Captive Audience Helped Sale Of
The Sevres porcelain manufactory was begun in 1738, during the reign of Louis XV of France. During this time, France was the acknowledged leader of fine arts among all the countries of Europe, and this new factory was given the responsibility of providing fine porcelain for this most sophisticated court of Europe.
Production actually began at Vincennes, but in 1756, it was moved to Sevres, a suburb southwest of Paris. Today the name of Sevres is given to all the company's work produced at either place; the earliest pieces made in Vincennes have a special value, and few pieces will be found outside of museums.
Although the company actually started in 1738, formed by two brothers who had worked at a porcelain factory in Chantilly, little happened until a syndicate was formed in 1745 for the purpose of making porcelain on a commercial scale. The organization was put on a business-like basis, backed by some of the leading financiers of France. (They were known as “farmers of the taxes.”)
The enterprise showed steady growth, but failed to become profitable. The king invested more and more capital into the concern, until by 1759, he became the sole proprietor. Louis XV became a very effective salesman of his porcelain, as did his successor, Louis XVI.
In fact, Louis XVI held a sale each year, right after Christmas, and he himself set the prices and did the selling. Although the prices were high, diplomacy dictated that the ladies and gentlemen of the court must do some purchasing, so sales were brisk.
The earliest products of Sevres were soft paste porcelain. Gilding and colored grounds were used on those projects in which Louis XV was especially interested. After the move to Sevres, Oriental motifs were used, as were the elaborate Rococo styles favored by the court. Madame de Pompadour was a special benefactor of the factory, and her favorite products were biscuit porcelain figurines.
In the 1770s, the company began making hard paste porcelain. Neo-classical designs supplanted the Rococo pieces of the preceding years.
The porcelain factory at Sevres continues to the present day. It has had its ups and downs, and varied its production with the times. Small perfume bottles and immense dinner services have been made; vases, urns, jeweled and enameled pieces, plaques and sculptures have all been produced over the years.
Colors, designs and styles have constantly changed, to meet the fashions of the day. For example, following a decline during the French Revolution, the factory grew in strength again while Napoleon was in power, featuring scenic ware that depicted his campaigns and victories. During another period, a limited but very important output of the factory were porcelain inlays made for furniture.
Except for some of the earliest Vincennes pieces, Sevres porcelain has been marked. Each of its periods of operation have made changes in the marks, however, so dating can be fairly accurately done. Many pieces also show the marks of the painters, gilders, sculptors and potters who worked on a piece.
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