Sèvres in London

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on July 31, 2009
Joanna Gwilt is Assistant Curator of Works of Art at the Royal Collection. Formerly of the Wallace Collection she specialises in French eighteenth-century decorative arts, in particular Sèvres porcelain.

200 pages, 185 ills. Joanna Gwilt is Assistant Curator of Works of Art at the Royal Collection. Formerly of the Wallace Collection, she specialises in French eighteenth-century decorative arts, in particular Sèvres porcelain.

From the website of the British Royal Collection:

23 May — 11 October 2009
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace — London

French Porcelain for English Palaces:
Sèvres from the Royal Collection

This exhibition brings together around 300 pieces created by the pre-eminent European porcelain factory of the 18th century. The finely painted and gilded works by Sèvres were loved by royalty, aristocrats, connoisseurs and collectors. The factory’s unrivalled techniques and complex methods of production appealed to their liking for the rare, exotic and extravagant.

The assemblage of Sèvres in the Royal Collection is considered to be the world’s finest.  Much of it was acquired between 1783 and 1830 by George IV, who popularised the taste for French porcelain in Britain. The King’s choice of Sèvres was greatly influenced by his admiration for and extensive knowledge of France and the French royal family. The French Revolution brought on to the market a vast quantity of furniture, porcelain and other works of art that had been the property of the French Crown and France’s erstwhile ruling classes, and there was an active trade in souvenirs of the old political and social system.

Sèvres Flower vase,  c.1760 (Royal Collection 36073)

Sèvres Flower Vase, c.1760 (RCIN 36073). The Royal Collection ©2009. The cuvette Mahon is named to commemorate the seizure by the French of the British-held port of Mahon on the island of Menorca in May 1756, at the start of the Seven Years War between France and England (1756-63). The painted scene depicting peasants drinking – one of whom stands brandishing an empty pitcher in the direction of a serving wench – may be inspired by a detail taken from "La Quatrième Fête Flamande," engraved by Philippe Le Bas (1707-83) after David Teniers the Younger.

Among the highlights of the exhibition are a garniture of three vases first bought by Marie-Antoinette and recently reunited through an acquisition by Her Majesty The Queen; a vase that was probably bought by Louis XV’s mistress Madame du Barry and is decorated with a youthful profile of the French king, and the Table of the Grand Commanders, which was made for Napoleon and given to George IV by Louis XVIII.

Sèvres suited George IV’s taste for lavish and colourful decoration, particularly at his London residence Carlton House. In 1783, at the age of 21, he made his first purchase from the factory and continued to buy as Prince of Wales, Regent and King. He bought ornamental vases to place on chimneypieces and furniture in the richly decorated principal rooms of Carlton House. Pieces were often grouped together by colour, shape or painted decoration. George IV also followed the French practice of displaying practical tablewares, such as broth basins and déjeneurs (tea sets), as bibelots or trinkets. To this day, dinner services bought by George IV continue to be used for State Banquets and ceremonial occasions.

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[Text and photos from the exhibition website; information on the Flower Vase, as presented on the Royal Collection site, is adapted from the catalogue, French Porcelain for English Palaces, Sèvres from the Royal Collection (London, 2009). Historical-fiction author Catherine Delors includes an informal review on her website, usefully noting that Sèvres remains an active state-owned manufacture of porcelain.]

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