Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Flower vase (cuvette)

Photo: Paul Macapia

Flower vase (cuvette)

1755 - 56

This cuvette à fleurs Courteille once belonged to Madame de Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV of France. It was the centerpiece of a five-piece garniture of vases displayed at Saint-Ouen, one of her residences, which was located on the outskirts of Paris. Decorated with a vibrant bleu céleste (sky blue or turquoise) ground color, the cuvette features a rare marine battle scene on the front and a trophy scene on the back. This style of cuvette was made in three sizes. This is the largest size.

The trophy scene on the back of this cuvette, with its distinctive vegetation, is characteristic of the bird paintings by Louis-Denis Armand l'aîné (active 1745-1788). To learn more about Louis-Denis Armand l'aîné, visit the Artist page of this website.
Soft paste porcelain
7 3/4 x 12 1/4 in. (19.7 x 31.1 cm)
Guendolen Carkeek Plestcheeff Endowment for the Decorative Arts
Provenance: Madame de Pompadour; A. Spero; Christie's London; Hector Binney Collection; Sotheby's London; Dr. and Mrs. Ulrich Fritzsche 12/05/1989 - 2/18/1999
Photo: Paul Macapia
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum

Victory at Sea

The depiction of a marine scene, as on this cuvette, is rare on Vincennes porcelains. While Louis XV reigned, France was frequently at war, but scenes commemorating military and naval battles were a minor part of the repertoire of paintings on French porcelain. In fact, the factory sales register records only six items with bleu céleste and marine decoration sold before 1757.
Detail of battle scene, 99.8
Photo: Paul Macapia

The Porcelain Room

Vast quantities of translucent, elegantly decorated white-bodied porcelain from China and Japan arrived in Europe in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. These wondrous wares heightened Europeans' fervor for porcelain. Palaces, great houses of the aristocracy and homes of the merchant class made wealthy by trade showcased specially designed rooms that displayed porcelain from floor to ceiling--the crown jewels in an integrated architectural and decorative scheme.

More than one thousand magnificent pieces of European and Asian ware are displayed in the Seattle Art Museum's Porcelain Room, which has been conceived to blend visual excitement with historical concept. Foregoing the standard museum installation arranged by nationality, manufactory, and date, our porcelain is grouped by color and theme. One pair of niches glows with vibrant red glazes and decoration. In another pair, the beauty of the undecorated material can be appreciated in a chorus of 'whites' that exemplify the variety of porcelain pastes. The museum's cuvette is an honored centerpiece in the niche that features porcelain decorated in blue. Porcelain in this style, displayed in the niches between the doorways, embodied the essence of European taste in the mid-eighteenth century.
Mock-up of blue niche in Porcelain Room
© Seattle Art Museum

What Is the Source of the Marine Painting on the Cuvette?

The original painting or print for this scene has not been identified. Several artists specialized in recording sea battles during the second half of the seventeenth century.  The most important navel scenes from the period of the Dutch and allied Anglo-French engagements were painted by Willem van de Velde the Elder (1611-1693) and his son, Willem the Younger (1633-1707). Willem van de Velde the Elder was at one time the artist for the Dutch fleet. His son moved to England in 1672, the year of the Battle of Solebay, and entered the service of King Charles II of England (1630-1685). The father produced sketches of sea fights, and the son, who was recognized as the better painter, produced the scenes in oil. The van de Veldes' first major commission for Charles II was to design a set of six tapestries commemorating the Battle of Solebay. With their aerial, panoramic perspective; choppy seas; and light, cloud-filled skies, the van de Velde tapestries are closer to the scene on the cuvette than any other source uncovered to date.
The First Battle of Schooneveld, 28 May 1673, 1684, Willem van de Velde, the Elder
© National Maritime Museum, London, BCHC0305

How Did Madame de Pompadour Display This Cuvette?

This cuvette, with its magnificent and rare naval battle scene, was displayed as the centerpiece in a garniture of vases at Madame de Pompadour's château Saint-Ouen. Together with the cuvette were two bleu céleste vases hollandaise painted with marine and trophy-of-war scenes. These vases hollandaise have gilding similar to the cuvette, the date letter "C" and are marked with the crescent mark of Armand l'aîné. Together, the garnitures could have been reflected standing on a mantel piece backed by mirrors. In the reflection, the viewer could admire intricately painted assemblages of trophies of war: the hulls of warships and weapons draped in strands of pearls and ribbons.
Pair of Vases (Caisses Carrés), 1754, Louis-Denis Armand l'aîné (painter), Vincennes Factory (manufacturer)
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, John Berdan Memorial Fund, and gift of Thomas E. Rassieur, 88.6.1-2

What Battle Does the Scene on the Cuvette Represent?

Photo: Paul Macapia
Left: detail of Dutch flag; right: detail of French Royal Navy flags; 99.8
The flags depicted in the painting on the cuvette tell us that this battle was between the Dutch and the French. The horizontal red, white, and blue stripes on the flags of the ships on the left of the painting represent the Dutch flag. The white flags on the ships to the right identify the French Royal Navy.

Click on the images below to continue the story.
Photo: Paul Macapia
Detail of topmast and topsail, 99.8
The shape of the ships and the position of a mast at the bow, known as the bowsprit topmast and topsail, help to date this naval scene. The bowsprit topmast and sail were vertical in ships in the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, they were more horizontal and extended in front of a ship. Based on the position of the bowsprit topmast and overall ship design, this scene dates from the seventeenth century. Therefore, research on the source of the cuvette's scene has focused on the few great sea battles that involved the French and Dutch in the seventeenth century.
Photo: Paul Macapia
Detail of battle scene, 99.8
Naval scholars and curators agree that the battle scene on this cuvette commemorates the Battle of Solebay (Southwold Bay, Suffolk), which took place 6 June 1672 on the east coast of England. The Dutch, under Michel de Ruyter's command, achieved a surprise attack on the allied Anglo-French fleet under James, Duke of York (later James II), and Comte d'Estrées at Solebay. The bloody battle was inconclusive, with both sides declaring victory. The Anglo-French fleet held the sea that day and captured two Dutch vessels. The Dutch withdrew at sunset. The Dutch, on the other hand, inflicted so much damage on the allied fleet that they foiled the plan of Charles II and Louis XIV to attack the Dutch coast to support French ground troops fighting on Dutch soil.


Julie Emerson, Former Ruth J. Nutt Curator of Decorative Arts, Seattle Art Museum, talks about her vision for SAM's Porcelain Room


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe, Feb. 17 - May 7, 2000.
Published ReferencesCollins, Jeffrey. "Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe." Eighteeth-Century Studies 34, No. 1, Poetry and Poetics (Fall 2000): pp. 116-120, p. 118.

Harding, Beverly. The Secret of Porcelain: A Family Guide. Seattle, Wash.: Seattle Art Museum, 2000; pp. 10, 25.

Emerson, Julie. "Victory at Sea: A Vincennes cuvette painted with a battle-scene." French Porcelain Society Journal vol. III (2007): pp. 59-66.

Seattle Art Museum: Bridging Cultures. London: Scala Publishers Ltd. for the Seattle Art Museum, 2007; pp. 60-61, reproduced p. 60.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

Learn more about Equity at SAM