Rockefeller Collection: Chinese Export Porcelain and Napoleon I Dessert Service

‘The Sale of the Century’ offers over 1500 pieces from the Estate of David Rockefeller at Christie’s New York next week. There will be seven sales covering 19th and 20th century art, English and European Furniture, Fine Art, Art of America, Travel and Americana.

The Value has invited Becky MacGuire, Senior Specialist of Chinese Export Art to introduce two highlights from English & European Furniture, Ceramics and Decorations.

A Chinese Export 'Rockefeller Pattern' Assembled Dinner Service
Jiaqing Period, Circa 1805

Lot no.: 161
7 pieces, covers and stands:

  • Estate of Lucy Truman Aldrich, Providence, Rhode Island, acquired 1955.
  • 20 pieces, covers and stands: 
  • Acquired from Alexandre Popoff, Paris, July 1956.

58 pieces:

  • With J. Rochelle Thomas, London.
  • With John D. Rockefeller Jr., New York, 1927-60. 
  • Estate of John D. Rockefeller Jr., acquired May 1963.

62 pieces: 

  • With American Art Association, Brummer Gallery, New York.
  • With J.A. Lloyd Hyde, New York.
  • With John D. Rockefeller Jr., New York, 1932-60. 
  • Estate of John D. Rockefeller Jr., acquired May 1963.

13 pieces: 

  • Yamanaka, New York.
  • John D. Rockefeller Jr., New York. 
  • Estate of John D. Rockefeller Jr., acquired May 1963.

8 pieces: 

  • Acquired from Morton’s Auction and Exchange, New Orleans, February 1982, lots 925-29.

Estimate: US$100,000 - 150,000

Becky MacGuire, Senior Specialist of Chinese Export Art

MacGuire: We brought to Hong Kong two pieces from a larger dinner service that was in the Rockefeller collection for two generations. The pattern is now known in the West as ‘Rockefeller’ pattern. It’s one of the greatest patterns of the end of the China trade, made in 1805, with the rich gilding, the Chinese scenes on each piece are completely unique. For there are 184 pieces in this dinner service. Every single scene is different.

Q: What was the production of the dinner service?

MacGuire: The porcelain itself is made at Jingdezhen in the heart of China. That’s where the white clays were. The Chinese developed the techniques of making hard, white, high-fired porcelain. No one in the world knew how to do this, except the Chinese. Until several decades in the 18th century when Europeans finally discover the secret. Partly because French Jesuits had travelled to Jingdezhen. They studied the process and written in their journals.

MacGuire: The enamelling of the porcelain developed as an industry in Guangzhou. That was closer to where the European traders were. It was easier to command the decoration you wanted. The shape of the dinner service tended to be Western by this time. Chinese would produce the shape of the Western trading company wanted for use in their dining rooms back in Europe and America in 18th century or early 19th century. All kinds of things made to Western taste. So the final step in the enameling was done in Canton workshop and then the pieces were fired again at a much lower temperature to fuse the enamel onto the surface.

Q: Is there a growing interest for export Chinese porcelain in the market?

MacGuire: There is quite a strong community of collectors of Chinese export art in the Mainland China, Hong Kong and other overseas Chinese. I think it becomes a fascination just like it did to Westerners. The dialogue it reflects between the Eastern culture and the Western culture. You see the mix of Chinese decoration with Western shapes. Interesting influences going from one direction to the other and then back again.

The 'Marly Rouge' Service: A Sevres Porcelain Dessert Service Made for Napoleon I
Circa 1807-09

Lot no.: 118

  • Ordered for Napoleon 1er at the château de Compiègne but delivered to Fontainebleau, 11 October 1809. 
  • Acquired by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. 
  • Bequest to Laurance S. Rockefeller, 1948. 
  • Acquired from the Estate of Laurance S. Rockefeller, 11 July 2004.

Estimate: US$150,000 - 250,000

MacGuire: We have three pieces from the Rockefeller collection that belong to a dessert service. It was made at the famous Royal French porcelain service factory of Sèvres. It was made specifically for Napoleon and was delivered to him in 1809 at the beautiful palace of Fontainebleau.


Q: How important it was to Napoleon I?

MacGuire: Napoleon particularly loved Fontainebleau. He used dinner service there. It has symbols of power like the fantastic eagle heads on the handles of the pair of sugar bowls and covers. It also reflects a keen interest in the natural world. That was prevalent in Europe at the time. These beautiful butterflies and insects, beautiful bouquet of spring flowers.

MacGuire: This dessert service was one of the possessions that Napoleon chose to take with him when five years after he received it, he was exiled to Elba. They are special to him. We wonder if that’s because he enjoyed Fontainebleau with Empress Joséphine and he had feeling of nostalgia and sentiment for that time of his life.

Auction details

Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: English & European Furniture, Ceramics and Decorations, Part I
Sale date: 9/5/2018|10pm