Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 104



102
Reflections on a Chinese porcelain cat, seated on bronze cushion, once in the collections of Madame de Pompadour
A CAT OF EXCEPTIONAL PEDIGREE
Like other collectors and connoisseurs at that time,
Madame de Pompadour was passionate about objects
which incorporated exotic Asian porcelain animals
and birds, such as parrots, cranes,2 cockerels,33 birds of
prey, or herons,34 more often in white or turquoise blue,
sometimes mounted as girandole (candelabra). She also
owned birds manufactured at Meissen35 and less exotic
animals such as pug dogs seated on cushions from the
Saxon manufactory.36
Fig. 3 / Antoine Vestier,
Portrait of the Countess of
Estrades, ca. 1770, oil on
canvas, Pasadena, Norton
Simon Museum.
Fig. 4 / François Boucher,
Portrait of Madame
de Pompadour, 1756,
oil on canvas, Munich,
on loan from l’HypoVereinsbank at Bayerische
Staatgemäldesammlungen.
of the object under consideration here. For instance,
on 20 February 1753, Duvaux made an important sale
to the famous collector, Jean de Jullienne (1686-1766),
a wealthy cloth merchant who was the director of the
Gobelins dyers’ shop.27 Duvaux’s Livre-Journal notes
supplying Jullienne with “A stand with gadroons and
mouldings, gilded with ormolu, for a blue cat; supplied
with two enamel eyes & accompaniments (48 livres)”;28
these accessories were evidently intended to decorate
a porcelain object already in the collector’s possession.
Following the death of Julienne, the inventory drawn up
on 25 March 1766 in his home at Gobelins described:
“Item 190.954, a porcelain cat in celestial blue, on a
copper base gilded with ormolu priced at one hundred
and sixty-eight livres cy ...”; and “Item 196.961, two
ancient porcelain cats [...] priced at forty-two Livres
cy .....”29 Additionally, the auction of his goods in
1767 included: “A Cat, in beautiful celestial blue, in a
crouching position on a base of bronze” (auctioned for
880 livres);30 as well as “Two small cats, of old porcelain,
variegated with red and black” (auctioned for 50 livres).31
Among all the pieces traded by Lazare Duvaux one in
particular stands out: “A cat of antique violet porcelain
on a stand gilded with milled gold,”37 invoiced to the
Countess d’Estrades (1715-1784) (fig. 3)38 for 864 livres
on 21 December 1754. Given the relatively high price of
this object, it must have been an outstanding piece, and
it is conceivable that the Countess d’Estrades intended
to offer it to her close friend, Madame de Pompadour
(fig. 4), as a New Year’s gift, knowing her taste for such
items. Although it is impossible to say with certainty
whether the cat commissioned by the Countess is
the one presented here, it was certainly a unique and
very unusual piece. The preciousness of the porcelain
enhanced by the sumptuous gilt-bronze cushion, playing
on the strong contrast of brilliant colours (pink, turquoise
blue, gold) that evoke mounted precious stones, transforn
the item into a “jewelry object.” The sourcing of such
an unusual Chinese porcelain figure and enhancing it at
great expense indicate that it was created for someone
of exceptional importance, and this may well have been
Madame de Pompdour who is documented as owning an
object answering to these specifications.
Shortly after the death of Madame de Pompadour on 15
April 1764, the inventory of the Cabinet des Muses of
her Parisian home, the Hôtel d’Évreux, included a cat of
antique violet porcelain on a base of gilt bronze valued
at two hundred livres, which is likely to be the one under
consideration here.39 As one of the great collectors of her
time, Madame de Pompadour had on display more than
three thousand porcelain pieces in her various residences.
Nearly three hundred of these were from the Far East,
and the finest were furnished with extraordinary gildedbronze mounts made by Duplessis.0
Reflections on a Chinese porcelain cat, seated on bronze cushion, once in the collections of Madame de Pompadour
103

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