Vase with candleholders
(vase à têtes d'éléphant)
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The candelabrum with elephant heads is one of the iconic shapes associated with the Sèvres manufactory. Its design is attributed to Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis "'père'" who was responsible for many of the factory's most innovative and daring shapes in the rococo style.
The shape was first made in 1756, the year that the factory moved from Vincennes to Sèvres. Possibly as a result of improved technical conditions in the new premises, the year was marked by the introduction of several ambitious shapes. Animals such as elephants and monkeys appealed to the rococo taste for exoticism, but it is unclear whether the idea to incorporate elephant heads on this candelabrum came from an Oriental object or was inspired by their appearance in porcelain made by other European manufacturies, for example the candelabrum supported by elephant heads made by Meissen between 1735 and 1736 (for an example in Schloss Lustheim, Bavaria see Renate Eikelmann, Annette Schommers and Martina Grigat-Hunger, "Meißener Porzellan des 18. Jahrhunderts Die Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloß Lustheim", 2004, p. 337). Although now missing, candleholders were inserted into the tips of the elephants' trunks, as can be seen on a pair of these vases in the Wallace Collection (C246-7; Rosalind Savill, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Sèvres Porcelain, 1988, vol. 1, pp. 156-62). The elephant-head candelabra were made for a few years, until the early 1760s, and were often included in some of the factory's most expensive sets of vases, with both Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour purchasing examples. Twenty-four examples of this shape are known today, of which Waddesdon has seven.
A distinguishing feature of this vase is the combination of pink and green ground colours (the colours covering the area of the body outside the painted scenes) that appears only on objects made in 1759 and 1760. In December 1760 Louis XV purchased a set of five pink and green vases, including ones with elephant head candelabra ("'5 Pots pouris hebert Et Vaze Elephant Rozes et Verd'") at 600 "livres" each. As no other known vase of this shape is decorated in pink in green, it is most likely that the Waddesdon example was part of the set. Two other Sèvres objects have the same ground decoration as well as military camp scenes and the crossed green branches that frame the scene: a "'pot-pourri Hébert'" in the Wallace Collection, C255 (Rosalind Savill, "The Wallace Collection of Sèvres Porcelain", 1988, pp. 187-91) and a "'cuvette à tombeau'" in the Musée national de Céramique, inv. 17748 (John Whitehead, "Sèvres at the Time of Louis XV, 2010", p. 93), suggesting that they, too, were in the set purchased by Louis XV. The latter is marked with the date letter G for 1759-60.
The scene on the front of the vase shows soldiers drinking while relaxing in a military camp, while a camp follower or serving girl draws another drink from a barrel. Scenes depicting military camps were a frequent type of decoration at Sèvres, particuolarly popular in the late 1750s and 1760s. Jean-Louis Morin was the painter most associated with this genre and, although this vase is not signed, it is attributed to him on stylistic grounds.
Dimensions (mm) / weight (mg)
352 x 229 x 144
- Purchased by Louis XV in December 1760. Acquired by Ferdinand de Rothschild from Russia, according to tradition.
- Waddesdon (National Trust)
- Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Waddesdon Manor, 1990
- Les collections exceptionnelles des Rothschild: Waddesdon Manor (Hors-série de l'Estampille/l'Objet d'Art, No. 14); Dijon; Éditions Faton; 2004; pp. 30-39, ill.
- Alain Gruber; L'art decoratif en Europe - Classique et Baroque; Paris; Citadelles & Mazenod; 1992; p. 316, ill.
- Rosalind Savill; The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Sevres Porcelain Vol I, II, & III; London; The Trustees of the Wallace Collection (London); 1988; vol. 1, p. 187
- Svend Eriksen, Anthony Blunt; Sevres Porcelain: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre; 1968; pp. 126-127; Cat. no. 43