Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
Sèvres porcelain

Royal Manufactory of Sèvres

The recent acquisition of eighteenth-century French porcelain announced by the Frick’s Board of Trustees inspired me to take the metro back in time.

The hard-paste Sèvres Vase acquired in honor of the Frick’s recently retired Director, Anne L. Poulet is the first piece of hard-paste porcelain from the Royal Manufactory of Sèvres to enter the Frick Collection. The newly acquired Vase Japon is, according to the Frick’s press release of November 5, 2011, a “French interpretation of a Chinese Yu (or Hu) vase from the Han Dynasty (206 B.C-A.D. 220). Examples of this type of baluster-shaped vessel survive in bronze and earthenware. Documents from the Sèvres archives indicate that the Frick vase was made in 1774 along with two others of the same size, shape and decoration.”

A week after this announcement was made, I was in Paris and on the métro, destination Pont de Sèvres. The Royal Manufactory of Sèvres is located just on the other side of the river Seine and en route to Versailles. The eighteenth-century building and the original workshops in the back transport the visitor to about 1769, when chemists Macquer and Montigny triumphantly arrived at Versailles to demonstrate to Louis XV that their hard-paste porcelain was ready. A major feat for the two chemists who had been experimenting for at least ten years and since 1757, when the porcelain factory moved from Vincennes to Sèvres, to a new space and to higher ambitions. While Vincennes had won its reputation for its soft-paste porcelain, this was viewed as intellectually, morally, and scientifically inferior to the hard-paste porcelain.

What’s remarkable today about the Royal Manufactory of Sèvres, which is still in production, is the breadth and depth of its collections that comprise the finest examples of soft- and hard-paste porcelain from several countries and centuries. The shapes and colors of the objects as well as the wit and imagination of the artisans who worked at the Sèvres workshops and creativity of the twentieth-century artistic directors who aligned production at Sèvres with the principles of Modernism are awe-inspiring.

For those collecting porcelain, there are plenty of options. At established auction houses, one can find eighteenth-century pieces similar in quality and provenance to the one that The Frick Collection acquired. At the Royal Manufactory of Sèvres, one can buy high-quality work by renowned contemporary designers. The choice is yours.

© Thomaï Serdari