Eighteenth-century meal services were elaborate affairs, as exemplified in this print showing tureens and a table center piece designed by Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier for Evelyn Pierrepont, Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull in the 1730s. Meissonnier worked for Louis XV, becoming orfèvre du roi (goldsmith to the king) in 1724. This engraving is plate 115 in folio 72 of Oeuvres, a monumental book of ornaments published by the printmaker and dealer Gabriel Huquier, featuring designs by Meissonnier.
The tureens and the centerpiece would have been part of a formal meal service. The two tureens in the engraving are, in fact, mirror images of each other. The body of the vessel resembles a shell with incrustations and the base is ornamented with casts of celery roots, onions and a carrot. The main body is chased with cabbage leaves and foliage sprays. The lid of the tureen features a partridge, a crayfish, a mushroom, and a turnip. The tureens were realized from 1734-37 in solid silver using lost wax casting by Meissonnier and the Parisian silversmiths Henri Adnet and Pierre-Francois Bonnestrenne. During the production, Meissonnier designed a different lid for the second tureen composed of a duck, a crab, fish, oysters, snails, berried leaves, and an artichoke. The original weight of these tureens was nearly 42 kilograms. The tureen illustrated on the engraving is in the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, while the other is currently conserved at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, Spain.
The surtout is composed of an elevated base with curvilinear corners that merge into the organic and foliate body. Two putti are playfully perched on top, and they replace the two nymphs originally featured in Meissonnier’s earlier drawing of the surtout. There are two containers in front, one for oil and the other for vinegar. These two cruets are also echoed in another design for oil containers in his Oeuvres. While this centerpiece was never executed, it too would have likely been recreated in silver.
Finally, the tureens and the surtout are displayed in an imaginary architectural space typical of Meissonnier’s exuberant rococo vocabulary. Although Meissonnier primarily considered himself as an architect, even appending the title “architecte” to his signatures, his interior designs are only known today through engravings. In this print, the resplendent interior highlights and doubly situates the sinuous designs for the tureen and the surtout.
The Duke of Kingston likely commissioned the tureens after his discovery of the new rococo style after visiting France during his Grand Tour. In fact, the French architect, professor and academician Jacques-François Blondel referred to Meissonnier alongside the painter Jacques de Lajoüe and the ornemaniste Nicolas Pineau, as the three inventors of the “genre pittoresque,” now conventionally referred to as the rococo style. Blondel went so far as to characterize Meissonnier’s designs as suffering from “shocking frivolity.”
This print can thus be seen as a prime reflection of ascendant style in decorative arts and architectural ornaments in this period. In addition, it is also a demonstration of how French artists and artisans designed for elite foreign patrons and in turn, used such projects as platforms to advance and dissemination their own artistic style.
Cabelle Ahn is a graduate intern in the Department of Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She received her MA in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art and is currently studying eighteenth century decorative arts at the Bard Graduate Center.