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Bertrand de Lavergne

One of the few dealers specialising in Chinese snuff bottles and porcelaine, Bertrand de Lavergne is a member of the CNES (Chambre Nationale des Experts Spécialisés en objets d'art et de collection), the CNE (Compagnie Nationale des Experts en Art), the SNA (Syndicat National des Antiquaires), the ROCAD (Chambre Royale des Antiquaires de Belgique) and of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society. He is co-founder of the Association des Spécialistes de la Céramique de Collection. 

A gallery owner since 1985, in collaboration with Laurence Werlé (also a CNE expert) for 24 years, he has been exhibiting since 2015 in the heart of Paris, at 17 rue des Saints-Pères.

Could you begin by describing your background? Why did you specialise in Chinese Snuff bottles?

This year marks my 39th year as a dealer. I'll be celebrating 40 years as a dealer next year! But before becoming a dealer, I was a collector. I had accumulated so many works at home that my wife asked me to either sell or open a gallery. And that's what I did. 

My first acquisitions and sales of Chinese snuff bottles date back to the 1980s. There weren't many of us in Europe at the time: we had very little historical information about this speciality and very few reference works to guide us (especially when it came to datation). I went to Drouot to attend the sales of the auctioneer Viviane Jutheau, the first major French specialist in Chinese snuff bottles.

I opened my first gallery at the Louvre des Antiquaires in August 1985, initially selling snuff bottles as well as Chinese porcelain (particularly export porcelain). I stayed there for 30 years. I left my gallery when the Louvre des Antiquaires closed and opened a new one on rue des Saints-Pères in February 2015.


When I started out, there were a lot of fake stone objects on the market, and the dating of porcelain is much more accurate, so when I arrived at the Louvre des Antiquaires I avoided anything that wasn't porcelain. 

However, snuff bottles were made from every conceivable material: lacquer, jade, glass, agate, amber, ivory, mounted by Europeans... The Chinese even made snuff bottles with painted interiors, and there are still painters of this type in China today (I have exhibited Su Fengyi's work in my gallery). 

It was from 1989-1990 that I began to look for snuff bottles made from other materials and I extended my specialisation to all Chinese snuff bottles.

The trade in and study of snuff bottles was not very common for a long time. How did it first become popular?


It was a young Englishman, Hugh Moss, nephew of a major London gallery owner who was already a big name in Japanese art - and still is - who began to take an interest in it in 1965. He created a specialised magazine that sparked interest among collectors. In France, it was after the "Très précieuses tabatières chinoises" exhibition at the Arcade Chaumet in 1982 that the interest caught on and collectors began to collect these little bottles.


Rock crystal snuff bottle, painted on the inside

Zhong Kui, the demon tamer, riding a mule accompanied by two demons and escorting his sister seated on a chariot. She is accompanied by three other demons, one of whom is carrying folded umbrellas and the other a pot from which five bats are escaping, symbolising the five joys. This procession is on its way to Zhong Kui's wedding. 

China, painted in the Apricot Grove workshop, signed Ye Zhongsan and dated 1919. 

Height: 5.9 cm

Provenance: Robert Hall, France

Grey banded agate stopper.

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You were involved in setting up the Association des Spécialistes de la Céramiste de Collection. Could you tell us more about it?


We founded this association with Christian Béalu, Vincent L'Herrou (Théorème gallery) and Pierre-Richard Royer at the end of the 1990s. All four of us are specialists in ancient ceramics. Our aim was to promote ceramics by organising an annual fair, which for a long time was held at the Hôtel Dassault. But the market went through a difficult period, which made organising a fair complicated: there were only about fifteen of us, whereas it's generally considered that you need at least 20 to 30 exhibitors to have a good event. That's why we decided to create the Parcours de la Céramique, which takes place in our galleries. It's an opportunity to bring out some beautiful pieces for collectors and curators from all over the world.

Is there a sale that has stood out in your career?


I sold a Ming-era porcelain salt shaker dating from the end of the 16th century that I'd acquired by total happenstance. It was a beautiful object, of which there are very few, as salt was rarely used in Europe (a very expensive luxury product at the time).  

I've sold a lot to museums, notably the Musée de la Compagnie des Indes in Lorient and the Musée des Arts décoratifs de l'Océan Indien in Saint-Louis. Reunion Island (formerly Bourbon Island) was a stopover for the ships of the Compagnie des Indes from the 16th to the 18th century, and its museum houses a large collection of furniture, textiles, silverware and porcelain, illustrating the maritime traffic and trade networks between East and West.

Which porcelain object or set would you recommend seeing?


The Musée de la Compagnie des Indes in Lorient houses Mr Hervouët's collection, one of the most important collection in the world of Chinese porcelain with Western decoration, which became widespread from the reign of Kangxi (1662-1722), when Europeans commissioned numerous pieces with coats of arms and pieces made in Chinese porcelain based on paintings by famous European artists.

A "Famille verte" dish porcelain of gadrooned form, the border in accolades, with the coat of arms of the Kingdom of France bearing the inscription "FRANKRYK" in Dutch, executed after European goldsmith's designs. On the rim are twelve petal-shaped lotus reserves containing alternating Chinese figures in landscapes and flowering vases. China, Kangxi period (1662-1722), circa 1710-1715. 

Reference: "Hybrids. Porcelaines chinoises aux armoiries territoriales européennes", catalogue of the exhibition held at the Musée national d'histoire et d'art du Luxembourg from 15 February to 06 April 2003.

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Polychrome enamelled porcelain plate decorated with an allegory of the Earth based on a circular painting from the "Four Elements" series, painted by Francesco Albani in 1635. It depicts Cybele, mother of the gods and the universe, and the three most pleasant seasons: spring, summer and autumn. Spring appears in the guise of Flora, who is also represented by little cherubs picking flowers and crowning a young girl with them; Ceres, the emblem of summer, commands children to carry out various harvest tasks; Bacchus represents autumn, with cherubs picking grapes and fruit. 

China, circa 1745. 

Similar piece: Hervouët, n°13-95, p. 319.

What do you consider to be the best reference works on the subject? 


For snuff bottles, the seven volumes of the Bloch collection by Hugh Moss, Ka Bo Tsang and Victor Graham, which catalogues Chinese snuff bottles in all their different materials. But this work is in English and has never been translated into French. In French, we have Bob Stevens' book, translated in 1980, and Viviane Jutheau's Guide du collectionneur de tabatières chinoises, which for a long time was the only French work in the field. 

For Chinese porcelain, Mr Hervouët's book, which lists all the Western designs on Chinese porcelain, is a must. It is also an important reference for museums and collectors.

What's your artistic passion?

One of my original passions, apart from snuff bottles, was European prints from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I started collecting them on a personal level, but they were quite expensive, which limited my ambitions. The market was more open for Chinese porcelain, which was more affordable.

An exhibition that stood out for you?


The exhibition "China. The three Emperors, 1662 - 1795", which took place in 2005-2006 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. It displayed the personal collections of the three major emperors of the Qing dynasty: Kangxi (r. 1662-1722), Yongzheng (r. 1723 - 1735) and Qianlong (r. 1736-1795). It was a magnificent exhibition: you had the sensation of stepping into the intimacy of the emperors and living with the extraordinary pieces they used on a daily basis. This exhibition was also presented at the Louvre, but in a much smaller version. 

What are your future plans?


To continue doing this job that I love, for as long as possible!


Find out more: 


Galerie Bertrand de Lavergne

17 rue des Saints-Pères

75006 Paris


  • Viviane Jutheau, Guide du collectionneur de tabatières chinoises, Paris : Éditions Denoël, 1980

  • Hugh Moss, Victor Graham et Ka Bo Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles – The Mary and George Bloch Collection, Hong Kong: Herald International, 1998

  • François and Nicole Hervouët, Yves Bruneau, La Porcelaine des Compagnies des Indes à décor occidental, Paris : Flammarion, 1986

  • Bob C. Stevens, Les tabatières chinoises – Le guide du collectionneur, Société française du livre Paris / Office du livre Fribourg, 1980


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