Madame de Pompadour and the Sèvres Porcelain Factory: Cultivating a French Artistic Identity and Clientele

Rebecca Gail Leonard

Abstract


Sèvres porcelain emerged in France in the mid-eighteenth century as one of the leading European porcelain manufacturers. Scholars such as Donald Posner, Remy Saisselin and Colin Jones have debated the influence of Madame de Pompadour, a noblewoman and mistress to King Louis XV, on the style and content of the factory’s early products. Her role is often under-valued because of her gender, her assumed frivolity, and her seemingly indiscriminate spending. Dismissal of Madame de Pompadour mirrors the low regard in which many have held Rococo style and the decorative arts more generally. My thesis will take into account multiple aspects of her cultural role to argue that she was a major patron of Sèvres. I believe that she helped the factory cultivate a uniquely French identity in porcelain by introducing the artist Étienne-Maurice Falconet to the factory, and by encouraging the adoption of François Boucher’s style and themes in factory works. By focusing on particular pieces that can, in one way or another, be connected to her, I will demonstrate the ways in which Madame de Pompadour both directly and indirectly encouraged Sèvres porcelain’s distinct character as the quintessential French decorative artform. Additionally, I will refute Posner’s bogus distinction between art and luxury objects that dismisses Madame de Pompadour’s role in art history, and show that she deserves to be considered a true patron of 18th-century arts. I will draw on scholars such as John Shovlin and Mimi Hellman, who have contributed to a re-examination of older prejudices against the Rococo age and the role of luxury in the eighteenth century. I will emphasize that Madame de Pompadour’s accumulation of Sèvres, along with the role of luxury and Rococo art of her day, played a role in Sèvres’ early success.

Keywords


Sevres, French, Porcelain

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