A PIECE from a celebrated but elusive porcelain service that turned up at the latest sale at Aguttes in Paris understandably caused great excitement.
The item in question was a 10in (24.5cm) high jug which showed
the Etruscan decoration to great effect.
Entered from a private French source for the sale at the Hotel
Drouot on February 11, this rediscovery came with a
€200,000-300,000 estimate, but with six bidders contesting it, the
price quickly rose beyond that level, halting only when the final
two contestants took it to €880,000 (£586,670) plus premium.
The jug itself came from a porcelain service commissioned in
1787-8 from the Royal porcelain factory at Sèvres that was notable
for its avant garde design. It was conceived by Jean-Jacques
Lagrenée with neoclassical Etruscan-style decoration inspired by
recent excavations in Italy rather than the gilded floral sprigs
and garlands on coloured grounds for which the factory was already
The service originally comprised 65 pieces, but the whereabouts
of only a handful are known today. There is a bowl in the
Metropolitan Museum, New York and three pieces in the Musée
National de Céramique at Sèvres.
However, the majority of our knowledge of the service comes from
Lagrenée's detailed designs preserved in the Sèvres archives.
The commission was originally made after Louis XVI had decided
to build his queen, Marie Antoinette, a dairy at his hunting
château at Rambouillet in the 1780s - an addition to the famous
farm at the Petit Trianon Park in Versailles where she could play
at the rustic life.
Under the supervision of the Comte d'Angiviller, the dairy
project was managed by Hubert Robert, with an overall decorative
theme, which was to be in ultra-fashionable taste.
The jug itself has two banks of orange-red ground painted with
stylised palms and flowerheads separate a frieze painted
naturalistically with a youth holding a tripod vessel out to a goat
and a young woman tending a fruiting vine.
The handle, detailed on the front page, is modelled as a figure
of a goat with its horns extending up to the rim to form the grip
and painted in trompe l'oeil as if to pierce the neck. Marked with
Sèvres crowned interlaced Ls and KK for 1787, it
also carries painter's initials of a J or L.
Beyond the high price, further indication of the jug's rarity,
and its cultural importance to France, comes from the fact that the
auctioneers have announced that the object could become classified
as a national treasure within the next few days.