Rare French 19th C. Limoges Porcelain Figural Mantle Vase, Paul from "Paul et Virginie"
"Paul et Virginie" is a romantic story written by Jacque-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, first published in 1788, shortly after the French Revolution. The story shows the clear influence of Jean -Jacques Rousseau, blaming the corruption of French Society and its artifices for abandoning two children to their exile. The children are in love with other, and have been since their youth. the tale takes place on the island of Mauritius, called Île de France at that time. Abandoned on Mauritius by a shipwreck, the children learn to fend for themselves, until they are saved by island residents. After many years, under the grace of Providence, they are eventually returned to society.
This figure captures one of the charming moments of the novel, when Paul finds a bird's nest with eggs in it while foraging, and instead of eating the eggs, he presents the nest to Virginie. The moment is encapsulated in many prints of the time, including in"Paul et Virginie", a lithograph after a line engraving by Jean-Alexandre Allais (1792-1850). The foliage of the Allais print is what has been turned into the palm fronds, flowers and exotic foliage of the figure.
Like the figures of "Uncle Tom and Eva" and "Eliza Escaping Over the Ohio River with Baby Harry in Her Arms" the figure of Paul is rendered in high relief before a flaring mantle vase. Please refer to my discussion of similar wares in "Fragile Lessons: Ceramic and Porcelain Representations of Uncle Tom's Cabin," published in Ceramics in America in 2006 for similar examples.
The figural vase is rendered in bisque porcelain, left undecorated. Due to the unwieldy nature of taxes on enameled porcelain figures into the United States prior to 1914, it was far cheaper to import undecorated porcelain and vases into the country, hiring young women painters from Haughwaut and Dailey and other emporia downtown to decorate to order.
Many such figural groups or figure and vase combinations were kept under glass domes, to prevent dust from gathering on the porcelain. This example, having been guarded under these conditions, has a pristine appearance, and is in excellent condition but for a few light chips to the flowers.
Robert F. Doares Jr. and Barbara Myers Wood write about many similar mantle vases in their ground-breaking book,"Old Limoges: Haviland Porcelain Design and Decor, 1845-1865." In my many years of seeking mantle vases of Uncle Tom's Cabin significance, I have found several other narrative mantle vase pairs of note. This is the only example of "Paul et Virginie" I have found that does not include both the boy and girl figure on the same base.