Sèvres Then And Now: Tradition and Innovation in Porcelain, 1750-2000 is the first exhibition in America to present together the earliest Sèvres pieces alongside the contemporary works of the 20th and 21st centuries, and to explore fully how continuous innovation propelled Sèvres to become the preeminent porcelain factory.
This exhibition will present a chronological display of objects, from the 18th century to the 21st, to explore the rich history of competition, patronage, and the quest to create true works of art in porcelain that ultimately informed the factory's lasting beauty and success. Its very inception at Vincennes, led by Jean Orry de Fulvy in 1740, was driven by the desire to counteract the flood of "Oriental" porcelain into Europe and the wish to discover its secrets, as well as the urge to curtail the success of the Meissen porcelain factory.
Meissen was the first in Europe, under the patronage of Augustus the Strong, to make true hard-paste porcelain. Like that produced in China, hard-paste porcelain required the use of kaolin, a white clay that made possible firing at high temperatures, to make an impermeable, glassy ceramic. After a false start with the brothers Dubois, who dubiously claimed to have the secret formula, the factory at Vincennes ignited the first in Sèvres' long history of technical innovations, by turning its own formula for brittle soft-paste porcelain to its advantage. It turned out that this paste and its lead glaze absorbed a wide range of colors beautifully, which in combination with bold new colors yielded a jewel-like effect to the porcelains that came to characterize Sèvres and catapulted the factory into fashion.
As part of the exhibition, Hillwood's dining room showcases a large 20th-century Sèvres masterpiece in the form of an Egyptian ruin. In the adjoining Breakfast Room, celebrated food historian and designer Ivan Day, recreates an historic 18th-century dessert service including a Roman-style rotunda modeled from sugar paste, chenille parterres, and sugar baskets with pastillage flowers, all surrounded by Hillwood's Sèvres dessert service made for Cardinal Prince Louis de Rohan. Sèvres Then and Now is made possible by generous gifts from The Richard C. von Hess Foundation, The Florence Gould Foundation, The Marjorie Merriweather Post Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and International Humanities.
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