A Spectacular Folly in the Form of a Chinese Pagoda

On 08 October 2021, by Claire Papon

Odd things can sometimes turn up in attics. This model of a Chinese pagoda built for the grounds of a Paris hôtel particulier (an urban mansion) was found under the roof of a château.

Studio of Pierre Rousseau (1751–1829), model of the Chinese pavilion at the hôtel de Montmorency-Luxembourg, c. 1770–1780, wood, metal, cardboard, paper, fabric, h. 85 cm/33.46 in, base, 51 x 40 cm/ 20.08 x 15.75 in.
Estimate: €15,000/20,000

It is hard to imagine today, but with its leafy gardens, manmade lakes, bridle paths, parks, carriages and follies—quaint, sometimes-ephemeral structures that first appeared in 18th-century England—the boulevard Montmartre in Paris once appeared more like the countryside. "Anglo-Chinese" follies won over aristocrats during the reign of Louis XVI, when they sprang up in Chartres, the parc Monceau, Bagatelle, the désert de Retz (in the Yvelines) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s beloved parc d'Ermenonville in the Oise.

Our object is a scaled-down replica of the pagoda built on the grounds of the hôtel particulier owned by Field Marshal Anne Léon II de Montmorency-Fosseux, Duke of Montmorency (1731–1799), and his wife Charlotte Anne Françoise de Montmorency-Luxembourg (1752–1829). Designed by Lassurance in 1704 for Thomas de Rivié, the king’s secretary, the mansion was bought by Inspector of Finances Desmarets ten years later and by the Duke of Montmorency in 1728. The large garden overflowed onto boulevard Montmartre; the buildings gave out onto rue Saint-Marc, rue Montmartre and rue Vivienne, whose palace of the same name is the only part still visible today. Keeping up with the times, the Montmorencys had a folly built.

It was designed by Pierre Rousseau, an architect from Nantes whose major work is the hôtel de Salm, today the palais de la Légion d'honneur, on rue de Lille in Paris, next to the d'Orsay Museum. He was barely 30 when exotic tales, relations with distant embassies and porcelain brought back in ships by the Compagnie française des Indes orientales (French East India Company) inspired him to build the pagoda, which must have looked quite astounding in the middle of Paris. People would use it as a perch to watch high society promenading on the boulevard below. It was torn down during the revolution, or perhaps to make way for the Passage des Panoramas—a form of entertainment for the masses, panoramas were large circular paintings of landscapes, historic events and battle scenes —and the théâtre des Variétés, which opened in 1807. Published prints, notably in Jean-François Janinet’s Les Vues pittoresques des principaux édifices de Paris (Picturesque Views of the Main Buildings in Paris, musée Carnavalet), and our model, are all that remains of the pagoda.

Did Rousseau build the model to win the contract? What about the little boxes stacked all around cleverly simulating rock gardens? The expert, Philippe Crasse, suggests they were a guessing game of compartments filled with sweets, trinkets, jewels and other small pleasures, while the base served as a hiding place for a larger object. Rousseau gave his patrons the model as a sort of gift during the official presentation of this temple of serenity. It must have worked, for he clinched the deal. The unique, quaint and charming object, complete with its boxes and costumed Chinese characters, is in good condition and should find a buyer.

An Ode to Ancient Greece by the Sèvres Workshop

On 15 October 2021, by Claire Papon

The astonishing decoration and rare shape of this Sèvres soft porcelain vase beautifully exemplify the return to neoclassicism in the 1770s.

Greek column vase or fluted column vase in Sèvres porcelain decorated with military trophies on a white and celestial blue ground, c. 1770, recessed marks “cd” and probably “R”, h. 50 cm/19.68 in.
Estimate: €30,000/50,000

While its state of conservation does not speak in its favor, this ornamental piece, which may have been one of a pair and had a now-missing lid, is worth its estimate. A preparatory drawing, similar in size to the vase, is in the musée de Sèvres archives. Although similar to ours in shape and decoration, nothing suggests that it belonged to any particular commission. The period abounded in "ornamental" vases, variously called "column vases", "open column vases", "fluted vases", etc. The military trophy decor on the shoulder is classic, but the vase has been re-engraved with royal symbols, including two interlaced "Ls" and arms emblazoned with the fleur-de-lys. There is no way of knowing if it was made for Louis XV; no records back up the hypothesis. A pair adorned with trophies, "with bands and lions’ heads", and a same-shaped vase featuring latticework decoration, are in the Wallace Collection. Ours is not dated but bears the recessed marks "cd" and "R". Perhaps they are the initials of modelers Michel-Dorothée Coudray or Charles Dupré and his father, Roger. In any case, this is a fine example of soft porcelain production from the 1770s, when hard paste was in its infancy: the first pieces did come out of the royal workshop’s kilns until 1775-1780.

Memories of the Montmorencys and the Château de la Brosse

On 15 October 2021, by Claire Papon

Two views of a château, a miniature by Daniel Saint, old games, a footman’s livery, a coachman’s cloak and a dog collar all have one thing in common: the Montmorency family.

Pierre Alexandre Royer (1769–1796), Vue du château de la Brosse, côté cour (View of the Château de la Brosse, Courtyard), one of a pair of oil on canvas paintings dated 1781, 86 x 126 cm/33.85 x 49.60 in.
Estimate (set): €15,000/20,000

The château and orangery as they appear today are just a shadow of the former La Brosse estate in Saint-Ouen-sur-Morin, west of Paris, whose history began under Louis XIV with Anne Barbe de Courcelles (1684–1772) and her husband Arnold de Ville, the hydraulic engineer of Versailles. The property passed to Anne-Léon II (1731–1799) and his wife Anne-Charlotte de Montmorency-Luxembourg, who had a Chinese pagoda built on the grounds of their hôtel particulier (urban mansion) on boulevard Montmartre in Paris, whose model is up for sale. A pair of paintings by Pierre-Alexandre Royer—one of the courtyards (see photo), the other of the garden—depicts the château in its mid-18th-century heyday, before it was torn down during the Revolution. In a 1780 manuscript bound in red morocco and attached to the paintings, La Brosse wrote about the witty, dazzling festivities that took place there (check estimate).

Other witnesses to the château’s glory days include a lottery game that the Dauphin played with and a set of optical views and fireworks (€2,000/3,000), moving figures by Abbot Nollet—the “ancestors” of movies—(€500/800), a 1795 red and black leather pouch embroidered with metal threads that the Baron de Montmorency owned in Istanbul (€600/800), a colored wool and silk velvet coachman’s cloak with buttons featuring the family crest (€300/500) and a presumed portrait on ivory of the Duchesse de Montmorency (1774–1846) by Daniel Saint (€4,000/6,000). One lucky bidder will leave with a red and black leather dog collar whose brass plate is engraved with "Madame la Duchesse de Montmorency à Auteuil". There is a market for such objects. The Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature) and the musée de l'Armée (The Army Museum), both in Paris, have luxurious examples. It will take €800/1,000 to acquire ours.

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