Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 100



98
Reflections on a Chinese porcelain cat, seated on bronze cushion, once in the collections of Madame de Pompadour
AN EXCEPTIONAL CREATION OF A PARISIAN
MARCHAND-MERCIER: THE ROLE OF THE ART
DEALERS AND COLLECTORS IN POPULARIZING
PORCELAIN CATS
This superb object presents a unique testimony of the
creativity of Parisian marchand-merciers 8 like Lazare
Duvaux (ca. 1703-1758), who catered to the world’s
most elite and discerning collectors. The famous quote
from Didérot (1713-1784) in his Encyclopédie – “Vendeurs
de tout, faiseurs de rien (Sellers of everything, makers of
nothing)’’ – does not give enough credit to this very
important Parisian corporation who launched the mode
française in eighteenth-century Paris.9 One of the most
lucrative aspects of their activity was to enhance Asian
(as well as European) porcelains with gilt-bronze, or
ormolu, creating a type of object which became highly
fashionable in Paris. Fitted with gilt-bronze mounts,
exotic porcelain pieces were adapted to a European
aesthetic. Sometimes this led to porcelains being removed
from their original context and literally transformed:
for example, two bowls became a pot-pourri, or a lidded
jar became a vase. Asian porcelains were sometimes
even intermixed with Meissen or Vincennes porcelains
to create spectacular new objects, such as extravagant
clocks. The marchands-mercierss were generally responsible
for commissioning the gilt-bronze mounts, which
needed to be custom made. The craftsmen who worked
in the service of these dealers, such as Jean-Claude
Chambellan, known as Duplessis (1695-1774), relied on
ingenuity and virtuosity to produce the most sought-after
objects.10 For the most important and unusual pieces
the marchands-merciers themselves were often directly
involved in the final design of the piece.
Lazare Duvaux was the most famous marchand-mercier,
maintaining his position at the height of Parisian
fashion by supplying the most exclusive clientele at
the French court. His Livre-Journal (account-book),
beginning in September 1748, provides valuable
information on the production of several objects
similar to Madame de Pompadour’s cat.
Reflections on a Chinese porcelain cat, seated on bronze cushion, once in the collections of Madame de Pompadour
99

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