Objects of Luxury: French porcelain of the eighteenth century Exhibition

Objects of Luxury: French porcelain of the eighteenth century, V&A Exhibition, London September 2009-March 2010, Room 146 – Free admission

Saint Clod Sugar BasinFrance, during the eighteenth century, dazzled Europe through the brilliance of its court. The rich and fashionable lived in a world of unparalleled refinement, fuelling an insatiable market for luxury goods. However, the eighteenth century was also a time of intense scientific enquiry and innovative research which witnessed, throughout Europe, marvellous achievements in this sphere. One of the most exciting discoveries, after centuries of wonder and captivation, was the successful production of porcelain. Known as ‘white gold’, porcelain was produced for use in all aspects of fashionable public and private life; from banquets to boudoirs, from tea drinking to the toilette.

In the absence of known deposits of kaolin (the key ingredient in making true, or ‘hard-paste’, porcelain), a glassy-bodied, artificial, or ‘soft-paste’, porcelain had been produced in France since the end of the 17th century. It was more costly to make than the ‘hard paste’ but its sensuous charm soon earned it universal admiration. Its soft, easily fusible, wax-like glaze allowed colours to fuse deep within it, and its lower firing temperature allowed the use of a much broader range of colours. Of all the factories in France, the most renowned was the Royal Porcelain Manufacture at Sèvres. The protection of Louis XV and the patronage of his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, drew to Sèvres the best alchemists, designers and artists in Europe. The porcelain they produced was unequalled in quality, design and decoration.

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French Porcelain Overview