French Porcelain for English Palaces
I have been working remarkably hard lately, both at my law practice and on the edits of For The King, so I allowed myself an afternoon off. All the more appropriate that this was the first fine weather day of this harsh English summer.
The Queen’s Gallery, with its exhibition on Sèvres porcelain in the British royal collections, seemed an excellent destination. Of course, like every 18th century afficionada, I love Sèvres, but this vastly exceeded my expectations. Indeed some of the pieces on display are unique, like this table (detail to the left) commissioned by Napoléon. It is called la table des Grands Capitaines, and the porcelain top features great military commanders, represented here in a stunning imitation of antique calcedony cameos.
After the restoration of the Bourbons, this particular work was given by Louis XVIII to the Regent, future King George IV as a token of gratitude. I am not an enthusiast of the Empire style in terms of decorative arts, but this is probably the most stunning porcelain artifact I have ever seen. The Regent – rightly – considered it one of his treasures.
Most of the objects on display were purchased by him, for this complex and puzzling character was a passionate collector of Sèvres through his entire life. He had agents in France on the lookout for any interesting pieces. And what pieces! For instance, a pair of vases imitating the deep blue color and gold flecks of lapis lazuli, flanked by gilded swans and reeds.
The exhibition also provides good background information on the history of Sèvres. On the verge of bankruptcy, the manufacture was saved from ruin in the 1750s by Louis XV and its style totally rejuvenated by his favorite, Madame de Pompadour. It became the Manufacture Royale de Sèvres. To this day it remains State-owned. For information on visits and purchases, see here. One of the most surprising aspects of its history is that, far from sinking into oblivion during the French Revolution, it reached the peak of its technical achievements then. For instance, the beautiful black backgrounds decorated in gold and platinum (an innovation, chosen to replace the easily tarnished silver applications) date from this period.
To conclude this enthusiastic endorsement of this show, here is a set of chinoiserie vases first purchased by Marie-Antoinette in 1779.
Until October 11, 2009. The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.