This month, our museum feature is one of our most unique, six pieces of rare porcelain produced at the famous Sevres manufactory near Paris, France. Our research staff has dated these pieces to approximately 1764, and they include two luncheon plates, to compotes, and two footed cake plates. Each piece is decorated with a color palette featuring bright bright pink on whiteware.
As is the tradition with 18th century Sevres porcelain, each of these pieces is noted for hand-painted flowers, heavy gold ornamentation, and hand-rendered images of the French royal family. The compotes feature King Louis XIII and King Louis XIV, France’s “Sun King.” The compotes stand 5 1/2" tall and are 9 1/2" in diameter. The footed cake plates are 1 3/4" tall and 8 3/4" in diameter, with the first bearing the picture of Ann of Austria, King Louis XIII’s wife. Unfortunately, we have to date been unable to identify the lady on the second footed cake plate. The luncheon plates feature images of the Duchess of Maine and the Duchess of Bourgogne, and are 9 1/4" in diameter.
Servres Porcelain Compote
All of these pieces are believed to have been produced at a period in time when conditions for revolution in France were born. King Louis XIII and Louis XIV ruled between 1610 and 1715 and during this period, the French empire was greatly expanded. King Louis XIV became known as the “Sun king” because of the art, literature, architecture, and successful military campaigns that would come to define his reign. Unfortunately, it is during the rule of Kings Louis XIII and XIV that many historians believe the foundations for the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror were laid. Military campaigns are costly and so are palaces decorated with certain forms of rare porcelain. These costs were born disproportionately by the French citizenry over an extended period of time, leading to significant unrest, and ultimately, overthrow of the French monarchy.
Many collectors of Sevres refer to it as “Vincennes” porcelain as originally the Sevres factory was part of the Chateau de Vincennes. The factory opened in 1738 and its hand-painted and heavily gilded wares were destined for the tables of French nobility. As long as the Vincennes Factory produced wares for the monarchy, it was able to maintain exclusive rights to production of fine porcelain in France. The goal of the Vincennes Factory as well as that of the French monarchy was to produce tablewares that could rival or surpass Germany’s Meissen products. As the popularity of the Vincennes factory wares increased, it was necessary to relocate to larger production facilities. The factory at Vincennes was moved to Sevres on the outskirts of Paris near Versailles in 1756.
Serves Porcelain Luncheon Plate
The French nobility under Louis XIII and Louis XIV were dedicated patrons of Sevres. Louis XV invested heavily in the factory and eventually acquired outright ownership of it in 1759. Louis XV believed that he alone was the best ambassador for not only Sevres, but for all French porcelain! Louis XV was well traveled and touted the beauty of Sevres wherever he went. Things improved further for Sevres when kaolin, a rich white clay best suited for the production of luxury tablewares, was located near Limoges, France. Until that time, kaolin was imported from Austria.
Things rapidly took a turn for the worse with the beginning of the French Revolution. The nobility who had so cherished the works of the Sevres Factory began fleeing France in 1789. Leaders of the revolution saw Sevres porcelain as a symbol of the monarchy and therefore, a symbol of the material excesses of French nobility. This was especially true of pieces similar to the museum items we are featuring here. During the French Revolution, many pieces of Sevres porcelain were destroyed. King Louis XVI went to the guillotine on January 21, 1793 and his wife, Marie Antoinette, met the same demise on October 16, 1793.
Serves Footed Cake Plate
Despite the anarchy that gripped France during the revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror, there were still those who understood that Sevres was a symbol for France’s greatness. In 1798, Sevres became a public holding of the French government. Times being what they were, Sevres stopped relying on what was left of the nobility of France for revenue. They began producing pieces that had broad appeal and could be purchased by almost anyone. As Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power, he sought to restore the greatness of Sevres. Napoleon loved opulent art done in the Empire style and Sevres was the perfect choice for his grandiose tastes. Sevres continued to flourish throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
Today, Sevres pieces are some of the most highly sought after and rare in the world, and the company has remained an arbiter of tableware vogue for more than two centuries. If you would like to see our collection of Sevres porcelain, along with many of more interesting pieces in our museum, please plan to come visit us! Our Showroom and Museum are open from 9am to 7pm ET, 7 days a week (except holidays). The Showroom and Museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!