Q: My sister and I acquired a pair of Sevres urns that were once the property of a Duluth museum. The urns are stamped "Sevres 1846" in a circle with an intertwined "LP" and "Chateau Des Tuileries" in a red circle with a crown. They are hand-painted and about 32 inches high. We would appreciate any information and how best to sell them.
A: There is no question that the pair of urns is magnificent. The elaborate rococo-style gilding is superb, the gilt bronze mounts are impressive, and the large reserves with painted designs of court figures on one side and a scenic view on the other are beautifully done.
In 1738, under the patronage of French King Louis XV, a porcelain factory was established in a former riding academy at Vincennes, France. In 1753 production was moved to Sevres, which was near the home of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress and one of the firm's most vocal advocates. Porcelain for royalty was the focus, but when the French Revolution occurred, the Sevres factory became property of the state.
The problems with the pieces begin with a mark that you failed to mention in your letter — conjoined "Ls" with the letter "B" inside. This is supposed to be the monogram of Louis XV with the "B" indicating (falsely) that the piece was made in 1754. The 1846 mark that appears with the monogram of King Louis Phillippe is closer to the true time of manufacture, but even that is probably a tad too early for this pair of covered urns.
The "Chateau Des Tuileries" mark is there to indicate the piece was supposedly made to be used in that palace, which was located in Paris until it was destroyed by fire in 1871. But the mark is always suspicious. The lovely pair of covered urns was not made in the Sevres factory, but probably in Limoges or by an anonymous Paris factory. An Austrian origin is also possible.
The pair should be called "Sevres style." It has been said that as much as 90% of all porcelain bearing Sevres marks are fake and buyers need to beware. Some of these pieces are decorated so poorly they scream fraud, but many are gloriously decorated. The pair in today's question falls only a little short of this lofty category.
As for selling these, we recommend a fine auction house. Similar pairs have brought over $10,000 at auction, but others have fallen far short of that figure and sold in the $1,000 to $2,000 range. You might check out such firms as Dallas Auction Gallery, John Moran Auctioneers in Monrovia, Calif., or Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, Calif.
Q: This marble bust is signed "Vicari." It has been in the family for at least 100 years. We are trying to determine the value. Are you able to help us?
A: The artist who crafted the piece was Cristoforo Vicari (the large "C" is lightly superimposed over the "V" in Vicari). Vicari was born in 1848 in the Swiss municipality of Caslano, which is in the Canton area of Ticino.
Vicari studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in Milan. After completing his studies, Vacari worked for a time in Zurich. At some point, he came to Lugano, Switzerland, where he worked, exhibited and died in 1913.
You can find a listing for Vicari in Emmanuel Benezit's Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, which was first published in French between 1911 and 1923. Several editions have been printed since then, including one in 1999, which has the Vacari's listing on page 207 of Vol. 14. An English edition was published in 2006. The reference set is considered one of the most important and seminal sources for information on professional artists.
You refer to the piece as having been made from marble, and it very well may have been. But we have also found references to similar busts made from alabaster. Alabaster is a relatively soft form of translucent gypsum and is much more easily carved than marble. We do not know which mineral this one happens to be, but we are not sure it affects value.
A similar piece was sold at Hart Galleries in Houston in August 2004 for $1,500. Unfortunately, more current sales figures seem to suggest the price has declined. But we still feel the piece should retail in the $1,500 to $2,000 range.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques.