The Beauty of Sèvres Porcelain

An ormolu mounted Sèvres porcelain potpourri vase and cover, circa 1780
An ormolu mounted Sèvres porcelain potpourri vase and cover, circa 1780

Beautiful objects have the power to transform our lives and lift our spirits and examples of Sèvres porcelain, particularly from the 18th century, fall into this category.

The French porcelain factory which became Sèvres began at Vincennes in 1738. The French nobleman Orry de Fulvy employed the runaway workers, Gilles and Robert Dubois, from Chantilly at the chateaux Vincennes, near Paris. In 1745 a company was formed and King Louis XV granted a royal privilege granting Vincennes an exclusive right to make porcelain decorated with figures and gilding. The privilege even prevented Vincennes workers being employed elsewhere.

In 1756 the manufactory was moved to new buildings at Sèvres. Success in making hard-paste porcelain of the type produced by Meissen and the Chinese remained elusive despite large sums of money being paid, often to false arcanists. In 1769 they achieved their goal, though little hard paste porcelain was made until 1772. Those pieces that were, were marked with interlaced L’s beneath a crown. The interlaced L mark was used at Sèvres in various forms until 1793.

The ormolu mounted Sèvres porcelain potpourri vase and cover dating from around 1780 with its pale green pointillé ground body, reserved to each side with gilt edged frames enclosing still lifes of gardening tools and utensils is painted in the style of André-Vincent Vielliard pêre (1717-1790) who was recorded at both Vincennes and Sèvres as a painter of figures, landscapes, patterns and flowers.

The ormolu mounts are in the style of artist and designer Jean Claude Thomas Chambellan Duplessis (c.1730-1783). The exquisitely modelled swan handles with outstretched wings beneath the pierced ormolu neck and the pierced rococo foliate scroll ormolu base add to the richness of this small jewel like piece.

A Sèvres porcelain plateau carré, circa 1758
A Sèvres porcelain plateau carré, circa 1758

The Sèvres porcelain plateau carré is earlier dating from around 1758. It is painted by André-Vincent Vielliard pêre in pink with a scene of a young girl in a garden. The blue border is delicately overlaid with gilt stippled coral branches, beneath a pierced Vitruvian scroll rim heightened in blue and gilt. Marked to the base with typically enamelled blue interlaced ‘L’s, it also bore the artist’s monogram.

Both pieces were sold in Toovey’s specialist auctions of English and European Ceramics. Prices for examples of this quality range from the high hundreds into the thousands of pounds.

It seems to me that it is part of our human purpose to make beauty in the world and it is right, therefore, that we should celebrate it.

“There is a Joy to Tin Glazed Delft Ware”

A Queen Anne English Delft charger decorated in the Chinese Transitional taste.

Tin glazed earthenware describes the method of decorating fine quality pottery using a technique first developed in Baghdad in the 9th century. In an attempt to rival the glossy whiteness of Chinese porcelain the earthenware was covered with an opaque white glaze.

The technique entered Europe through Spain which was under the rule of the Umayyad Muslim caliphate. Tin glazed earthenware arrived in Italy from Spain in the first half of the 13th century. From Italy the method spread throughout Europe.

The technique remained relatively unchanged into the 18th century. After the pottery has been fired it emerges from the kiln as a brownish earthenware. It is then dipped in a glaze made up of oxides of lead and tin combined with silicate of potash. This porous white coat can then be decorated with various metallic oxides, capable of withstanding the high-temperatures of the kiln needed to unite them with the tin glaze and fuse it to the surface of the clay. Blue comes from cobalt, green from copper, purple from manganese, yellow from antimony and orange from iron.

The colours are absorbed into the glaze as soon as they are applied. No corrections to the painted design is possible. Many art historians liken the process to that of fresco wall painting, rare Saxon examples of which are to be found in a number of Sussex churches. Once decorated the vessel is then given a second firing. This fixes the glaze to the object’s body and melts it to a glossy surface. Lead glaze is commonly applied before firing to enhance the finish.

Tin glazed earthenware is often known as delft. The name derives from the Dutch town of Delft which by the mid-17th century had become the most important centre for the manufacture of tin glazed earthenware.

An 18th century Dutch Delft tin glazed, tulip filled vase.

Many of my favourite examples of tin glazed delft are those from the 18th century made in the British Isles. Like the Dutch tulip filled vase they are frequently stylistically influenced by the Chinese imported porcelain of the same date.

The decoration of Chinese Transitional Period porcelain typically employs naturalistic themes depicting, beasts, flowers and most especially figure subjects. Figure subjects on Transitional wares are often united by a narrative following the traditions of Chinese opera as well as literary art forms.

The early 18th century Queen Anne English delft charger beautifully imitates these Chinese decorative motifs.

The finest examples of delft tin glazed earthenware realise tens of thousands of pounds but examples like these can still be bought at auction for low to mid-hundreds of pounds. They have a delightful provincial quality. Whilst their decoration often reflects the regions in which they were made they connect the collector with the international stylistic influences of their time. There is a joy to tin glazed delft ware. Perhaps it is time you discovered the delights of collecting tin glazed earthenware!

The Art and Science of Fine Porcelain

The art of porcelain expressed in a pair of late 18th century Meissen Rococo bouquetière figures, a pair of early 19th century Coalport bucket shaped jardinères, and a later 19th century Vienna Neo-Classical charger

In the late 17th century ‘porcelain fever’ struck Europe. Petworth’s Elizabeth, Duchess of Somerset, was an avid collector of Chinese blue and white porcelain, a passion she shared with her friend, Queen Anne. Porcelain became associated with wealth and status and the balance of payments with China worsened.

The search for the mysteries of making hard-paste porcelain became the focus of alchemists (18th century chemical engineers) across Europe.

It was Johaan Friedrich Böttger (1682-1719) who invented European hard-paste porcelain at the Meissen factory under the patronage of Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. It is humbling to reflect that more money was invested to invent porcelain in Europe than it cost a later generation to put a man on the moon.

In 1731 Johaan Joachim Kändler (1706-1775) joined Meissen, becoming the chief modeller at the factory in 1733. Art and science came together to make Meissen the first and pre-eminent

Porcelain manufactory in Europe for much of the 18th century. Kändler moved effortlessly from the Baroque to the Rococo style.

The pair of late 18th centuy Meissen porcelain bouquetière figures illustrated are modelled after Kändler. They depict a lady and gentleman seated on rococo rockwork bases holding oval baskets. The vivid broad patches of coloured glazes in the costumes sets off the undecorated glittering areas of precious hard-paste porcelain. The figures are typically marked with underglaze blue crossed swords and incised numerals.

The beautiful Coalport porcelain jardinères, seen here without their stands, date from 1805, the same date as Nelson’s famous and tragic victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Based in Shropshire the factory was founded by John Rose. He ran it successfully until hs death in 1841. Although influenced by Sèvres porcelain Coalport has a particular English quality. The jardinères’ delicious bucket shape, yellow ground and soft gilt lines frame botanical studies of extraordinary delicacy and quality. They bear no marks and yet are perhaps the most valuable pieces shown here. Their attribution to Coalport was possible by comparison with a similar known jardinère illustrated in Michael Messenger’s ‘Coalport 1795-1926’.

The elaborately decorated porcelain charger was made at the Vienna factory in the 19th century. Vienna was the second factory to make hard-paste porcelain in Europe. From 1784 Konrad von Sorgenthal took over direction of the Vienna factory. Much of its output was influenced by the French late Neo-Classical style so closely associated with the tastes of Napolean Bonaparte, later Napolean I.

19th century production at the factory continued in the Sorgenthal style with Neo-Classical shapes and Empire decoration, though it was also influenced by the middle-class sensibilities of the Biedermeir.

The later 19th century Vienna porcelain charger is richly painted with classical figures in a harbourside setting. The pink ground border with its alternating chocolate brown enamelled and gilded panels opulently frames the scene. You see here that the decoration now entirely covers the porcelain. It is marked with an underglaze blue shield mark to the base.

At auction today these pieces would range from mid to high hundreds of pounds.

I am excited by how strong the interest has been during the lockdown for a wide range of collectors’ items, antiques and art.

All being well, and the ‘R’ number willing, Toovey’s will reopen to the public by appointment this coming Monday 15th June 2020. We have a series of specialist sales already scheduled for the coming weeks so do email us to make an appointment to meet our valuers, virtually or in person.