Created between 1877 and 78 by the great French sculptor Paul Gustave Doré, this cast-bronze sculpture is officially titled “Poème de la Vigne,” or “Story of the Vine,” the vase depicting motifs related to the art of winemaking.
It’s an incredibly curious work, however. Cherubs cavort with spiders and moths in illicit configurations. Look closely at the details and a bizarre bacchanalia unfolds.
Left in a financial lurch after the sculptor’s death in 1883, the French foundry that cast the massive vessel shipped it to the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893, in an attempt to recoup their losses by charging admission to view it.
San Franciscan Michael de Young saw the vase in Chicago, fell in love with it, and arranged to have it displayed here as part of the 1894 California Midwinter International Exhibition. When the fair closed, de Young purchased the vase from the foundry for $11,000.
Over the years, the multi-ton vase has been relocated several times, now coming to rest in front of the new de Young Museum, housing the rest of Michael de Young’s amassed treasures.