Google search results often serve up unexpected things – for good or ill – and I had just such an occurrence earlier this year while looking for something completely unrelated. It was a porcelain bust of an aristocratic lady, identified only as being by “Paul Duboy.” As often happens, one search leads to another and before long I was looking at quite a few other examples, all quite intricately decorated and completely unfamiliar to me. So I did what any good Googler would do, which was to research the name.
Unfortunately Google promptly fell down on the job and provided only the sketchiest of background. The Paul Duboy responsible for the lovely porcelains was French, was born in 1830, entered the Ecole Nationale de Beaux Arts in 1849 at the age of 19, exhibited his work regularly at the Paris Salon from 1853 to 1882, and died in 1887 at the age of 57. And that’s it; the poor fellow doesn’t even have a Wiki entry! He is not the same person as another Paul Duboy (also spelled Dubois) of roughly the same era (1829-1905) who worked in bronze and was also an architect; he, on the other hand, does have a Wiki page.
But whatever his life story, he certainly produced some interesting things. Here is a selection of some that I found, often in various colorways as well as white bisque porcelain and even occasionally in terracotta.
This is the bust that first caught my eye. It is just slightly less than 23″ high.
This bust is very similar but on examination it differs in several respects. It’s interesting to compare the plain white Parian porcelain with the painted version. She is the same height (23″) as her “sister sculpture.”
Here the lady wears a stylish plumed hat and ornate necklace; this bust is larger, at 28.5″ high and 15″ wide. It has the incised signature Paul Duboy SC and also A & L. The base of the fourth (pastel colors) example is decorated with a floral design instead of being a solid color.
Similar but not the same (and looking in the opposite direction), the pink-hatted version’s base is decorated with a nesting bird; the blue-hatted version’s base sports a fan. The dimensions and the incised markings are the same as the foregoing bust.
This young lady with flower-bedecked ringlets came in a pink as well as blue colorway. She is 21″ high and 10″ wide. The one in the blue colorway was described as being “stamped Shreve Crump and Low Boston” on the reverse, but there was no photo of it. Was this an inkstamp or an incised stamp?? Shreve Crump and Low is one of the oldest jewelry stores in America but they did not use that precise name until 1869. Was this piece made specifically for them on commisson?
Just as the others shown, here there is also a companion(?) piece in the opposite orientation. Neither one mentioned markings or stamps in their descriptions.
Is it just me, or does this young lady look rather annoyed? A member of the bourgeoise rather than the aristocracy, her cap makes her a bit shorter than the others shown… about 21″-22″ high. All three examples have an incised date of 1873 along with the Paul Duboy name. The one with the pale mauve scarf was noted as being “secured to a later round custom walnut foot.”
This bust seems to portray a lady of slightly more mature years – to my eyes, at least. This piece is just shy of being 19″ high.
These probably weren’t originally intended as a pair even though they were sold together at auction. Unfortunately no dimensions were given for either piece. Notice how different the country girl (waitress?) looks when produced in the more intense colors and finished with a high glaze.
On the other hand, this lord and lady do look as if they were designed together. The lady’s collar and man’s ruff give both a decidedly Elizabethan-era style. Unfortunately the lord has some fingers missing (a dueling accident, no doubt!) They are both 14″-15″ high.
These, too, look to be a good match. They are about 19″ high. It’s interesting to see the very different effect between the white bisque and decorated versions. Both of these examples have missing and/or repaired fingers; was that a notorious problem with these sculptures??
Yet another pair of companion pieces, with the cavalier clearly in need of a refill of his beverage! These are about 14″ high, similar to the ‘lord and lady’ in the second example above. The seller of this pair noted that they were both signed Paul Duboy and also had “a raised applied porcelain mark which looks like a head in sunrays in an oval cartouche.” Intrigued by this, I looked through 22 pages of French marks at OldandSold.com to see if anything matched that description; the only match was a sun-face (no cartouche) which was the mark of the Sevres painter Fritsch. However, the dates do not match because Fritsch worked there only in 1763 and 1764 – more than 60 years before Paul Duboy was born!
This pair looks rather Elizabethan, or perhaps Early Stuart, to me. They are 22″ high and have an ornate heraldic device on their bases. The gentleman reminds me vaguely of a well-known classic movie actor, but I can’t place the name; Errol Flynn, perhaps?
“After” Paul Duboy
Naturally the Duboy style had imitators. This figure of a young man was designated as being “after Paul Duboy.” Its age and sculptor are unknown.
At least one of the pieces in this auction listing does appear from the photo to be one of the “plumed hat lady” busts shown above. However, the seller described the lot as: A near pair of of bisque porcelain busts. Cast after a model by Paul Duboy. Finely painted in vibrant colours…with various marks to the bases. French, 19th century. Obviously if these were actual Duboy pieces they should have been marked as such. Both are large, about 26″ high.
An example of the incised Paul Duboy signature. Many that I have seen do not have the SC following, and some do not have the stop(s)/period either.
Another example, this time from one of the “annoyed peasant girl” busts. This one suggests that the “sc.” in the other format may be a further-abbreviated form of “sculp(tor)”.
Although Monsieur Duboy’s personal story is shrouded in mystery, his beautifully detailed porcelain sculptures still remain well worth looking at (and seeking out, if one’s budget allows!)