February 10, 2011

Mennecy figure fest!

A recent purchase has had some interesting interactions with our stock and collection. It is a French biscuit porcelain group of a lady & gent, she teasing a hat off his head while he plays a flute. While many 19th & 20th century factories made such pieces, this example shows all the signs of an 18th century original.

They're on a rocky base, on a low plinth. Beneath is a typical X raised support, popular with the French potters in the 18th century.

Nestled down there is an incised mark.....

It's a cursive D V, the mark for Mennecy, a most desirable firm established in Paris in 1750 and continuing into the 1770's.

...which matches perfectly an unmarked figure attributed to Mennecy currently in stock @ Moorabool Antique Galleries.

The lady is from the same mold, with minor details added by the different 'repairer' - the person responsible for splicing all the parts together.

For some reason, he/she decided to cover his face with a hat on the recently acquired one.
The unmarked example is also distinct for having a high plinth base with swags of applied flowers and bows, very finely modeled. This links in to another group, in the Lorraine Rosenberg Reference Collection. As can be seen below, it has the same high plinth with applied details.
This group shows some youthful gardeners with the fruits of their labors - a basket of flowers and another of fruit. A shovel and a bottle lie at their feet.

It was the identical style, details and paste of this piece which gave the original attribution to the Moorabool stock piece.

Underneath is the same raised X support-

-and nestled up in the base is the same cursive D V monogram mark. Aileen Dawson, of the British Museum, published a paper on these pieces in the French Porcelain Society Journal vol 1, 2003. She describes this cursive D V mark as 'strange', meaning quite unusual, and links them to a documented artist- or rather two, the brothers Christophe and Jean-Baptiste Mo. The pieces which bear an additional MO incised with the DV for Mennecy are regarded as the documentary pieces for these artist brothers: interestingly, on other pieces the cursive D V mark is also associated with them on stylistic grounds. These pieces illustrated here with the D V mark are quite plausibly by the brothers Mo.

Another Mennecy group in the Collection is this small group of musicians.

It is very sweetly modeled, the details fine, the finish superb. Intended as a table decoration for an aristocratic dining table setting, the lady plays the hirdy-girdy while the man conducts with a baton. I assume she was not his only musician, but that surrounding figures were also playing to his rhythm!

Underneath is the conventional D V mark of Mennecy. The S is presumably the repairer who was responsible for constructing this group, in around 1765.

The style is very confident and polished, especially when compared to a similar group. Illustrated in the same paper by Dawson as previously mentioned and reproduced below. This group is stiffly modeled, and actually bears the cursive D V mark previously mentioned in connection with the brothers Mo. Clearly, this is a different artist at work.

The figure below, from Dawson's paper, is similar in feel to the Youthful Gardeners in the Rosenberg Collection.

This is very interesting when we look at the mark, reproduced below- it is the same, strongly suggesting another Mo attribution is possible, if we use the mark as a signature.

Below is yet another mark from the same paper, a similar D V - but probably NOT the work of the Mo's! So it is not as simple as it would at first seem.

The cursive D V mark is not the definitive reason for attribution on these figures. It seems to be the mark of a repairer, or assembler, rather than the sculptor of the original model. The actual original modeler would not get his name onto the products unless he was also the repairer who assembled the figure from the various molds. While this was possibly the case with the examples signed MO, these other models are more open to interpretation.

The figure illustrated above is once again from Dawson's paper. The form of the rocks, the finely detailed figures and the fruit and flowers all bring to mind the figure I have recently purchased, and indeed the figure in stock at Moorabool Antique Galleries in Geelong: examine the seated man and you will see that he is indeed identical to the man in the first photo of this post: the woman is also the same to the waist, where she has been made to sit rather than stand.
Examining the mark yields no surprises: a cursive D V , putting it in the group of other very similar groups by the same hand.

This was a very exciting area to research. There is still much more to be discovered regarding these rare figures. I would love to hear from anyone with an example, especially with the initials mark. By comparing a larger sample, it may be possible to sort out the difference between the sculptor of the original master model- ie the style of the piece- and the repairer of the piece, who most probably left the problem initials on the bases.

The figure will be released for sale as part of the 2011 Exhibition at Moorabool Antiques, Australia; the other group is currently available on the Moorabool website.