Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 106

Reflections on a Chinese porcelain cat, seated on bronze cushion, once in the collections of Madame de Pompadour
Reflections on a Chinese porcelain cat, seated on bronze cushion, once in the collections of Madame de Pompadour
Versailles between 1753 and 1755, was named “Service
Bleu Céleste” referring directly to the turquoise blue
ground colour found on Chinese porcelains (Céleste
evoking the Celestiale Empire of China) that Madame
de Pompadour was collecting in the 1750s.44
Fig. 5 / Jean-Claude Duplessis,
Elephant-Head Vase (Vase à
tête d'éléphant) (one of a pair),
ca. 1758, soft-paste porcelain,
39.2 x 26.3 x 15.9 cm, New
York, The Metropolitan
Museum of Art.
Fig. 6 / Jacques-François
Blondel (1705-1774), A general
plan of the ground floor of
the Hôtel d’Évreux in Paris (at
present the Élysée Palace),
1754, plate 439.
Fig. 7 / Chinese, Jingdezhen,
Qianlong period (1736-1795),
Sitting Cat, Forming a Night
Light, ca. 1750-1755, porcelain,
21.5 x 15.5 x 14 cm, Paris,
Cognacq-Jay Museum.
Upon her ascent to royal favourite, Madame de
Pompadour became, as early as 25 April 1750, a
regular customer of Lazare Duvaux, from whom she
bought nearly 150 works of Chinese porcelain.41 On
18 August 1751, she was tempted by “a porcelain
decorative piece, in uniform celestial blue, consisting of
two cats, and three dragon bottles garnished with goldgilded bronze, specially commissioned, 1,480 l(ivres).”42
This pair of cats may have been associated with “a big
cat on a bronze stand gilded with ormolu, estimated at
96 l(ivres)” listed among the contents of the Château
de Saint Ouen at the time of Pompadour’s death.43
Such elaborate creations in Madame de Pompadour’s
collection reflect her role as King Louis XV’s official
mistress and therefore the most influential tastemaker in
Paris during the 1750s.
Pompadour’s particular passion for Asian and
European porcelains led her to play a crucial role in the
establishment of the Royal Manufactory of Porcelain
in Vincennes, which moved to Sèvres in 1756, and
was placed under the patronage of King Louis XV
and his mistress. It is interesting to noteice that the first
royal table service produced by Vincennes, delivered to
Madame de Pompadour was always looking for
the latest and most innovative creations. She
regularly acquired Sèvres porcelain with bold colour
combinations and unusual designs, broadening
the boundaries of taste. She particularly cherished
the Vase à tête d’éléphant (elephant-head vase) (fig. 5),
introduced by the Sèvres manufactory in 1756 by
Jean-Claude Duplessis.45 Although Josiah Wedgwood’s
partner, Thomas Bentley (1731-1780), criticized such
extravagant designs for being clumsy,44 the chromatic
range of this porcelain was influenced by Asian pieces,
with the elephants painted au naturel with striking colour
contrasts, such as pink, green, or bleu céleste (turquoise
blue), while also richly gilded. In many ways, the
brilliance of the colours, the bold contrasts and the
delicacy of execution of the Sèvres pieces are qualities
shared with Madame de Pompadour’s cat.
When Madame de Pompadour died, her brother and
heir, the Marquis de Marigny (1727-1781) (fig. 6), was
uninterested in his sister’s collection of porcelain. At
the sale of her goods, the cat presented here joined the
collection of another great patron, Pierre-Paul-Louis
Randon de Boisset (1708-1776) (fig. 7).46


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