The porcelain: China, 17th century-early 18th century
The mounts: PARIS, circa 1740
Céladon and “blanc de Chine” porcelain, gilt and patinated bronze
Height: 55 cm (21 5/8 in.)
Width: 40 cm (15 ¾ in.)
Provenance: Jacques Guerlain collection (1874-1963)
This fountain is made of a crackle céladon baluster vase (restored) with two auricular handles and a hinged cover. The latter is bordered with gilt bronze moulds like the rim of the neck, and surmounted by a gilt bronze finial depicting a large rocky terrace covered with plants. The vase rests on a gilt bronze triangular base also depicting a large rocky terrace covered with plants along with gilt and patinated bronze naturalistic reeds. The three tips of the triangle are adorned with a “Blanc de Chine” porcelain Fô dog and the spout is in the shape of a gilt bronze swan on a shell.
This table fountain is a very fine and exceptionally large example of a type of object often described as water or perfume fountain, created with exquisite Chinese pieces, the beauty of which is enhanced with French refined bronze mounts. Although we cannot attribute it to a particular bronze caster such as Jean-Claude Duplessis or relate it to famous merchants mercers such as Lazare Duvaux or Thomas Joachim Hébert, our fountain was obviously made by a talented artist for a prominent figure of the Louis XV reign such as Madame de Pompadour who owned “Une grande fontaine de porcelaine truitée, sur deux chiens garnis de bronze doré. Prisé cent cinquante livres […]”.
A watercolour signed Slodtz and dated 1743 (fig. 1) shows a fountain with a similar swan-shaped spout. This fountain delivered to Louis XV -although the dogs are missing- is today at the château de Versailles.
The celadon porcelain was invented in China during the Five dynasties period (907-960). Its style varies in the course of the centuries but it is always characterized by a glaze evoking the diverse nuances of the jade. Its Chinese name is « qingci » which means greenish porcelain but this porcelain is known in the West under the name of “Celadon” which refers to the hero of the novel by the French writer Honoré d’Urfé, « l’Astrée », published in 1610. Céladon was the lover of Astrée. He is represented as a young man dressed in green and his costume was much in fashion during the time of the apparition of the « qingci » porcelain in Europe. The colour of the porcelain was rapidly compared to the costume of Céladon and took its name in the end. Of great rarity in Europe, the céladon porcelain was always highlighted in very fine mounts as shown by our table fountain.
“Blanc de Chine” is a type of white Chinese porcelain, made at Dehua in the Fujian province. It has been produced from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to the present day. Fine pieces such our dogs arrived in Europe as Chinese Export Porcelain in the early 18th century. As that type of porcelain met a great success, it was copied at Meissen and later in other European porcelain manufactory.
The Fô (Foo or Fu) dog is very important in the Buddhist religion and wide spread over the Far East. It resembles the lion and hence also called lion dog. It is the companion of Buddha and considered as a fantastic animal. It is usually represented with its paw on a sphere and as a standing guard at the entrance of temples and tombs in order to discourage evil spirits and wrongs doers from entering and maintaining piece and tranquility within the sanctuary. It is also know as the happiness dog as well as the celestial dog, an emblem of value and energy, indispensable complements of wisdom and therefore its image was embroidered on the court robes of military officials.