The Wallace Collection

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Wine-bottle cooler from the dinner service made for Catherine II of Russia Sèvres porcelain, 1778
fig. 2
fig. 2
fig. 3
fig. 3
Treasure of the Month - July 2003

Wine-bottle cooler from the dinner service made for Catherine II of Russia Sèvres porcelain, 1778

There were eight wine-bottle coolers in this remarkable service and each was ingeniously complicated to make and so, not surprisingly, hugely expensive. A rare document survives in the Archives at Sèvres outlining the costs of each of the manufacturing processes:

  • Moulding and the caryatid figures
    48 livres
  • Biscuit
    96 livres
  • Glaze
    48 livres
  • Sculpting and assembly
    216 livres
  • Ground colour
    120 livres
  • Pearl beading
    96 livres
  • Four cameos in relief (96 livres each)
    384 livres

    (the painted transfer-printed heads on the ice-cream coolers were only 8 livres each)
  • Flower painting and retouching
    192 livres
  • Catherine’s monogram (invisible here)
    84 livres
  • 1¼ ounces of gold
    300 livres
  • Tooling and burnishing of gold
    72 livres
  • Cost of kiln damage to caryatid heads
    300 livres

    (standard charge on all pieces with these heads)
  • Total cost
    1,956 livres
  • Sales price with profit margin
    2,400 livres

The ten ice-cream coolers of which two flank this piece were, at 3,600 livres each, even more expensive, especially when you consider that the average jobbing flower painter earned between 10 and 15 livres a month and a more usual ice-cream cooler with a coloured ground was only 360 livres.

Illustrations:
Each of these porcelain cameos was finished on a stone-cutter’s wheel before being fitted into an oval recess cut in the cooler before the first (biscuit) firing (fig.1). The recess was scored (fig.2) to help the glue on the back of the cameo (fig.3) to stick and a gilt-copper wreath (fig.4) ensured the cameo was secure.