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History Of Pottery And Porcelain:
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Introduction To Porcelain
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European Porcelain
English Porcelain
Italian Porcelain
French Porcelain

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Pottery And Porcelain
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French Porcelain

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

SOFT PASTE (Pate tendre) HARD PASTE (Pate dure)

The entire history of the art of fictilia is attended by one notable feature; from its remotest record to the present time it has been encouraged, developed and perfected by the efforts of princely overseers and patrons.

From the time that Israel's king with his "master potter" reared the Babylonish walls down to the last hand that held the sceptre of France, we find it a royal accessory, and in most cases an art absolute for the court alone. England and Holland are the only exceptions to this very general fact. In later years, when most of the crowned heads had grown less mindful of the art, France, still maintaining the traditions which had made her porcelain great, adhered to the royal factory; and while all the nations about her were degenerating in the art, she alone retained her facilities for producing those nobler examples which seem to have been the splendid efforts of expiring European ceramic art. France, like other nations of Europe, impelled by the vital impulse of progress, came early to an understanding of the secret of porcelain manufacture. If we are to believe the word of travellers and native observers, her knowledge of the art anticipated that of Bottcher by fifteen years, the first recorded notices of the wares of St. Cloud occurring in the year 1695. Not until several years after that, however, do we find the royal authority recognizing the work of Pierre Chicanneau, and granting to him and his family letters patent for the discovery.

Full half a century earlier than this, Rouen was struggling forward with her imitations of the "porcelaine de Chine," which M. Pottier pronounces "veritable," main taining that her porcelain was first produced upon French soil.

It is not to be supposed that a science capable of so much advancement would stop with the energetic and successful labors of one man like Palissy; he had only inflamed the spirit of others who, if not so desperate, were not less hopeful, and through their efforts we trace it step by step to the door-stone of Pierre Chicanneau. His death and other circumstances brought the little fabrique at last under the immediate conservation of Philip of Orleans, then Regent of France.

The secret of the manufacture of the St. Cloud porcelain was carefully retained by the few engaged in its production; while far from perfect in composition, it was still true porcelain, wanting some more careful admixture of materials necessary for more perfect fusion. The surface of the ware is uneven and broken by ridges and spots, owing to the imperfection of the enamel. It is most readily distinguished by the mark, a blazing sun in blue.

The secret of porcelain-working was revealed to the French court proper by the usual channels through which secrets travel-the infidelity of some possessor. A few escaped workmen from St. Cloud sought the presence of Louis XV., through his confidant Dr. Fulvy, in the year 1740, after Reaumur's unsuccessful experiments in the devitrification of glass. The distinguished chemist had his attention called to the matter by the singular transformations which glass, upon exposure to heat, underwent; he carried his investigations so far as to warrant the importation from the Orient of petuntse and kaolin to aid the manufacture, and although meeting with only partial success, the path which he had chosen was the direct one, and further efforts on the part of Macquer and his assistants developed the true method and eventually resulted in the foundation of the wonderworking fabrique of Sevres.

Meanwhile the St. Cloud truants had been tried; proving unworthy to fill a position of such responsibility they were discharged, and the manufactory, which was located at Vincennes, temporarily closed; they had labored long enough, however, to enlist the then powerful influence of Madame de Pompadour, which was immediately exerted for the establishment of a manufactory in the same town, but beyond such circumstances as would require for it patronage as a necessity to its success. Over this workshop, Gravant, " an active and intelligent man," presided as the master workman, with M. Orry de Fulvy -still minister of the Empire-occupying the position of director under the nom de plume of Charles Adam. This was in the year 1745.

The large amount of capital intrusted to this company placed within their reach the most skilful and intelligent labor. Mr. Marryat best expresses their effectual efforts. He says: "Sculptors and painters of flowers and landscape vied with each other in talent; the products of Vincennes were eagerly purchased by foreigners, and the financial condition of the manufactory was most flourishing. It was then under the directorship of M. Boileau; the secret of gilding was purchased from Hippolyte; that of managing the colors from Sieur Caillat, and the services of Hellot and other eminent chemists, artists and painters were secured. Duplessis, goldsmith to the King, composed the models, and Bachelier directed the artistic department. Gravant made the flowers, which Thevenot colored."For one day's service Bachelier received the enormous sum of twenty-four hundred livres. Like all the young manufactories, they commenced their work by copying the decorations from the great parent school of the Orient. The triumph of the Vincennes work was the production of flowers. We are acquainted with the grace, the symmetry, the conscientious attention to tasteful effect which characterizes French productions. When looking upon their pictures, the whole sympathy of our feeling rises to meet a corresponding sympathy in the artist. French art entices with its tender appeal to individual experience. If they are painting an interior, it looks much like such an apartment as you would paint in your most finished ideal. If they are painting flowers, they look much like those that grow in your own garden, and it is easy to believe that with the talent of France grouped about the little factory at Vincennes, something more than crude representations and stiff conventionalities should spring from those walls,-something more than a mere ephemeral plaything, dead after the day of its birth. In 1748 all the Continent and adjacent isles stood in admiration at the Vincennes porcelain: it was its own advocate, needing no tongues of men to speak its praise. Louis XV. became a most ardent admirer of the ware, and a generous patron. The splendors of his court were more lustrous than ever when his palaces furnished a refuge for those works of art upon which the ripest genius of France had exerted itself.

On the 19th day of August, 1753, it became, by royal pronunciamento the "Manufacture Royale de Porcelaine de France," and the two L's interlaced-significant of the King's name-were decreed as its mark.

Here, in fact, begins the record of the proud manufactory at Sevres. For, only three years after the royal recognition, it was removed to Sevres, and four years after, it became the sole property of the Crown, the veteran M. Boileau still remaining at its head.

What has been done with the brush cannot be reproduced with the pen; as well try to impress upon the blind eye the beauty of a sunset. There are things which outreach the art of description.You may carry the hard fact, but the soul dwells with the object alone. Such is true of the work of the Sevres manufactory, and every lover of the beautiful in art will know with earnest sorrow of the blight of French genius under the eclipse of distressing misfortune.

The soft-paste porcelain of Sevres bears, perhaps, the most perfect examples of the exquisite work there produced. It is to the feeling soft and waxy, and eminently adapted to colors on account of its quality of absorption, which gives a tone of softness to the figures. In most cases, too, it was chosen by the artists as a better medium for their most skilful work.It is a popular mistake that gave to the soft paste, or pate tendre, a value on account of its rarity. Although for a considerable period the art of its manufacture had been apparently lost, still, as soon as its real preeminence became known, means were immediately taken to again commence its manufacture. Under the guardianship of M. Brongniart, hard-paste porcelain was the general, and in fact only, material produced at Sevres; by a fortunate accident a large quantity of the soft-paste composition was discovered in the vaults and immediately put to service. Mr. Marryat mentions one singular circumstance in connection with this royal fac tory. Through all the bloody scenes which have marked the experience of France, this alone has remained unharmed. This paragraph was written prior to the FrancoGerman war. During the occupation of Sevres by the Prussian forces the fabrique was protected as well as circumstances would allow, but a greater misfortune awaited it-the passion of an unruly people, devoted to the annihilation of everything which bore the royal insignia. The Sevres buildings were among those treasure-houses which suffered from this insane impetuosity. In view of these facts it is our misfortune to be compelled to write of what was done at Sevres instead of being able to record its splendid progress. Mr. Chaffers thus classifies the colors employed at the Sevres factory: "1. The blue Celeste, or turquoise, invented in 1752 by Hellot. 2. The rich deep cobalt-blue, bleu de Poi, of which there are two varieties, the darker being termed `gros bleu.' 3. The violet pensee, a beautiful violet color produced by manganese, one of the rarest decorations of the pate tendre. 4. The rose Pompadour, which has been erroneously termed rose du Barry; it dates about 1757, and was discovered by Xrhouet. 5. The jaune clair, or jonquille, a clear canary color. 6. The vert pomme, or apple-green. 7. The vertpre, or grass-green. 8. The rouge defer. 9. The oeil deperdrix, of a recent period." These were the principal colors employed in the ground-work or plain-surface enamels,-as pure, as perfect and as exquisite as the corre sponding colors produced by nature herself. To attempt a pen-description of the marvellously beautiful decorations which adorn the productions of Sevres, is a literary impossibility, and would only involve the reader in a confusion of expressions which could only be exemplified by the pieces themselves. It is sufficient to know that the best artists which France has produced in the last century and a half, have bestowed their magic touch upon the porcelain of Sevres.

Since the close of the Franco-German a considerable quantity of the beautiful ware which once decorated the royal halls of Paris and its environs has reached this country. These pieces now occupy their appropriate places among private collections here. At the sale of the famous Deacon House in Boston, which took place two or three years since, several exquisite specimens of Sevres ware were exposed at public auction. In every instance they brought prices far below their real value, not from disregard, but from a want of critical knowledge of the ware itself. Probably the most extensive collection of Sevres ware in this country is owned by Ex-Governor Caleb Lyon, who has been interested in this ware for many years. His cabinet exhibits now nearly,the entire history of the Sevres fabrique. Gen. John A. Dix has also in his possession a pair of elegant vases presented him by Na. poleon III. on the event of his retiring from the American ministry at the French capital.

To complete the chapter upon Sevres porcelain in a way to render its identification less difficult, the reader will do well to consider the marks at the close of the volume; and to form an acquaintance with the artists and their special subjects the tabulated statement will render assistance. Of course a critical knowledge of the ware is a study of the instinct by contact with the ware itself. Much forgery is practised by unprincipled persons upon pieces which never emanated from the royal manufactory. These features must be determined by critical investigation: by comparison the genuine pieces can be readily distinguished.

M. Brillat-Savarin, in his volume entitled "Physiologie du Gout," inserts a chapter which he names "Sejour en Amerique." Nothing follows the title but a barren spot upon the page; the satire is complete. Among our various chapters upon porcelain, Americans would be pleased to see a chapter upon American porcelain, and were I not forced to the same extremity as the witty French author I should be glad to insert such a chapter here. We have no porcelain of our own; none has ever been produced here. One of the most useful of all the arts yet remains untried except by a single experiment, some years since a dozen porcelain plates were made somewhere in New Jersey. This is a strange and striking fact, worthy the study of astute political economists-an extraordinary demand, but no response from the producer. Let us hope that not distant in the future we may appreciate the deficiency and add to the world's ceramic history a chapter of our own.

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