Lauded as one of America’s grandest and most opulent interiors, William H. Vanderbilt’s mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue encompassed the essence and spirit of The Gilded Age. Completed in 1882 under the direction Herter Brothers, New York’s preeminent cabinetmakers and decorating firm, the cavernous halls, atriums and antechambers of the Vanderbilt mansion were incomparable in quality, execution, material and style. The extravagant yet harmonious mélange of revival styles – ranging from Japanese and Moorish to the Renaissance and Baroque – were only augmented by the myriad of jewel-like objects on display throughout the residence. It is only fitting that Vanderbilt, through his extensive travels with agent George A. Lucas, would select the most revered craftsmen of his age; including Neo-Grec furnishings supplied by his foreman Christien Herter, eastern-inspired enamel-works by Parisian bronzier Barbedienne and sublime pâte-sur-pâte masterworks by Louis Solon.
Accompanying a rare photograveur of the contents of Mr. Vanderbilt’s library, where the present vases were housed, the delicate and often ethereal genius of Solon’s work is described in great detail in Earl Shinn’s Mr. Vanderbilt's House and Collection William H. Vanderbilt, vol. I, Boston, 1883, p. 40:
“The artist who has dignified the clay with these enchanting cameos is worthy to sign his works, with a name that should be held in as grateful remembrance as the names of the Greek potters whose signatures the student spells out on the cups and pitchers of the museums. Solon-Miles has enlarged the horizon of the ceramist's material; he has made it one of the most flexible, yielding, transparent mediums to express fancies evanescent and faint as morning dreams. His productions, when they are classed with the general achievements of the century in sculpture, painting, and the like, hold a high place among the highest, and represent what is best in modern design; when they are classed with the specialty of their material, they easily surpass all that has been done since the Greeks, with the single exception perhaps of Flaxman's designs—connect themselves in rank with the products of the admired potters of antiquity, and should perhaps be placed above those of the men who only invented a process or a material, like Delia Robbia and Palissy.”
The present pair of vases were completed by Solon between 11 June and 11 July of 1879, after having worked on them for a full seven days. Solon's Illustrated Journal records, "Paire...vers brun. Les altérés y les frileux." Solon's reputation as 'The Master of the Medium' is self-evident in the pair's execution. Additionally astounding is his originality. Not only are each of his works uniquely hand-tooled and carved with intricate care, but his day-book confirms that no two pieces are identical. Compare the pair of the same form from an Ohio Estate, offered Christie's, New York, 14-15 April 2011, lot 174 ($194,500).