Attributed to Johann Matthias Jansen
Potsdam, circa 1780
On the edge of each base an 18th century hand writing label (partly missing on gentleman’s one) is inscribed “Mr [et] Madame Cintre (?)”.
Loss to elytra and mother-of-pearl particularly on gentleman’s left arm and lady’s dress back.
Johann Matthias Jansen was at the same time History painter, portrait painter and a well-known decorator. He was born in Potsdam in 1751. For three years he was pupil to Potsdam painter, engraver and architect Andreas Ludwig Krüger and also studied after the paintings of the royal gallery in Potsdam. At the age of 19, he went to Vienna and then to Rome in 1771 where he stayed two years in the Accademia di San Luca. In 1773, he went to Paris and became pupil to Pierre-Alexandre Wille.
In 1775, following a request from Frederick the Great he returned to Potsdam and then to Berlin where he devoted himself to History painting and portrait. In 1781, he began his career as a painter for theatre decoration. In 1790, he was sent to Konigsberg in order to create a royal provincial school of art and drawing where he was the director until his death in 1794. He also realized the decorations of the Konigsberg theatre and his last work was the stage set for Mozart’s Magic Flute.
This type of figure covered with shells and mother-of-pearl is typical of Jansen’s work, especially when he was working in Potsdam and Berlin. Several panels showing figures in relief using the same technique are known: a pair of pastoral scenes in the Bernheimer collection (Lempertz Cologne, November 14, 2003, lot 708), a pair of musicians in the Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé collection (Christie's Paris, February 25, 2009, lot 646) and another pair of pastoral scenes in a private collection. Finally, a large standing boy with a nest sold in 2014 at Vanderkindere in Brussels (September 10, lot 285) is even closer to our couple in an obvious way.
However, the carved wood frame of our figures instead of terracotta and the unusual and colorful addition of beetle elytra require us to be careful while attributing this couple to Jansen.
For example, the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum in Brunswick (inv. Kos 688) preserves a peacock, a rooster and a hen whose size and technique of wood covered with green elytra and small shells are identical to our figures. These three birds appear in 18th century inventories along with a multicolored glass bead parrot by Johann Michael Van Selow. Although best known for his glass bead compositions, Van Selow praises his shell sculptures in one of his advertisements. Again, nothing allows us to say with certainty that he could have been the author of his birds and therefore of our two characters.