Two Medici Vases Acquired by the Metropolitan Museum at the Fabius Auction

26/10/11 - Acquisition - New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art - The first day of the Fabius auction which took place on 26 October at Sotheby’s Paris (see news item of 16/3/11), the Metropolitan Museum acquired the pair of Medici vases, second size, in hard-paste Sèvres porcelain, painted and signed by Jean-François Robert, a specialist of painted porcelain and glass, active at the factory between 1806 and 1843. The vases are dated 1811 [1] and were purchased for 983,150 € (including charges) (ill. 1 and 2). One of the vases shows Napoleon in front of the château in Saint Cloud alongside Marie-Louise in a barouche, while the second one represents him before the hillside of Bellevue and Meudon, following an iconographic plan suggested perhaps by Alexandre Brongniart (the son of the architect), who was then director of the Manufacture at Sèvres. Unlike most porcelain painters who worked after models created by other artists, Jean-François Robert designed his own compositions [2].

1. Manufacture de Sèvres
Jean-François Robert (1778-1855)
Pair of Medici Vases with a polychrome decoration
"sur fond écaille"
Hard-paste porcelain - H. 66 cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum
Photo : Sotheby’s

2. Manufacture de Sèvres
Jean-François Robert (1778-1855)
Medici Vases with a polychrome decoration
"sur fond écaille", detail
Napoleon in front of the château in Saint Cloud
alongside Marie-Louise in a barouche

Hard-paste porcelain - H. 66 cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum
Photo : Sotheby’s

The vases have an illustrious provenance as they were commissioned by Napoleon for his brother, Jérôme, King of Westphalia, before being bought in 1840 by Prince Anatole Demidoff for his wedding to Princess Mathilda, the daughter of Jérôme and his wife Catherine of Würtemberg, who died in 1835. The vases, which were part of the 1880 sale of the villa San Donato furnishings, then disappeared until they resurfaced in 1963 at an auction where they were acquired by the Fabius gallery.
A Sèvres vase which is comparable in form, size and décor, dated 1810, resides at Versailles and represents on one side a view of the palace of Sanssouci, Germany.

Version française

Didier Rykner, mercredi 26 octobre 2011


Updated on 27 October 2011 : Two knowleadgeable readers have contributed additional details.
The first one, who does not wish to disclose his name, explained that during the Restauration, Alexandre Brogniart, who was very complacent with the new regime despite the honors bestowed on him by Napoleon and his fine qualities as an Administrator and intellectual, destroyed all of the ceramics stored at the Manufacture with portraits of the Emperor, a great loss for France’s artistic heritage, underscoring all the more the importance of these vases recently purchased by the Metropolitan Museum.

The second, Charels-Eloi Vial, told us that Jean-Louis Robert, a painter he studied in his dissertation, produced an other version of this décor showing Napoleon in front of the château in Saint Cloud on a vase, painted a few years later which resides at the British Museum, and added that it features the same point of view of the château inside a medallion of the "table of the royal palaces". It was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2007.


[1] It appears that we should not confuse Jean-François Robert, a landscapist and lithographer, the author of an oil on paper acquired a few years ago by the Metropolitan Museum (see news item of 11/4/05 in French) and this Jean-François Robert, a painter at the Sèvres factory. Both were born the same year, 1778, but the first died in 1832 and the second in 1855.

[2] Readers will find more information about this painter in an article available online : Jeffrey H. Munger, "A Nineteenth-Century Sèvres Cup and Saucer", Metropolitan Museum Journal, 37, 2002.

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