On June the 16th, Sotheby’s London will auction the collection Evill/Frost. Among the ceramics that will be sold, there is a remarkable milk jug in Tournai porcelain from the Duke of Orleans Buffon’s service.
The Orleans birds’ service
The Buffon birds and gold service was ordered in 1787 by the Duke of Orleans for the Palais Royal to the Tournai porcelain factory. This order is monumental as it includes 1593 pieces to be delivered over several years for the sum of 60,148 pounds. By comparison, the largest service ever performed then by the Sevres porcelain factory is the Catherine II of Russia service, which included 706 pieces and the one order by the king Louis XVI only 493. Only one service is similar in size, the Meissen swan service delivered to the Comte of Bruhl which was composed of 2 200 parts.
Tournai is not the only porcelain factory to have been interested in the engravings of l’histoire naturelle des oiseaux published between 1770 and 1783. In 1782, Sevres factory delivered a first ornithological service for the Comte d’Artois later king Charles X.
The Duke of Orleans never paid for his order which was auction during the French Revolution. In the early 19th century the Prince of Wales bought 594 pieces from the service of which 565 are still in the Royal Collection. The remaining appears from time to time at auction across the world.
The Evill/Frost jug milk
The Tournai porcelain milk jug, auctioned by Sotheby’s is one of the 109 milk jugs from the hot drinks service. However, we can distinguish two forms of milk jugs; the paunchy one that corresponds to that offered for sale and whose form was created specifically for the service of Duke of Orleans and the turned form which uses an already existing form at Tournai.
Our porcelain is distinguished by the ornamentation of the neck of the pot which is richly painted in natural on one side of a blackbird from Guyana and the other of a talapiot from Cayenne. We must emphasize the quality of the blue background that frames its two birds. Birds on each piece can be identified by their name painted on the bottom. Here we can read "Merle Guiana" and "Talapiot de Cayenne. Under the spout of the pot is painted in a cartel, an insect.
The Tournai porcelain factory can be identified by its slightly grey paste. It is important to mention that some of the gilding of the milk jug is worm.
The Comte of Buffon
Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte of Buffon (1707-1788) is a French naturalist, mathematician and biologist. He is famous for writing the Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roy, in 36 volumes published from 1749 to 1789, plus eight others after his death, thanks to Lacepède. He included all the knowledge of the time in the natural sciences.
The milk jug auctioned on the 16th is reasonably estimated £8000 to £10000, it can seem expensive for a 14 centimetre porcelain but remember that a very similar piece from this service was sold in Drouot in December 2010 for 35236 Euros despite an estimation of 15000 to 20000 Euros.
Less than 1000 pieces from the Orleans Buffon and gold Tournai service are identified. A treasure could be hidden in your attic or at the back of an old dresser…
Cedric Henon, fine continental furniture specialist