Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Elephant-head vase (vase à tête d'éléphant)

Factory:
Sèvres Manufactory (French, 1740–present)
Modeler:
Jean-Claude Duplessis (French, ca. 1695–1774, active 1748–74)
Date:
1758–62
Culture:
French, Sèvres
Medium:
Soft-paste porcelain
Dimensions:
13 5/8 x 9 1/2 in. (34.6 x 24.1cm)
Classification:
Ceramics-Porcelain
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1976
Accession Number:
1976.155.61
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 529
This remarkable Sèvres porcelain elephant-head vase is one of six in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, four of which were given by Charles and Jayne Wrightsman (see 1983.185.9 and 1983.185.10, .11). Presumably due to the technical challenges and cost of making these vases, relatively few were produced at Sèvres, all which date to the years around 1760; nineteen examples are known in public collections today.[1]

The design of this vase, one of the few models intended to also serve as a candle holder,[2] is attributed to Jean-Claude Duplessis, the head of the sculpture workshop at Sèvres. Elephant-head vases were produced in two slightly different versions. According to Savill (p. 154), one version (shape A) was made without the small handles under the elephant’s trunks, while shape B includes handles and beading on the elephant heads that loops through the handles (as on 1976.155.61). Shape B is more common than A. Elephant-head vases of both designs were made in three sizes, of which this is the second or middle size.

Elephant-head vases are known to have been sold as parts of garnitures or sets of vases (see 58.75.89–.91), combined with a variety of other vase models. The model found favor with the French court, as elephant-head vases were purchased by Louis XV, the prince de Condé, and Madame de Pompadour.

[Jeffrey H. Munger, February 2015]

[1] The Waddesdon Manor website states that twenty-four examples are known today, but the author has been able to trace only twenty-two. In addition, the site indicates that there are seven examples at Waddesdon, but only six are published in their Sèvres catalogue.

[2] The candle sockets are the same design as those made for the pot pourri à bobèches (see 58.75.94, .95).

Bibliography:
Rosalind Savill, The Wallace Collection of Sèvres Porcelain, London, 1988, vol. 1, pp. 154–156.
Marking: Painted in blue enamel on underside: [1] Crossed Ls enclosing indecipherable (factory mark); [2] Fragmentary trace of decorator's mark; Incised underside: [3] Script mLi
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman , New York (until 1976; to MMA)
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Pair of elephant-head vases (vases à tête d'éléphant)

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