John Stephen Beers
Sevres porcelain is widely known to be both
the French porcelain of royalty and the royal porcelain of
France. The first soft paste porcelain Sevres items,
known as Vincennes, were begun in 1738 at the Chateau de
Vincennes southeast of Paris. Former workmen from the Chantilly
ceramics works started the factory. In the early days, the
Vincennes Sevres factory produced mostly painted and gilded
figures and ornamental flowers.
Pair of Sevres Candlesticks 14"
Tall, c. 1760, Front View & Close Up
King Louis XV, known as the most notable
art patron in modern history, became the major customer and
joined as a shareholder of the factory in 1745. The factory had
a goal to deliver a superior product in order to compete with
the early Meissen, Berlin, and other continental porcelains.
Close ties to the French court enabled the Sevres factory to
expand the manufacture as well as to monopolize porcelain
production in France in the early years.
Large Sevres Cachepot, 7"
Tall, c. 1757
By 1752, the year that vases were
introduced at the factory, the king became the major
shareholder. He deemed that this porcelain to be designated as
royal, or Manufacturer Royale du Porcelaine. He conducted
annual sales from his palace grounds at Versailles, encouraged
his court and other royalty to buy his product, and even
restricted other porcelain factories from using gilding or
colored grounds on their porcelains.
When the operation ran into financial
troubles in 1759, King Louis XV acquired the factory as royal
property. The king took over the manufacturing operations, and
considered himself the principal client and salesperson of these
extraordinary porcelain creations. The factory was moved to the
village of Sevres southwest of Paris; a location near to the
palace of Versailles and close to the home of Madame de
Pompadour at the Chateau de Bellevue. From that time the
porcelain became officially known as Sevres porcelain.
Over the years, Sevres recruited the finest
talents and artists. The factory developed a unique rococo
style, a romanticist theme, of lavishly decorated dishes, form
pieces and decorative items. The exceptional glazes and deep
background colors included royal blue (bleu de roi),
turquoise (bleu celeste), pea green, and pink (rose
Pompadour- so named for the king’s famous mistress).
Decoration was floral and figural within white reserve panels;
these set in deeply glazed colors, and then complemented with
sumptuously gilded handles and edges. The king and his nobility
acquired exceptional collections including dinner services,
monumental vases and urns, and centerpieces. The shapes and the
décor on the pieces expressed the whimsy and elegant pleasures
of the lifestyles of the Ancien Regime, a royal society.
Early Sevres soft paste porcelain, or
Vieux Sevres is considered by some experts to be the finest
of all porcelains. Its’ manufacture was more tedious, risky, and
expensive than the other competing hard paste porcelains of
Germany and England, as well as the French faience potteries.
The legendary Sevres porcelain that was so popular was only
available in limited in supply to the chosen few at exorbitant
Deposits of kaolin, the white clay
essential in making hard paste porcelain, were discovered
in Limoge in 1768. Almost fifty years after Meissen, the Sevres
Factory was now able to produce hard paste porcelains,
as well as the soft variety. The factory continued
as a royal enterprise until the French Revolution in 1789. After
the ending of the monarchy, the factory became the property of
the French government, and remains so today.
Large Sevres Basin, 15"
Wide, c. 1783
The end of the monarchy and its’ Ancien
Regime was heralded by a rise in a new industrial based
bourgeoisie; the landed gentry was being replaced by an
affluent middle class. A new social order brought new tastes and
lifestyles, including new demands for the finer things.
Alexandre Brongniart became the director at
Sevres in 1800, and for the next forty-seven years the factory
continued to evolve and prosper under his expert guidance.
Regrettably, in 1804 Brongniart was said to have burned the
formula by which the soft paste porcelain was mixed, and
buried the remaining materials at the Garden of Versailles.
However, this creative and innovative director drove the Sevres
factory forward to make the transition to producing only
exceptional hard paste porcelains to meet the demands of
a new market. New designs, materials, and techniques were
achieved, and mass production was carefully controlled.
Superb porcelain production continued at
Sevres through the 19th Century and into the 20th
Century. Dazzling collections of the finest porcelains now
quietly reside in museums, castles, and elegant homes. Custom
commissions for Napoleon, and other monarchs and prefects grace
the finest antique collections around the world today.
Pair Small Sevres Cachepots,
7" Tall, Early 19th Century, Front View
Sevres porcelains have been
characteristically well marked on the underside with makers’
marks. Many of the marks are documented in reference books. On
the oldest pieces, an underglaze blue “double-Louis” (or double
L) mark exists, with a letter and numbering system between 1745
and 1793. After that, many other official marks, seals and
monograms would identify the age of these items. It is said that
a seasoned and experienced Sevres collector can identify an item
without ever turning the piece over based on the object, its
artistry and its artistic merit.
Collecting Sevres can be a challenging
matter, and there are many pitfalls to the novice collector. One
of the most difficult things for a collector to do is to
reliably collect antique porcelain that is legitimately Sevres.
Expert artists outside the factory often acquired and decorated
porcelain blanks and factory seconds. There was a large cottage
industry throughout Europe producing “Sevres-type” items or
knock offs. Forgeries and reproductions do abound- the blue
double L mark is one of the most copied marks on antique
porcelain. The rule caveat emptor, or “let the
buyer beware” stalwartly applies. In order to learn more
about Sevres porcelain, study specialty books, visit museums,
and visit shops and dealers specializing in Sevres. The best
shops usually guarantee authenticity and sell with a money back
About the author:
The author, John Stephen Beers, is owner of
Fleur-de-Lis Antiques, 524-D Northlake Boulevard, Palm Beach
Gardens, FL 33408, and is a specialist in 19th
Century Continental and Chinese Export porcelains. John has
contributed other articles in past issues of Antiques & Art
Around Florida on antique Meissen, French faience, toby jugs,
and milk glass. His mother, Dorothea Mitchell Beers, has
recently semi retired after 50 years in the business!
Fleur-de-Lis Antiques has recently relocated and invite you to
visit their elegant shop on Northlake Boulevard! Website
Art Around Florida
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