Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 98

Reflections on a Chinese porcelain cat,
seated on bronze cushion, once in the collections
of Madame de Pompadour
Every now and again the art market produces discoveries
of artworks of extraordinary interest and beauty.
The emergence in 2017 of a Chinese porcelain cat in
transparent turquoise blue with violet glaze and aubergine
paws, seated on a cushion of chiselled and gilded bronze,
is a case in point. One of the finest examples of an object
of this type to survive from the eighteenth century, the
animal is associated here with a “cat of antique violet
porcelain on a base of gilt bronze valued at two hundred
livres,” inventoried in the collection of Madame de
Pompadour (1721-1764) in her Parisian hôtel particulier.
Fig. 1 / Chinese,
Jingdezhen, Qianlong
period (1736-1795), Cat
Seated on a Cushion,
porcelain and enameled
glass with gilded bronze
cushion attributed to JeanClaude Duplessis, c. 17501755 with later bronze
feet and tassels, 31 x 23 x
14 cm (without mount);
45 x 30 x 22 (with mount),
Private Collection.
This work presents valuable evidence of the
relationship between the Far East and Europe, revealing
the close collaboration between art dealers and bronze
craftsmen. It also exemplifies a type of highly desirable
object sought by some of the most discerning collectors
of the time. Undoubtedly created by Lazare Duvaux,
the most famous marchand-mercier (luxury goods dealer)
in this period, this work represents a prime example of
the mode française in 1750s Paris. Furthermore, the piece
is of great historical importance as it is likely to have
belonged to one of the most influential tastemakers
of the time, Madame de Pompadour.2 The welldocumented history of the object demonstrates how
eighteenth-century collectors were not only desirous
of great works of art, but also valued pieces with a
prestigious provenance.
The statuette (fig. 1), made of Chinese porcelain covered
in turquoise blue glaze,3 represents a cat seated on his
hind legs, with head slightly tilted and mouth halfopened, whiskers and nose pulled up to show his teeth.
The animal is posed turning towards the viewer, with its
tail curled against its thigh – a pose traditionally found
in eighteenth-century Chinese porcelain for chimeras,4
Dog of Fo or guardian lions,5 and parrots,6 though the
present object differs from these types which occur in
pairs facing each other. The statuette has some cracks on
its head at the base of the triangular ears, one of which
was broken at some point and restored – perhaps as early
as the eighteenth century – using lead. There is also a
hole at the base of the animal’s spine, presumably to
insert a candle, suggesting that it could have served as a
night light. The intense blue coating of the cat takes on a
slightly violet hue under light, and the entire body of the
animal is enhanced by small, slightly darker strokes in the
same purple tones, used for example on the ends of each
paw in order to create a naturalistic impression of fur.
Turquoise blue glaze, based on copper, is a technique
that appeared in China in the fourteenth century
and was perfected in the seventeenth century by Can
Yingxuan. In the eighteenth century, during the reigns
of Emperors Kangxi (1661-1722) and Yongzheng
(1723-1735), this“turquoise blue of China” made in
Jingdezhen enjoyed huge popularity among European
collectors. This colour, according to the terms of the
1782 sales catalogue of the Duke d’Aumont (17091782), First Gentleman of the King’s Chamber and
one of the most famous collectors of the time, was
“sought after especially in a uniform tone, as (this
porcelain) produces a flattering effect in a cabinet by
the brilliance that its soft colour and beautiful variety
lend to it.”7 In inventories of the period this colour can
be variously described as violet, celestial blue, celadon
blue, turquoise, or celadon turquoise. The pupils and
irises, which give the cat a powerful expression and
are made of enamelled glass, would certainly have
required the savoir faire of a French glass workshop.


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