A Bee in a China Shop

On 10 October 2019, by Claire Papon

Rarity and originality: two sizeable assets for this Sèvres soft paste porcelain in the form of a hive.

Sèvres, ca. 1770, lidded "ruche" (hive) vase in soft paste with relief woven wickerwork decoration, h. 30 cm.
Estimate: €20,000/30,000

No need to guess the purpose of this vase: with its openwork base, it seems it was purely decorative. The sale expert, Cyrille Froissart, wondered if it might have been a pot-pourri jar, requiring a sponge soaked in perfume. Very few models of this type were produced by the French Royal Manufactory. A "vase ruche" is mentioned for the first time in the stock inventory of January 1769. Four hives emerged successfully from the kiln in April that year. The first pair was sold in December (for 240 livres a vase) to César-Gabriel de Choiseul (1712-1785), Duc de Praslin, Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs and then of the Navy, owner of the Château de Vaux-Praslin, the present-day Vaux-le-Vicomte. The second pair was bought (for 120 livres a piece) by one Madame Luillier on 7 August 1775. Those are the two identified pairs of hive vases in white and gold soft paste on a square base; one is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, the other belongs to a private French collection. The vase here comes from an inheritance and was probably part of the Alfred Wenz collection, as indicated by a label. More than the work in terms of painting and gilding (relatively moderate), the modelling is what makes this such a tour de force, imitating a wickerwork hive with an openwork base. Whether bought by an informed porcelain lover or pre-empted, the object is sure to cause a buzz…

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