Still Life with Silver

Alexandre François Desportes (French, Champigneulle 1661–1743 Paris)
Oil on canvas
103 x 73 3/4 in. (261.6 x 187.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Mary Wetmore Shively Bequest, in memory of her husband, Henry L. Shively, M.D., 1964
Accession Number:
Not on view
Trained as a painter of animals and favored by both Louis XIV (1638–1715) and Louis XV (1710–1774), Desportes achieved fame not only for his hunting scenes but also for his opulent still lifes. This picture, probably painted in the 1720s, belongs to a type showing a buffet laden with an array of objects in silver, porcelain, and semi-precious stone as well as fruit—such as might have been displayed for a banquet. The objects may record actual pieces owned by the patron: the dragon-handled tureen and vermeil salvers are in the Régence style (ca. 1715–23).
Alexandre François Desportes trained in the Paris studio of Flemish animal painter Nicasius Bernaerts (1620–1678), himself a pupil of Frans Snyders (1579–1657). Desportes was thus exposed to the Flemish still-life tradition from an early age and, having abandoned portraiture after a brief sojourn in Warsaw, he was admitted to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1699 as an animal painter. A favorite of both Louis XIV (1638–1715) and Louis XV (1710–1774), he painted hunting scenes for the Ménagerie at Versailles in 1700 and portraits of the King's hunting dogs, as well as other animals, still lifes, and designs for tapestries.

Our canvas typifies the evolution of eighteenth-century still-life painting away from the intimate format of the Low Countries towards a distinctively French idiom rich in pomp and spectacle. Here gold and silver vessels are displayed on a tiered console table laden with fruit and flowers. The composition is monumental in scale. Although the canvas is not dated, the dragon-handled tureen and vermeil salvers are in the Régence style (ca. 1715–23).

Two comparable compositions by Desportes in private collections are dated 1727 and 1740. The sides and corners of this picture had been cut, probably to set the canvas into paneling; the current corners are modern. A slightly larger copy shows the ewers and platters in their entirety.

[Katharine Baetjer 2012]
Inscription: Signed (lower right edge): Desportes.
Yvon, Paris (until 1881; anonymous sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, January 27–28, 1881, no. 14, as "Fruits," 265 x 185 cm, for Fr 5,600); private collection (until 1903; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, May 30, 1903, no. 18, as "Un Dressoir," 260 x 185 cm, signed, for Fr 7,010 to Lévy); [Lévy, Paris, from 1903]; private collection (until 1938; sale, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, March 31, 1938, no. 28, as "Le Buffet," 262 x 186 cm, for Fr 23,500); [Jacques Helft, Paris and Buenos Aires, 1938–64]; [Société Matteo, Paris, 1964; sold to MMA]
Paris. Musée des Arts Décoratifs. "Louis XIV, faste et décors," May–October 1960, no. 518 (as "Nature morte, figurant des pièces d'orfèvrerie royale," signed lower right, lent by M. J. Helft).

Versailles. Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon. "Versailles et les tables royales en Europe, XVIIème–XIXème siècles," November 3, 1993–February 27, 1994, no. 38 (as "Buffet avec pièces d'orfèvrerie et de porcelaine", dated 1726).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art of the Royal Court: Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe," July 1–September 21, 2008, no. 101 (as "Still Life with Silver and Hardstone Objects").

Georges de Lastic Saint-Jal. "Desportes." Connaissance des arts 107 (January 1961), p. 64, speculates that this picture might have been cut from a painting measuring eleven by nine pieds and described in Desportes's inventory.

Michel Faré. La nature morte en France. Geneva, 1962, vol. 1, pp. 209, 337 nn. 727, 731; vol. 2, pl. 322, as in the Helft collection, Paris, and dated 1726.

Yves Bottineau in French Master Goldsmiths and Silversmiths from the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Century. New York, 1966, p. 47, ill. [French ed., "Les grands orfèvres de Louis XIII à Charles X", Hachette, 1965, p. 47].

Nora Street. Unpublished manuscript. [ca. 1969], compares this picture to two other buffets dated 1727 and 1740; notes a drawing by him at Sèvres representing a buffet; rejects de Lastic Saint-Jal's speculation that it was cut down from the unfinished work mentioned above and considers it likely to have been executed for a private patron; points out that the style of the vermeil suggests a date in the second half of the 1720s.

Michel Faré and Fabrice Faré. La vie silencieuse en France: La nature morte au XVIIIe siècle. Fribourg, Switzerland, 1976, pp. 81–82, fig. 123.

Alain Gruber. L'Argenterie de maison du XVIe au XIXe siècle. Fribourg, Switzerland, 1982, p. 18, fig. 9, dates it about 1720.

Eleanor Tufts. Luis Meléndez: Eighteenth-Century Master of the Spanish Still Life: With a Catalogue Raisonné. Columbia, Mo., 1985, pp. 46–47, ill.

John Whitehead. The French Interior in the Eighteenth Century. London, 1992, pp. 222–23, ill. (color), dates it about 1730.

Dominique Brême. "Chardin et la nature morte à l'aube des Lumières." Dossier de l'art no. 60 (September 1999), pp. 44–45, ill. (color).

Hannah Obee. "The Golden Age Returns." Apollo 167–68 (June 2008), ill. p. 61 (color).

Wolfram Koeppe in Art of the Royal Court: Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe. Ed. Wolfram Koeppe. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2008, pp. 278–79, no. 101, ill. (color).

Georges de Lastic and Pierre Jacky. Desportes. Saint-Rémy-en-l'Eau, 2010, vol. 1, pp. 222, 224, 226, ill. p. 223 (color); vol. 2, pp. 196, 198, no. P 718, ill. (color), date it about 1726–30.

De Lastic Saint Jal (1961) speculates that this canvas was cut from a much larger unfinished work mentioned by Fernand Engerand (Inventaire . . . , Paris, 1901, p. 612). What appears to be the same picture, also including two unfininished orange trees, is referred to again by Engerand (p. 615) among works which the comte d'Angivillier planned to give to the Manufacture Royale de Porcelaine de Sèvres.

A slightly larger copy was sold at Christie's, Monaco, June 16, 1989, as lot 54, 279 x 210 cm. There the vessels are shown complete.