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The Vincennes/Sèvres Porcelain manufactory

The Sunflower clock©

The purpose of the manufactory, founded in 1740 by Jean-Henri-Louis Orry de Fulvy (1703–51), was to develop a porcelain to rival that of the orient and of the Meissen factory belonging to the King of Saxony. The manufactory was first established in the château de Vincennes, to the east of Paris, and then from 1756 at Sèvres, to the south-west of the city. From the beginning, Louis XV provided financial backing and by 1759 the manufactory was entirely owned by the monarch. After the Revolution the manufactory passed into the ownership of the French state, under which it continues to operate today.

A soft-paste or ‘artificial’ porcelain was developed which was whiter and purer than any of its French rivals, under the supervision of Claude-Humbert Gérin and with assistance of the brothers Robert and Gilles Dubois, formerly of the Chantilly porcelain factory. By the mid-century Sèvres had become the leading manufactory of soft-paste porcelain in Europe, unsurpassed in decorative exuberance and technical virtuosity. Hard-paste or ‘true’ porcelain, containing the essential ingredient kaolin, was first made at Sèvres in 1769.

From the 1750s, the fortunes of the manufactory were transformed under the patronage of Madame de Pompadour, the official mistress of Louis XV. New designers and administrators were appointed to create wares of original design and decoration. Among them, Jean-Jacques Bachelier (1724–1806) was responsible for the creation of decorative schemes and new forms of vases, and the goldsmith Jean-Claude Duplessis (c.1690–1774) was responsible for the services. 

The end-of-year sales of Sèvres porcelain held in the King’s private apartments at Versailles brought French aristocratic and fashionable collectors flocking to acquire the latest designs from the royal manufactory with which to decorate their hôtels and châteaux.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Sèvres manufactory was its production of ornamental vases. In the richness of coloured grounds, superb quality of painting, and opulence of gilded decoration, the manufactory was recognised to surpass all others, giving Sèvres a special appeal to patrons throughout Europe.

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