Song period. The application of Song-type celadon glazes to porcelain was an aspect of archaism seen at the court of the Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors during the 18th Century and started at the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen in the early Ming dynasty. It was one of several archaistic trends that continued into the Qing reigns.
CHATEAU DE LAEKEN
Known as Schoonenberg in the 18th Century, the château de Laeken was built between 1782 and 1785 to the designs of the celebrated Parisian architect Charles de Wailly (d. 1798). The imposing neo-classical building divided in five bays was surmounted by a dome above the central pavilion. The interiors were executed by the sculptor, architect and designer Gilles-Paul Cauvet (d. 1788), who worked extensively for the comte de Provence and directed the Académie de St Luc, the guild of sculptors. The refined and luxurious interiors created by Cauvet in the latest ‘antique’ fashion of the 1780s were a sophisticated backdrop for the superb collections of the Duke and Archduchess of Saxe-Teschen. Napoleon acquired the château in 1804 and established an Imperial residence and since 1830 Laeken has become one of the residences of the Kings of Belgium.