Saint-Cloud factory, c. 1700
Soft-paste porcelain, blue underglaze decoration
Cornet vases: H. 20.8 cm; Diam. 9.8 cm, acquired through the bequest of Alfred Louis Emmanuel Beurdeley, 1921, Inv. 22281 A-B
Bottle vases: H. 21 cm; Diam. 7.6 cm, purchase, 1930, Inv. 27643 A-B
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In 1672, Louis Poterat was granted a royal privilege to make porcelain in Rouen. Although of great quality, his output was limited and production came to an end before the close of the seventeenth century. The Saint-Cloud factory, founded in 1666, was the place where the porcelain industry really took off: the first attempts made in the 1670s by the potter Pierre Chicaneau led to high production levels some twenty years later. In both cases, the material used was not true porcelain – i.e. kaolin-based, hard-paste porcelain such as that used in China; instead it was a soft-paste porcelain in which the pure, resistant white clay called “kaolin,” unknown in Europe at that time, was replaced by a ground-up, glassy compound called “frit.” In view of their inability to obtain kaolin, French porcelain makers managed to produce an attractive, translucent material of a slightly ivory color. These two pairs of vases testify to the quality of the Saint-Cloud factory’s production around 1700; at that time, the private enterprise was placed under the unofficial protection of the Duc d’Orléans, who lived in the nearby Château de Saint-Cloud, and its clientele was essentially composed of members of the Court. The forms and decorations were directly inspired by Chinese models, which were copied with remarkable precision and delicacy. The tongue shapes around the neck and base are reserve-painted with scrolls, inhabited (at the bottom of the vase) with chimerical creatures resembling the Chinese qilin. The central radiating pattern, which stands on one of its tips, was a distinctive feature of the pieces made by the factory and is also found on the faience wares it continued to produce alongside porcelain. The British scholar Martin Lister, who visited the factory in 1698, provided the earliest mention of these pieces whicj he admired for their quality, confessing that he “could not distingush between the vases made there and the finest pieces from China that he had ever seen,” and even sugggesting that the Saint-Cloud decorations were better painted. These vases were probably designed to be displayed in porcelain cabinets, often together with true Chinese porcelain, in accordance with the decorative arrangements made fashionable by ornamentalists such as Daniel Marot (c. 1661-1752). The factory’s first inventory, drawn up in 1700 at the death of its director Henry Trou, reveals the variety of vase forms produced: urns (with lids), cornets, gourds and cylinder vases “used for fireplace garnitures.”
Christiane Lahaussois, Porcelaines de Saint-Cloud. La collection du musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs-Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1997, p. 29, repr. p. 17.
Bertrand Rondot (under the direction of), Discovering the Secrets of Soft-Paste Porcelain at the Saint-Cloud Manufactory, ca. 1690-1766, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 1999, repr. p. 51 and 118.