King William III & Queen Mary II
Unique Dutch Delftware Bouquetières
In New York in 2015 Aronson Antiquairs presented this remarkable pair of figures. See video below.
Delft, 1686 – 1690
The figure of William marked AK in blue for Adrianus Kocx, the owner of De Grieksche A (The Greek A) factory from 1686 to 1701
Although not clearly defined in facial features, which would have been difficult to paint with any hope of an accurate resemblance, it is most certain that this pair of flower-holders was intended to depict William and Mary, who were known for their love of both Dutch Delft and gardening. Such was Mary’s love of flowers, that in several portraits she is depicted in a garden setting beside a flower-filled vase, or even holding a basket of flowers similar to that carried by the present Delft figure. By adorning their residences with magnificent pieces of Delftware, amongst which were many vases in a variety of shapes and sizes for fresh flowers, William and Mary wedded their two passions. In such a milieu this pair of bouquetières seems so natural and intentional, and is a further if subtle tribute to the royal couple’s devotion to one another.
Heights: 40.5 and 42 cm. (15 15/16 and 16 9/16 in.)
Dardanne family, Paris, through 1978;
Figure of William by further descent in the family; Figure of Mary sold in Brussels 1979/80 to a private collector, Antwerp.
Something happened to me that most art and antiques dealers can only dare to dream about, but that rarely happens in their forty or fifty years of active business life. Let me tell you about the greatest adventure of my first twenty-five years in the art business.
In February 2014 I had an opportunity to acquire a rare Dutch Delft large bouquetière figure of a lady, and on the day it arrived at the gallery, I had it photographed and described for our 2014 publication. We had exhausted the deadline extension granted by our printer, so that same evening the 2014 publication had to go to press. In the following weeks I had the figure touched up by our conservator, and with great pride, but very little preparation time, I presented it in March at TEFAF Maastricht.
By chance I had already titled my publication Queen Mary’s Splendor, as it contained many pieces that might have adorned the Queen’s chambers – objects from the same period and occasionally objects identical to pieces at Palace Het Loo in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, or at Hampton Court Palace just outside of London, the United Kingdom, the two primary residences of King William III and Queen Mary II.
As we rushed the publication to press, I was even bold enough not only to attribute the bouquetière figure to De Grieksche A (The Greek A) factory, circa 1690, under the ownership of Adrianus Kocx from 1686 to 1701, but such were the attributes of the figure that I also went as far as suggesting that it actually represented Queen Mary II herself “as a tribute to her style, her passion for gardening and her love of all things oriental.” In her day Queen Mary was the single largest patron of Dutch Delftware and bought primarily, if not exclusively, from De Grieksche A factory.
At TEFAF there were several enthusiastic potential clients and I had almost sold the figure, but ultimately the transaction didn’t materialize; and after the fair, ‘Queen Mary’ returned to Amsterdam to assume her place of honor in the gallery.
In late May I received a list of objects to be offered for sale at a small auction house several hours south of Paris. On the list: a Delft bouquetière. My wife Carla, insisting the brief listing was intriguing, telephoned
the auction house to request photographs, and when the email response finally arrived, it rendered me speechless. I was looking at what seemed to be a figure almost identical to Mary – but the male version. It took me some time to regain my composure and we started to make a plan de campagne. If I were to travel to the auction myself, I risked calling attention to the figure, and at the time of the auction I was scheduled to be in Sydney, Australia, anyhow. So I asked my assistant Lisa to take a long weekend in the middle of France with her boyfriend and their dog. “Don’t dress up for the auction, but just stroll in casually, and if anybody asks, tell them that you are interested in some of the figures because they remind you of your grandmother. And make sure of one thing – return home with this figure – à tout prix!”
While the auction proceeded, I had Lisa on the telephone and I heard the auctioneer pause in his selling to make sure that this young lady could actually afford what she was bidding on. Other potential purchasers were also in the room, unaware of who the young lady was. But in the end, after a fairly long bidding battle and considerable tension at my end of the telephone, she bought the figure and received a round of applause from the room.
Back in Amsterdam I waited through slightly nerve- wracking weeks between the auction, the payment for the figure, the transportation arrangements and the anticipated arrival. I have bought through photographs in the past and somehow too often the pieces turned out differently from what I had expected: a slightly different color blue, a slightly different shape, size or weight, anything that would make one doubt that this was actually a pair. But when the figure finally arrived and was unpacked, I knew instantly that a miracle had happened. Not only was the male figure undeniably the partner of our figure of Queen Mary, it was marked AK, confirming my earlier bold attribution to Adrianus Kocx of De Grieksche A factory; and to top it all, the figure displayed all of the characteristics of William III, as described on the following pages.
Of course the story didn’t end there. I knew that although the determination of provenance often is not an exact science, somehow I had to prove that the figures had been together before I reunited them, and I had to substantiate my identification of these figures as William and Mary.
The first tangible hint that indeed these two figures had once existed as a pair, which after becoming separated, I had the extraordinary luck of reuniting, came though a telephone call from my ceramics restorer. She was able to determine that both figures “had been restored previously, probably simultaneously in the late 1940s or early 1950s, using identical restoration materials and techniques.” She recognized the unfailing signature of the artist-restorer, who had done such a masterful job approximately sixty years ago.
With the help of several art-historians I started an extensive provenance search, and in addition to checking the figures against several known art databases, I wrote letters to both of their sources, inquiring about what was known of their history. I received a phone call regarding the lady and a written reply regarding the male figure. The lady had been bought on the Sablon, the main antiques center in Brussels in 1979 or 1980; and the man had come to the auction by direct descent in the “Dardanne family of the Phoscao Company,” a French manufacturer of cocoa. After the death of the then-current Dardanne owner, one of his children had inherited the male figure in 1978. This was another clear clue that these figures probably had been together until 1978 when death occasioned the usual division of family treasures, and when all too often sets and pairs become separated through both ignorance and an attempt at equality of distribution.
Research into the Dardanne family history revealed that from the 1850s the family began rising in prominence, not only in trade and industry, but also administratively and culturally in central France and in Rouen and Paris as well. During their heyday, the family produced several notaries, mayors, ministers and other dignitaries. My search online persisted, but after hundreds of ‘hits’, the family seemed to disappear from the records after the 1930s. This is so often the cycle of fortune for families who have risen rapidly to power and prosperity, as was the case of the Dardannes in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, only to fade into obscurity in the third or fourth generation.
Individually, Alfred Dardanne is mentioned in 1864 as being a ‘pharmacien’ in Paris, and it is probably he who founded Phospho-bébé, which became one of the largest cacao wholesalers in France in the late nineteenth century. That information
provided a circumstantial link to the Netherlands, with Amsterdam having long been the largest transshipment harbor for cacao. Alfred, who died in 1911, probably was the first generation cacao trader. His son Jean-Alfred succeeded him in the business, which changed its name to Phoscao. Both father and son are mentioned as ‘maire’ (mayor) of the IVth arrondissement in Paris from 1890 through approximately 1925. Jean-Alfred and his brother Georges also received an honorary mention in the Bulletin de la Société Archéologique de Bellac in 1913.
By the 1920s and ’30s the company is no longer mentioned with regard to one person, but simply as owned by Dardanne & fils. The family still resided and operated the factory in Paris at that time, but after Jean-Alfred died, probably about twenty to thirty years after his father, the family moved the company to the outskirts (Montrouge) of Paris in the aftermath of World War II. The heirs finally sold the company in 1972.
It is highly plausible that after they had gained their wealth in the 1870s, the Dardannes furnished their houses in the elegant style that would have been expected of them, and that the current pair of figures was purchased in that period. It would explain the fact that the pair seems to be unrecorded in the literature on Dutch Delftware, as most of the scholarship and writing on the subject did not appear until the late nineteenth century, continuing throughout the twentieth century, while the figures were among the Dardannes’ personal furnishings, innocently obscured from academic and public scrutiny. After the original owners, the subsequent generations presumably had neither curiosity nor knowledge about the rarity or possibly even the age or identity of the extraordinary pair of figures they had inherited. Apparently they also had no compunctions about separating the pair in 1978, and subsequently selling the figures individually at different times and in different venues.
If only these figures could speak. As is so often the case with the applied arts, the research will continue, but we cannot know if we shall ever discover the full history of the miraculous Dutch Delftware figures.
Please enjoy the especially prepared publication (available through our webshop in February 2015) and dream with us about the endless possibilities of what these figures have witnessed throughout their 325-year life. One thing is certain: there is no fulfillment of a dream with which I would rather have crowned my 25th anniversary in business.
Robert D. Aronson