Masterpieces of 18th Century Sevres Porcelain
From the Hermitage Collection, till February 26th, 2006
The State Hermitage owns one of the best collections of 18th-19th century French porcelain in the world, and a position of very special importance is occupied by 18th century Sevres porcelain: this was the period of greatest prosperity and artistic achievement of the celebrated manufactory. The current exhibition in the Alexander Hall displays more than 200 works from the Sevres Manufactory, most of them being shown publicly for the first time.
The collection started with a diplomatic gift from King Louis XV of France to Russian Empress
Elizabeth Petrovna. One of the items on display is a small oval tray decorated with painted purple garlands of flowers and depicting cupid asleep in a landscape; this is the only remaining item from numerous presents sent by Louis XV.
Dinner and dessert services hold a special place of prominence in the exhibition. Among them are the Cameo Service, Leaves of Cabbage, Partridge Eye and Green Service.
Ordered by Catherine the Great as a gift to Prince Grigory Potemkin, the Cameo Service arrived in Petersburg in 1779 and comprised more than 700 items. The first Classicist service of the Sevres Manufactory was made from specially prepared moulds that were never used again. It was decorated with images of cameos from originals dating back to Antiquity in Louis XV’s collection and the floral monogram of Catherine II.
The Cabbage Leaves service got its name thanks to the ornamentation in relief which resembles a cabbage leaf in shape. The dates in letters on various items of the service tell us that it was assembled from objects made over different years.
The shapes and decoration of the Green Service embody the style of Louis XV: the fluid outlines of the forms which are framed in a gilded decoration of fanciful design, the tendrils of the intricate ornamentation and the floral branches. The time and circumstances of the appearance of the Green Service in Russia remain an enigma. No service like this one is mentioned in the archives of the Sevres Manufactory either among the gifts from the French Court to Russia or among the orders from the Russian Court or aristocracy. The Green Service in the Hermitage collection is considered by researchers to be part of the first service from the Sevres Manufactory which was given in 1759 by Louis XV to Frederik V, King of Denmark and Norway. It was grandiose both in terms of the number of separate items and in the richness of the decoration.
Porcelain was splendid material for making small decorative sculptures. Beginning in1749 the technique of producing porcelain figures in biscuit, matte unglazed and unpainted white porcelain appeared in Europe. The best sculptors and artists of the Sevres Manufactory, among them such well-known masters as Francois Boucher and Etienne-Maurice Falconet, participated in the creation of porcelain figures and sculptural groups.
Among the favorite motifs were figures of children depicting allegories of the seasons, elements, arts and science; later came small peasants, artisans, gardeners and musicians. One may see in the exhibition a figurine entitled Boy with a Vessel (Water) from the series on Children - The Elements. This work by Falconet is based on a drawing by Boucher. There is also the statuette Threatening Cupid made in biscuit in the middle of the 1750’s and reproducing a well-known marble statue.