“Duplessis” sauce boat

Vincennes factory, 1756
Soft-paste porcelain
11.9 x 26 x 19.4 cm
Painted stamps: double L in blue; letter-date D (for the year 1756)
Purchase, 1924
Inv. 24047
© Les Arts Décoratifs

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This sauce boat resembles a surging, curling wave edged with blue foam, rising in jagged peaks as it sweeps seaweed and coral in its path. A veritable manifesto for Rococo art, it represents the culmination of the skill and absolute mastery of eighteenth-century porcelain makers. Observed from all angles, it surprises with the harmony of its asymmetrical curves and the elegance of its details. The Rococo style is apparent not only in the decoration, but also in the very structure of the piece, whose extravagant form resembles that of material in transformation. This expression of the Rococo spirit was never equalled after the transfer of the Vincennes factory to Sèvres in 1756. The soft-paste porcelain used to make this sauce boat was very difficult to work with and was ill suited to the creation of complex forms; moreover, the results were uncertain and the reject rate was high due to successive firings that were difficult to regulate. With its sharp edges and the tension of its movement, this piece, known as the “Duplessis” sauce boat, is highly evocative of the work of the silversmith Jean-Claude Duplessis who most probably designed its extravagant form. Duplessis (1690-1774), a bronze worker and silversmith to the king, often worked for the Vincennes factory between about 1745 and 1773; he even had his own laboratory there from 1752 onward, and most of the forms of the vases created in the 1750s are attributed to him. The Sèvres factory still owns the original earthenware model for this sauce boat. According to a privilege granted to the Vincennes factory in 1745, it had to “manufacture, in France, porcelain pieces of the same quality as those made in Saxony, to dispense the consumers of that kingdom from having to spend their money in foreign countries to procure curios of this type.” Rather than simply copying the production of Meissen, the Vincennes factory developed a style of its own. This sauce boat was made in 1756, the year when Louis XV, who took a close interest in porcelain production, purchased the Vincennes factory. He then moved it nearer to the Court at Versailles by transfering it to a plot of land owned by Madame de Pompadour in Sèvres, and gave it royal status.

S. M. Tamara Préaud and Antoine d’Albis, La Porcelaine de Vincennes, Paris, Adam Biro, 1991.

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