"La Machine d'Argent" or Centerpiece for a Table (surtout de table)

Object Details

Title:

"La Machine d'Argent" or Centerpiece for a Table (surtout de table)

Artist/Maker:

François-Thomas Germain (French, 1726 - 1791)

Culture:

French

Place:

Paris, France (Place created)

Date:

1754

Medium:

Silver

Dimensions:

21 × 36.8 × 23.2 cm (8 1/4 × 14 1/2 × 9 1/8 in.)

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This unusual silver sculpture represents two birds, a rabbit, and a variety of vegetables. Lying on its side, the small rabbit is flanked by the game birds: an ortolan and a snipe with a long beak. A cauliflower with raggedly trimmed stalk and leaves rises above the animals. The still life also includes an onion, a turnip, a gherkin, a truffle, and a morel mushroom. Leafy plants peek out at the edges of a rocky ground evoking the earthen floor of a wood or glade.

The term Machine d'Argent (literally, "silver machine") was first assigned to this sculpture by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, who acted as intermediary between François-Thomas Germain and the patron, Christian Ludwig II, Duke of Mecklenburg. In the 1700s, the word machine signified an artistic innovation as well as a mechanical device. Germain was specifically commissioned to create a decorative centerpiece to complement a series of paintings owned by the Duke that depicted exotic animals and scenes of the hunt. The sculpted game birds and rabbit represent trophies of the hunt. Combined with the root vegetables and mushrooms, the animals also alluded to the ingredients of a rich stew.

Using a secret casting technique, Machine d'Argent took seven months to create. Germain cast some of the still life elements from molds of dead animals or vegetables. These individual elements were then assembled together on the base. The rich variety of detail showcased Germain's ability to transform silver into the diverse textures of nature: from the soft fur of the rabbit and downy feathers of the ortolan to the multi-beaded head of cauliflower and the smooth, waxy skin of the onion bulb.

Provenance
1754 - 1756

Christian Ludwig II, duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, 1683 - 1756, commissioned from Francois-Thomas Germain through the agent Jean-Baptiste Oudry and delivered to Schloss Schwerin, Germany, in November 1754; by inheritance to his son, Friedrich.

1756 - 1785

Friedrich, duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, 1717 - 1785, by inheritance to his nephew, Friedrich Franz I.

1785 - 1837

Friedrich Franz I, duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin later Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, 1756 - 1837, by inheritance to his grandson, Paul Friedrich.

1837 - 1842

Paul Friedrich, grand duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, 1800 - 1842, by inheritance to his son, Friedrich Franz II.

1842 - 1883

Friedrich Franz II, grand duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, 1823 - 1883, by inheritance to his son, Friedrich Franz III.

1883 - 1897

Friedrich Franz III, grand duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, 1851 - 1897, by inheritance to his son, Friedrich Franz IV.

1897 - 1945

Friedrich Franz IV, grand duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, 1882 - 1945, until deposition in 1918, by inheritance within the family.

1945 - 2005

Private Collection (heirs of Friedrich Franz IV) [unsold, Sotheby's, New York, May 20, 2004, single lot], sold, private treaty, through Sotheby's to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2005.

Exhibitions
Casting Nature: François-Thomas Germain's Machine d'Argent (July 11, 2006 to March 25, 2007)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), July 11, 2006 to March 25, 2007
Oudry's Painted Menagerie (May 1 to February 24, 2008)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), May 1 to September 2, 2007
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, October 7, 2007 to February 24, 2008
Oudrys Gemalte Menagerie. Porträts von exotischen Tieren im Europa des 18. Jahrhunderts (April 12 to August 31, 2008)
  • Staatliches Museum Schwerin Kunstsammlungen, Schlösser und Gärten (Schwerin), April 12 to August 31, 2008
Paris: Life & Luxury (April 26, 2011 to January 2, 2012) (37)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), April 26 to August 7, 2011
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, September 18, 2011 to January 2, 2012
The Edible Monument: The Art of Food for Festivals (October 13, 2015 to April 16, 2017)
  • The Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles), October 13, 2015 to March 13, 2016
Bibliography

Alexander von Solodkoff. "A Lost 'Machine d'Argent' of 1754 by François-Thomas Germain for the Duke of Mecklenburg." Studies in the Decorative Arts 7, no. 2 (Spring-Summer 2000), pp. 122-35.

Lachaise, Thierry de. "La machine d'argent de François-Thomas Germain en vente chez Sotheby's." In L'Objet d'Art 391 (May 2004), pp 24-26.

Alexander von Solodkoff. "The Rediscovery of a 1754 'Machine d'Argent' by François-Thomas Germain." Studies in the Decorative Arts 13, no. 2 (Spring-Summer 2006), pp. 93-103, figs. 1-4, 7.

Boström, Antonia, Bieke van der Mark, and Jeffrey Weaver. Casting Nature: François-Thomas Germain's Machine d'Argent, exh. brochure (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2006), ill. figs. 3, 7-9 and on the cover.

Franck, Christoph. "Pictorial Relations: New Evidence on Jean-Baptiste Oudry and the Court of Mecklenburg-Schwerin." In Oudry's Painted Menagerie: Portraits of Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century Europe. Mary Morton, ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007), pp. 31-57, fig. 9.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 7th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007), p. 236, ill.

Fuhring, Peter. "Dessins d'orfèvres-sculpteurs au XVIIIe siècle." In Dessins de sculpteurs I [Troisièmes Rencontres Internationales du Salon du Dessin, Paris, 9 et 10 Avril 2008], Guilhem Scherf and Cordélia Hattori, eds. (Paris: Société du Salon du Dessin, 2008), pp. 49-60, ill. p. 157, fig 7.

Droth, Martina, and Penelope Curtis, eds. Taking Shape: Finding Sculpture in the Decorative Arts, exh. cat. (Leeds: Henry Moore Foundation; Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2009), pp. 160-61 (entry by Mary D. Sheriff).

Seelig, Lorenz. "Das Silberservice Friedrich Karl von Hardenbergs-Zur Adeligen Tafelkultur des Rokoko." In Im Auftrag der Krone: Friedrich Karl von Hardenberg und das Leben in Hannover um 1750, Wilken von Bothmer and Marcus Köhler, eds. (Rostock: Hinstorff, 2011), pp. 54-69, ill.

Bremer-David, Charissa, ed. Paris: Life & Luxury in the Eighteenth Century, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011), p. 122, no. 37.

Bremer-David, Charissa. "Of Cauliflower and Crayfish: Serving Vessels to Awaken the Palate." In The Edible Monument: The Art of Food for Festivals. Marcia Reed, ed. (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2015), pp. 124-147, ill. figs. 4, 12, 15.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 8th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015), p. 286, ill.

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