The Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory:
The Sèvres Porcelain manufactory was founded to the east of Paris in the disused royal château of Vincennes, late in 1739-40.
It was not until 1756 that it moved to the village of Sèvres, west of Paris, strategically placed en route to King Louis XV’s palace of Versailles. Here it was also adjacent to Louis’s mistress Madame de Pompadour’s own château at Bellevue.
A great lover of Sèvres porcelain, she was delighted with the factory’s new location – as she knew she could entice Louis to take a greater interest in it when it was so near to their own residences. Indeed, the King became such a keen patron of the factory that when in 1759 it ran into financial difficulties, he bought out the shareholders and became the sole proprietor. The factory remained a royal enterprise until the French Revolution, when it was nationalised.
Sèvres’ position at the beginning of the nineteenth century was extremely precarious. No longer a royal enterprise, and having lost much of its clientele during the revolution, its funding reflected the ruinous state of the French economy.
However the Manufactory rose to this challenge, achieving the remarkable accomplishment of staying continuously in the forefront of European ceramic production despite the myriad changes in technology, taste, and patronage that occurred during this tumultuous century. The vast and diverse production of the Sèvres factory in the nineteenth century resists easy characterisation, and its history during this period reflects many of the changes affecting French society in the years between 1800 and 1900.
Important designers and influential artistic directors were always at the forefront of Sèvres’s innovation. Famous artists who designed for Sèvres have included Louis-Simon Boizot, Théophile Fragonard, Hector Guimard, Serge Poliakoff , Auguste Rodin and Louise Bourgeois. One of the most influential artists was Albert Ernest Carrier-Belleuse who became artistic director in 1876 and was famed for his designs.
Albert Ernest Carrier-Belleuse:
Albert Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887), was an important Parisian sculptor who signed his work ‘Carrier’.
The sculptor Fauconnier trained Carrier-Belleuse before he entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1840, where he studied under David d’Angers. He later abandoned this formal training in order to develop his interest in a more decorative, Romantic style – in which he showed a healthy independence. Carrier-Belleuse made his debut at the Salon in 1851 before moving to England, where he worked in the design shop at Minton’s ceramic porcelain works in Staffordshire until 1854. Here he trained under Léon Arnoux.
Upon his return to Paris in 1855 he embarked on a series of important pieces that included work at the Louvre, the Hôtel de Païva, the Opéra, the Hôtel de Ville and the Théâtre Français. As one of the most prolific and versatile sculptors of the nineteenth century, he made his reputation with the group ‘Salve Regina’, which was shown at the 1861 Paris Salon. His later works ‘Bacchante’ (1863) and ‘The Messiah’ (1867) won him medals and the Legion of Honour – the ultimate recognition.
In the last years of the Second Empire he executed many public commissions and was highly regarded by Napoléon III, who referred to him as ‘our Clodion’.
Carrier-Belleuse worked in every medium, both traditional and modern, even experimenting with galvanoplasty and electroplating. His combination of materials, such as porcelain for the features of his bronze statuettes, anticipated the chryselephantine figures of the turn of the century. In 1875 he was appointed Director of Works at the Sèvres porcelain factory. He employed a galaxy of rising young sculptors as assistants, who at one time or another included Rodin and Mathurin Moreau, though his own work showed little sympathy with the modern movement which Rodin was instrumental in developing. His bronzes include many busts of historic and contemporary celebrities, classical and allegorical figures, figures in period costume, nude statuettes, bas-reliefs and even sculptural staircases and interior decoration.