Sunday, August 22, 2010

Paul et Virginie or Paul and Virginia in Decorative Arts

Sèvres plate from the Marli d'or service, given by the Emperor Napoleon to Prince Schwarzenberg, ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, in 1812
Paul carrying Virginie across a torrent

Paul And Virginia by Charles Paul Landon

Paul and Virginia is a title of a romance novel by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, first published in 1787 and an instant bestseller of great popular appeal. Paul and Virginia is one of my favorite romance novel's although it's not just a romance novel. The book touches on, Social classes, slavery, Love, religion and the Enlightenment. It is the story about a boy and girl who grow up together on a paradise island entirely according to nature's laws and fall in love with each other. The book echo beliefs of the Enlightenment and ideals of philosophers like Jean Jacques Rousseau. One interesting thing about the book is that the writer Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre writes himself in the book as the observer telling the story of Paul and Virginia. Saint-Pierre is depicted often in Engravings from the story lurking behind the scenes observing Paul & Virginia. If you have not read the book you should.

Paul and Virginia was very popular in it's day. French Queen Marie Antoinette owned a copy. It was the favorite book of Napoleon Bonaparte who said it spoke to his soul. During the last decade of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century Paul & Virginia inspired decorative arts in France, England & America. Scenes from the story were engraved in the late 18th century and from theses engravings artist created panting's, French hand blocked panoramic wallpaper was design, Porcelain figures of the subjects, Marble and bronze statues, Toile de Jouy fabric, painted and transferred scenes from the story show up on porcelain and pottery. Victor Massé wrote a very successful opera on the subject in 1876. During the Romantic period the rich evocation of exotic nature in the tropical setting of Mauritius and overly sentimental subject of the story was perfect for the arts in Louis Philippe France and early Victorian England & America. In modern times Paul and Virginia provided the inspiration for the film The Blue Lagoon, a hit song by Celine Dion and even a chain of luxury hotels on Mauritius, the island on which the tale takes place. We will explore some of the decorative arts of the 18th & 19th century that tell the great, classic story of Paul and Virginia.


Old Paris porcelain tray with painted grisaille of Paul et Virginie

Set of 18th century engravings In anéglomisé gilt-painted glass mat in giltwood frames

Paul et Virginie in grisaille wallpaper by Dufour 1824

Paul et Virginie Toile de Jouy

Paul et Virginie 1806 engraving

Paul et Virginie French clock ca 1800

Marie Françoise Caroline Vallée (active Paris, 19th Century) Reading from 'Paul et Virginie'

Pair of Charles X Paris porcelain vases finely painted after Bernardin de Saint Pierre's novel 'Paul et Virginie', the characters in tropical landscapes

Pair of Empire Paris porcelain vases one painted with Paul and Virginia in a cradle, the other with the infants standing by a well before there mothers

Pair of Copeland Parian Figures of Paul and Virginia, ca 1850

Pair of reverse paintings on glass “Paul and Virginia”, c.1840

NICOLAS-RENE JOLLAIN (PARIS 1732-1804) Paul et Virginie au berceau

Empire clock the figures on base of this clock are based on the novel 'Paul et Virginie'

18th & 19th c Paul et Virginie books from my collection

18th & 19th c Paul et Virginie books from my collection detail of miniature book

Carved marble mantle with scenes from Paul et Virginie by Fisher and Bird, New York, 1851

Carved marble mantle with scenes from Paul et Virginie by Fisher and Bird, New York, 1851

Carved marble mantle with scenes from Paul et Virginie by Fisher and Bird, New York, 1851

  Gilt brass Girandoles set with scenes from Paul et Virginie Possibly Corneliuss & Co., Philadelphia, ca 1851



  1. What collection is the Jollain painting in?

  2. I have an old copy of a painting from a serie of that book. But it is not nay of yours.

    Here is a link if you like to see.