In Pursuit of the Exquisite: Royal Sèvres from Versailles to Harewood, Harewood House, until November 2nd, 2014
To mark the Grand Départ of the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire this year and the ceremonial start being at Harewood House, the House reveals its stunning Sèvres porcelain in a special exhibition that forms part of the Yorkshire Festival 2014. The first time an arts festival has ever preceded a Tour de France.
It is certainly a great exhibition of Sèvres and what makes it especially so is the fact that it was collected by “Beau” Lascelles (Edward Viscount Lascelles) who was the first Earl of Harewood’s eldest son. The vogue for things French in England had been fueled by the French Revolution and the subsequent dispersal of Royal and other aristocratic collections by the revolutionary government. Lascelles’s contemporaries such as the Prince Regent and the Marquess of Hertford were also buying Sèvres and other French objects at this time.
It was the connection with the French kings and their families that made Sèvres so desirable. The factory had been established by 1740 and received the patronage of both Madame de Pompadour and King Louis XV, and in 1759 the latter took the factory over (it has been owned by the State ever since). Both Louis XV and Louis XVI were active patrons and each year held a sale of Sèvres in their private apartments to those courtiers privileged enough to be invited.
The link between Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour’s great interest in Sèvres is highlighted by a loan display of porcelain flower heads similar to ones that they purchased to adorn their residences to the tune of over a million pounds. It is reported that perfume was sprinkled on the porcelain flowers to evoke the natural smell of flowers in winter months.
Talk of flowers makes the perfect place to start talking about the displays for in the Yellow Drawing Room there is a plethora of Sèvres flower vases of differing shapes and they are being delightfully used for the purpose intended which is to hold plants and flowers as these images show.
In the Cinnamon Drawing Room you find a group of useful wares which includes this two-handled covered cup and saucer (c1770) which was used for a variety of milk drinks.
The covered bowl and plateau was used to serve soup during the lengthy toilette that was part of the morning ritual and during which sustenance was needed.
Interestingly this tea set, long thought to have been a gift to Marie Antoinette from the City of Paris, but in fact now, as the catalogue tells us, has been identified in a 1794 Revolutionary inventory of the Château de Saint-Cloud and was probably either in the king or queen’s rooms there.
While there are two pieces from the sublime Louis XVI service, especially the lemon-juice pot, cover and stand I illustrate a pair of vases which are a model introduced in 1775 to mark Louis XVI’s coronation. They, with a central vase (also celebrating the coronation), were sold to the king’s aunt Madame Adelaide in 1777.
Progressing through the Gallery where there are Sevres ormolu-mounted vases and biscuit figures from the Great Men of France series you reach the Dining Room. Here the table is set with various pieces from a dessert service, together with some English Derby factory pieces in the Sèvres style. Running down the middle of the table is a group of biscuit figures which were first designed for the factory in 1773 and as originally intended are shown as a centerpiece for the table. This particular group was made by Sèvres in 1922 as a wedding gift from the French Government to the Princess Royal and the future 6th Earl of Harewood.
Finally in the Music Room are three vases which were originally part of the Harewood collection and were part of a group sold off to help pay estate duties in 1965 (they have been loaned back for this exhibition). Flanking them are two flower vases (the pair to each is in the Royal collection but somehow they were mixed up) which originally belonged to Madame du Barry. Don’t forget to take a close look at the remarkable Musical clock decorated with Sèvres plaques.
I have long been an admirer of Sèvres porcelain and this collection is part of an important chapter in English collecting and a really most exciting celebration of a remarkable porcelain factory. Harewood is full of marvellous Chippendale furniture, great pictures by renowned artists and Adam decoration but I suggest to you that the Sèvres wins hands down because it will be the one thing that many of you will focus on and enjoy its exquisite beauty close up. Possibly I am prejudiced but that’s the way I see it and I am most certainly going back again before this memorable exhibition closes.
I wish to express my thanks to Anna Dewsnap, Alexis Guntrip and Pauline Chandler at Harewood for their kindness and help and of course especially Dame Rosalind Savill CBE for her help.