Ronald L. Winokur, "An Ostrich Egg Painted by Le Bel and Mounted by Gouthière" in "Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts", vol. LV, 1977, pp. 157-60, discussing a similar painted ostrich egg by Lebel on a slightly later mount by Pierre Gouthière in the Detroit Institute of Art.
A very rare pair of Louis XV gilt bronze mounted polychrome-painted ostrich eggs attributed to Lebel, each egg decorated in le style Pillement to include chinoiserie figures, one holding a parasol and another a banner while another fishes as she stands in a stylised shell, with pagodas, trellis work and leafy bowers to include a monkey, exotic insects and birds, each egg surmounted by a stylised gilt bronze orange within a foliate ring and supported on a gilt bronze palm leaf cup and stand surrounded by three pineapples upon three tortoises on a tripartite foliate pierced base decorated with seed pods on three feet formed as oranges amid foliage
Paris, date circa 1760
Height 37.5 cm, width 18 cm. each.
Eighteenth century painted ostrich eggs are extremely rare; those that have survived all seem to have a link to the French royal family and were painted by Lebel. Among them was one in Louis XV's collection that was exhibited in Paris at the Académie de Saint-Luc in August 1774, which caused one critic to describe the compositions as "vives, animées, d'un coloris agreeable et d'une touché facile". The latter was later in the collection of George Blumenthal (sold, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, December 2nd 1932, lot 76) and is now in the Detroit Institute of Art. As a reflection of the egg's importance the slightly later Neo-classical gilt bronze stand was made by the celebrated bronzier Pierre Gouthière (1732-1813).
The identity of Lebel has posed a slight mystery but according to an article by Martin Eidelberg ("Apollo", 1st September 2004), based on a paper by Ronald L. Winokur concerning the mounted ostrich egg in the Detroit Institute of Art he was Clement Louis Marie Anne Lebel (d. 1806). Lebel or Le Bel, who also painted porcelain was referred to when in April 1760 Monsieur de la Roche interceded with the Marquis de Marigny in the latter's capacity as the directeur général des Bâtiments to obtain a privilège du roi for Lebel. He noted that "ce garçon est sage et a du talent; le Roy a trouvé ses oeufs très jolyement peints". To support his application, Lebel painted an egg with four verses presumably praising the King. C. Baulez also notes that Lebel had been painting eggs for the King since 1750; these eggs all came from ostriches that were kept in the royal menagerie at Versailles and may well have been presented as Easter gifts which would the scarcity of extant examples.
Another eighteenth century painted ostrich egg is in the Petit Trianon at Château de Versailles which was recently shown at the exhibition 'Versailles deux siècles d'histoire de l'art', and discussed in the catalogue, pp. 248-249. Originally one of a pair, (the pendant having been broken between 1839 and 1854), it is signed E Lebel and painted with a scêne champêtre and rests on a rosewood stand mounted in ivory turned by Madame Adélaïde. Madame Adélaïde then gave it to her father Louis XV and subsequently it was chosen by Louis XVI for his appartements intérieures at Versailles.
The only other known decorated eggs include one with similar decoration almost certainly by Lebel but fitted with a slightly later gilt bronze mounting, which was in the collection of Sigismond Bardac and then sold in Paris at Galerie Georges Petit, May 10-11th 1920, lot 21 where interestingly it was sold as part of the collection of paintings and not part of the decorative art collection. Another painted ostrich egg was in the Veil-Picard collection in Paris (as noted in the Blumenthal catalogue) while a pair was with Maurice Ségoura in 2002.
The chinoiserie decoration on these eggs was inspired by the work of Jean Baptiste Pillement (1728-1808), whose imaginative Rococo designs were engraved and exerted a considerable influence on other artists. Specifically the monkey would appear to be taken directly from the title page of his "A New Book of Chinese Ornaments", published in London in 1757; the bearded man holding a parasol and a number of the birds are also taken from the same publication. This decoration in combination with the fanciful and exotic ormolu base combine to support the possibility that these eggs are the earliest extant painted examples of this type recorded to date.