Painted by Louis-Gabriel Chulot (active 1755–1800, 1805–18)
After etchings by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin (French, Paris 1721–1786 Paris)
Gilded by Étienne-Gabriel Girard (French, active 1762–1800)
Height (cup [.1]): 3 3/16 in. (8.1 cm); Diameter (saucer [.2]): 6 5/8 in. (16.8 cm)
Purchase, Gifts in memory of Henry Chase and The Charles E. Sampson Memorial Fund, 1990
Not on view
The lighthearted whimsy of the painted decoration of this cup and saucer is surprising considering the date at which it was executed, for in 1794 the period of repression and mass executions known as the Terror, which followed the French Revolution, was just ending. The decorative scheme is composed of four reserves (panels) of butterflies masquerading as humans. Their gestures and costumes reflect a decidedly playful spirit, despite the dueling depicted in one scene, and several of their poses and the portrayal of one as Harlequin are references to the popular theatrical tradition of the Italian Comedy. Three of the four scenes are copied, with some variations, from a set of six etchings entitled Essai de papilloneries humaines by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin (1721–1786) that were published shortly after 1756.
The painter of the cup and saucer, Louis-Gabriel Chulot, has skillfully captured the spirit of Saint-Aubin’s compositions, in which the anthropomorphic butterflies cavort and gesticulate with a sense of levity that is characteristic of much Rococo art. It is surprising that this almost frivolous decorative scheme from the 1750s would have found favor at the very end of the century, just after the French Revolution and at a time when a restrained Neoclassicism predominated. The classically inspired form of the cup reflects the prevailing Neoclassical taste, yet the playful and whimsical nature of the decoration triumphs over the sobriety of form.
Marking:  Crossed Ls in blue enamel (Sèvres factory mark);  Two sixteenth-notes in blue enamel (decorator's mark of Chulot);  Script Sèvres in gold;  GI in gold (decorator's mark of Girard);  41 in gold;  n o in gold
Location of marks: – on underside of each  on underside of cup  on underside of saucer
[ sale, Christie's, London , July 3, 1989, no. 55 ]