Sèvres treasures from service for Madame du Barry, Louis XV's last great love offered at Bonhams
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Sèvres treasures from service for Madame du Barry, Louis XV's last great love offered at Bonhams
A pair of Sèvres bottle coolers from a service commissioned by Madame du Barry. Estimate: £60,000-80,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- An exceptionally rare pair of Sèvres bottle coolers from a service commissioned by Madame du Barry, the final maîtresse-en-titre of Louis XV, will be offered at Bonhams Fine European Ceramics sale in London on Wednesday 4 December. The pair is estimated at £60,000-80,000.

Madame du Barry (1743-1793) rose from humble origins as the illegitimate daughter of a seamstress to become the last, and with Madame de Pompadour, the greatest of the maîtresses-en-titre of Louis XV (The title refers to the chief mistress of the French Kings who enjoyed a semi-official position at court). Famed for her great beauty among the ranks of high society courtesans, she caught the eye of Louis XV in 1768. The King procured a title for her through an arranged marriage with Comte Guillaume du Barry, and in 1769 she was officially presented to the court of Versailles. From then on she was regarded as the maîtresse-en-titre. Louis installed her in the Château de Louveciennes and in a suite of apartments directly below his own in Versailles itself. He also took the unusual step of including her in the private family gathering on the eve of the wedding of his son, the Dauphin and future Louis XVI, to Marie Antoinette.

The service was purchased by Madame du Barry in September 1770. Consisting of only 39 expensive and opulent pieces it was clearly intended as a status symbol, its use confined to intimate suppers with influential figures at court. An ode to the marriage of the Dauphin to Marie Antoinette inscribed on the coolers, can be interpreted as an attempt to curry favour and further cement her position at court.

On Louis XV’s death in May 1774, du Barry was banished from court – Marie Antoinette famously disapproved of her, and for many years refused to acknowledge her presence. She eventually returned to Louveciennes, where she lived until her arrest in 1793 during the French Revolution. She was executed in December that year.

Bonhams Head of European Ceramics, Nette Megens said, “Pieces from this very select service made for Madame du Barry hardly ever appear on the market. There were only three bottle coolers in the service, and this pair offers collectors with a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Other highlights in the sale include:

• A very large Berlin porcelain vase given to Sir Andrew Buchanan by the King of Prussia, circa 1859. Estimate £25,000-30,000. Distinguished 19th-century Scottish diplomat Sir Andrew Buchanan had an unusually wide-ranging career, and earned the gratitude not only of the British government, but also of the nations in which he served. The King of Prussia presented him with the magnificent Berlin vase; and the Danish king Frederick VII gave him a service of 18 plates by the Royal Copenhagen factory, with scenes after famous designs by Berthel Thorvaldsen. These are also in the sale, estimated at £10,000-15,000.

• A rare Meissen silver-gilt mounted tankard with Chinoiserie decoration, circa 1723-24. Estimate £20,000-30,000. This piece is from private European collection and shows the very best of chinoiserie painting and gilding on early Meissen porcelain.

• A Nymphenburg Commedia dell'Arte figure of Mezzetin dressed as a Harlequin, circa 1760-65. Estimate: £30,000-50,000. This figure is traditionally paired with another Commedia dell’Arte figure, Lalage, who holds a bowl and a spoon, ready to feed the 'infant' in Mezzetin's arms (actually a monkey dressed as a baby).

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