Sevres soft-paste porcelain is highly sought after, widely imitated, and deliriously beautiful. Viewing a few is the perfect way to celebrate the tail end of spring.
French King Louis XV, perhaps inspired by his rumored relationship with mistress Madame de Pompadour, took an intense interest in porcelain and established his newly acquired porcelain operation in 1756 to the Paris suburb of Sevres. Sevres was also conveniently near the home of Madame de Pompadour and the King’s own Palace at Versailles.
From the outset the king’s clear aim was to produce Sevres Porcelain that surpassed the established Saxony works of Meissen and Dresden. Though the French lacked an ample supply of kaolin, a required ingredient for hard-paste porcelain (pate dure), their soft-paste porcelain (pate tendre) was fired at a lower temperature and was thus compatible with a wider variety of colors and glazes that in many cases were also richer and more vivid. Unglazed white Sevres Porcelain “biscuit” figurines were also a great success. However, soft-paste Sevres Porcelain was more easily broken. Therefore, early pieces of Sevres Porcelain that remain intact have become rare indeed.
The Sevres Porcelain manufactory always seemed to be in dire financial straits despite the incredibly fine works it produced. In fact, the king’s insistence that only the finest items be created may have contributed to the difficulties. Only a limited number of European nobility could afford the extravagant prices demanded for such works. King Louis XV and eventually his heir, the ill-fated Louis XVI, were obliged to invest heavily in the enterprise. Ultimately, the Sevres Procelain Factory produced items under the name of “Royal” and thus the well-known Sevres Mark was born. King Louis XV even mandated laws that severely restricted other porcelain production in France so as to retain a near monopoly for his Sevres Porcelain. The king even willingly became chief salesman for the finest of his products, hosting an annual New Year’s Day showing for French nobility in his private quarters at Versailles. He eagerly circulated among potential buyers, pitching the merits of ownership and policing the occasional light-fingered guest. Source: antique-china-porcelain-collectibles.com
(Above) Sevres 18th Century
This potpourri “vaisseau” (vessel) in the shape of a ship is decorated with a rose bottom and Chinese ornamentation. The shape was created by Jean-Claude Duplessis while the decoration was painted by Charles-Nicolas Dodin. This object, which was a part of the chimney of Madame de Pompadour’s room at the hotel d’ Evreux, is emblematic of the Rococo period and the Chinoiserie style. And you can see it at the Louvre. Source: The Lessing Photo Archive
The model for this vase, still preserved at the Sèvre manufactory, is labeled “vase à cartels, modèle de Hébert” (T. J. Hébert was an 18th-century art dealer). The harbor scene is by J. L. Morin. The “bleu lapis” ground color has been gilded in a “caillouté,” or pebbled pattern. Source: Walters Art Museum
(Above) Potpourri (Pot-Pourri “Gondole”)
Modeler: Jean-Claude Duplessis (active 1748–74)
Figure decoration attributed to Charles-Nicholas Dodin (active 1754–1803)
Medium: Soft-paste porcelain
Source: Metropolitan Museum, New York
(Above) Pair of Potpourri Vases
Designer: Jean-Claude Duplessis le Père (French and Italian, ca. 1695-1774)
Decorator: Charles Nicolas Dodin (French, 1734-1803) (?)
Date (Period): ca. 1761
Medium: soft-paste porcelain with enamel and gilt
Measurements: 12 in. (30.5 cm)
This pair of scent vases, which was intended to hold myrtle leaves, is in a robin’s egg blue found in other works from 1761. The Chinese scenes painted in the reserves are attributed to Charles Nicolas Dodin and are unused in that they may have been inspired by an Oriental prototype.
Marquise de Pompadour; Etienne-Francois de Choiseul-Stainville, duc de Choiseul (1719-1785) [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; Sale, Paris, February 18, 1793, no. 338 [as recorded by Ennès 1997, pg.77]; Collection of E. Chappey, Paris [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; Collection of E. Chappey Sale, Paris, May 1907, no. 1106; E. M. Hodgkins Collection, Paris, no. 2 [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; A. Seligmann, Rey and Co., New York; Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1928, by purchase; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest. Source: Walters Art Museum
(Above) Pair of Paris porcelain Potpourri decorated with garlands of flowers, enriched with gold foliage on a red background. They rest on four lion paws, the handles represent heads of old men, and the collar is pierced.