Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 111

Reflections on a Chinese porcelain cat, seated on bronze cushion, once in the collections of Madame de Pompadour
Reflections on a Chinese porcelain cat, seated on bronze cushion, once in the collections of Madame de Pompadour
The present cat seems to appear subsequently in 1826
among the effects of Monsieur Doyen, where it was
Purple Cat on a Cushion and a gilded
bronze pedestal, No. 304. Cabinet d’Aumont
118. The Duchesse de Mazarin, and 326.
Cabinet Lebrun in 1814. The story goes
that at a time when Chinese porcelain
commanded high prices, as had Sèvres
porcelain for many years, this important
piece, which could only have had one owner,
was fought over by the afficionados of the
time and acquired for a considerable sum.53
The “Chinese and Japanese Porcelain” section of this
sale also included a further “Two cats crouched on
a copper plinth;” 54 “Two Cats with blue ribbons;”55
and “Two other reclining cats, dappled with grey on a
cushion of gilded copper.” 56
Fig. 10 / Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le
Brun, Self-portrait, 1795, oil on
canvas, Private Collection.
Fig. 11 / Elizabeth Louise VigéeLe Brun, Portrait of Joseph
Hyacinthe Francois de Paule
Rigaud (Count of Vaudreuil),
1784, oil on canvas, Richmond,
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
An annotated catalogue of the sale indicates that
Le Brun was bidding on behalf of Louise-Jeanne de
Durfort de Duras, Duchesse de Mazarin (1735-1781).49
The subsequent inventory of the Duchesse’s Parisian
town house records: “In the Chinese cabinet next to
the aforementioned Library… (under number) 220. A
cat of antique Japanese [sic] porcelain in celestial blue
valued at six hundred livres cy 600.”50 Following her
death, an initial auction of the Duchesse’s property
took place on 10 December 1781, and the cat reappears
in this sale catalogue: “A Cat (celestial blue porcelain
of ancient China) with enamel eyes, placed on a pillow
with four tassels of gilded bronze, Height 12 inches
(about 32.48 cm), Width 12 inches (about 32.48 cm).”51
On this occasion the cat sold for 1,500 livres, once
again to Le Brun.52
Another interesting description of a similar cat occurs
in a sale in 1834 of the property of M. Hossaye, which
included: “A cat, of antique turquoise celadon blue on
a gilded bronze cushion. A most important piece from
the sale of the effects of Mlle.Thévenin.” 57 The latter
sale had taken place in 1819, though its catalogue does
not outline any lots corresponding to this description,
with one possible exception: “A decorative ensemble
composed of nine pieces, including a beautiful
vase forming a centre piece; they are enriched with
ornaments of chiselled and gilded bronze of the best
taste: they come from the cabinet of the Duke de
Choiseuil [sic] – Praslin, and originally from that of the
Duchesse de Mazarin.” 58
The taste for objets montés created by the Parisian
marchands-merciers during the eighteenth century
developed later in England with the collecting of such
works by George IV (1762-1830) when Prince Regent,
as demonstrated by certain objects still in the Royal
Collection. Among these is an exquisite Chinese blue
porcelain cistern with gilded bronze mounts, which
was sold by Duvaux to Madame de Pompadour in
1750, and was probably acquired by the Prince Regent
in 1811.59 Following the monarch’s lead, members
of the aristocracy also began collecting such works,
as demonstrated by a similar object belonging to
Charlotte Ashburnham (1766-1862), daughter of
Algernon Percy, 1st Earl of Beverley, and second wife of
George, 3rd Earl of Ashburnham. Listed in the sale of
her goods in 1863 is:
The celebrated cat of old turquoise celadon
porcelain, mounted with head draperies
of ormolu, and on plinths of the same, and
bearing candelabra of ormolu for four lights
such on their backs…. Given by Louis XV
to Madame la Maréchale de Mirepoix
(1707-1792), as part of the bribe, paid to her
for promoting Madame du Barry (17431793) at Court. The ears were pierced, and
diamonds valued around 150,000 francs
suspended from them…60
Although it is not possible to confirm the intriguing
description of this object’s history, it further reveals
how Madame de Pompadour’s refined taste as a
collector had a lasting impact on members of the
European aristocracy; this influence was highlighted
in the important exhibition Madame de Pompadour et les
arts, and our cat now adds another important facet to
this legacy.61


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