A series of masterpieces from Versailles’ collections
Porcelain decorated in the Chinese style was emblematic of the Manufacture Royale de Sèvres’ work in the late 1770s. These prestigious, highly expensive pieces were very popular with the royal family, with Louis XVI’s brother the Count of Provence acquiring a garniture of three mounted vases embellished with Chinese-inspired decoration in 1775.
A year later, as 1776 drew to a close, Queen Marie-Antoinette purchased a similar set, which she most probably put on display in her private apartments in the Palace of Versailles, before sending them to Saint-Cloud after 1785. The vases were then seized in 1794, before being sold during the revolutionary sales and auctions. The official report from the time described them as “a garniture of three white Sèvres porcelain vases with Chinese drawings, featuring pierced necks embellished with chiselled copper and gilt-bronze rings, ropes, oak swags and handles, on gilt-copper square bases”. The gilt-bronze pieces are attributed to Duplessis, while the decorative Chinese elements are by Lécot.
Producing these pieces was a veritable tour de force for the Manufacture. Using hard-paste porcelain calls for a specific set of decorative techniques, mastered to perfection here by Lécot.
The painter drew on the finest of touches to apply gilding to large sections, paired with colour washes in which blue, pink, green and black dominate. The outlines of the figures and their clothing are also highlighted with touches of gold or black, replicating the patterns found on Chinese silks. Finally, all the gilded surfaces of the flowers and pagodas have been treated with a careful, exacting hand, ensuring they stand out from the plain background to harmonious effect.
An international partnership
A flat-topped desk commissioned by Marie-Antoinette from the cabinetmaker Riesener and delivered in 1777 for Louis XVI’s chamber at the Petit Trianon was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1971, and has been on long-term loan to the Palace of Versailles since 2001. It is currently on display at the Petit Trianon. The ties between the two institutions have gone from strength to strength ever since this exceptional loan.
The relationship between the two resulted in the Getty Center being loaned a set of lacquer boxes from Marie-Antoinette’s collection in 2018/2019 (A Queen’s Treasure from Versailles: Marie-Antoinette’s Japanese Lacquer, January 2018 - January 2019). The loan of this garniture of “egg-shaped” vases commissioned for Marie-Antoinette serves to deepen this partnership further still.
THE PALACE OF VErSAILLES’ LOANS POLICY
The Palace of Versailles collections are home to close to 84,000 pieces, from paintings, furniture, bookings and drawings, to sculptures, art objects, carriages, and beyond. Conserving, restoring and showcasing these collections forms the cornerstone of what this public institution sets out to achieve, along with ensuring that as many people as possible have access to these masterpieces.
The Palace of Versailles is willing to reinforce its loan policy for temporary exhibitions in France and around the world. These events are an opportunity for the public to delve into the rich diversity of Versailles’ collections, right on their doorstep.
THE qUEEN’S CABINET DOrÉ
The garniture of three Chinese-style “egg-shaped” vases is generally found in the Cabinet Doré (Gilded Study) in the Queen’s apartments. This room embodies Marie-Antoinette’s personal tastes, and was where the Queen received her close-knit circle of friends and acquaintances.
The study’s current décor dates back to 1783. Most of the room’s present furniture has been untouched, and would have been there in the Queen’s day, notably the Georges Jacob chairs and armchairs upholstered in green velvet with gold trim.
From the early 1780s on, it was here that the Queen chose to exhibit her personal collection of Japanese lacquer pieces, some of which were on display at the Getty Center in 2018/2019.
The exhibition Porcelain from Versailles: Vases for a King and Queen brings together two of the most extraordinary surviving sets of vases owned by Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. The vases are among the highest achievements of the Sèvres porcelain manufactory made before the French Revolution. They were personal treasures of the royal family and are a testament to the exemplary skills of the artists who took part in their creation.
One set, on loan from the Palace of Versailles, is the ensemble belonging to the queen that is richly decorated with scenes evocative of East Asia.
The other set is a group of five vases purchased by the king and displayed in his private library at Versailles. Called Vases of the Ages, the pieces have gilded handles naturalistically modeled in porcelain as heads referencing the cycle of life. Sold during the Revolution, the five vases were split between different collectors. Today, the three central vases belong to the Getty Museum and the smallest two are owned by the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
This exhibition likely marks the first time the full set of five has been seen together since before they left Versailles at the end of the eighteenth century.
Getty is a leading global arts organization committed to the exhibition, conservation, and understanding of the world’s artistic and cultural heritage. Working collaboratively with partners around the globe, the Getty Foundation, Getty Conservation Institute, Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute are all dedicated to the greater understanding of the relationships between the world’s many cultures. The Los Angeles-based J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs share art, knowledge, and resources online at Getty.edu and welcome the public for free at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa.
The J. Paul Getty Museum collects Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture and decorative arts to 1900, as well as photographs from around the world to the present day. The Museum’s mission is to display and interpret its collections, and present important loan exhibitions and publications for the enjoyment and education of visitors locally and internationally. This is supported by an active program of research, conservation, and public programs that seek to deepen our knowledge of and connection to works of art.
Porcelain from Versailles: Vases for a King and Queen
14 February 2023 to 3 March 2024
Getty Center - J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Informations : www.getty.edu