|  By Kathleen Luhrs

Sèvres extraordinaire in Detroit

May 14, 2009  |  The Sèvres tea and coffee service recently acquired by the Detroit Institute of Arts, and featured here, is extraordinary in style, design, fabrication, and decoration. The service is comprised of fourteen pieces: a footed tray (porte jatte), coffeepot, teapot, covered sugar bowl, milk pitcher, waste bowl (on the center pedestal), and four cups and saucers. A breakfast set, it is referred to as a "déjeuner Chinois Réticulé" and is said to have been inspired by a set of Chinese porcelain that was acquired at auction in Paris in 1826 by Alexandre Brongniart, director of the Sèvres factory from 1800 to 1847. The auction catalogue described that set as having openwork designs like paper cutouts on a double-walled body.


Despite the French Revolution, the Sèvres manufactory was reestablished and further developed in large part due to the talents of Brongniart, who discontinued the manufacture of soft-paste porcelain and fostered many new techniques and products. Among them was the creation of the déjeuner Chinois Réticulé, which Hyacinthe Régnier, the chief modeler at the firm, was working on by at least 1831, when he made drawings for several pieces. Producing the latticelike porcelain layers that characterize this service was a complicated and delicate process. First a thrower made the interior body of each piece; then another worker made the corresponding exterior mold in which the openwork patterns were incised; a third cut out the patterns, which were then attached to the appropriate interior body along with separately molded faux-bamboo handles. After working out the modeling and firing techniques, the first documented pieces were exhibited in 1832 at the Exposition des manufactures in Paris. But over time experimentation continued. In 1844 Brongniart published engravings demonstrating the procedures.

Queen Marie-Amélie, wife of Louis Philippe, purchased or ordered at least seven déjeuner Chinois Réticulé between 1835 and 1843, several of which were given as diplomatic gifts. Today only three complete sets are known to survive. (Four others are known but they are less complete.) According to curator Alan P. Darr, Sèvres records indicate that the Detroit service was ordered in 1842, finished in 1843, and given to Louis, duc de Nemours, the son of the king and queen, on October 14, 1845. There is a complete service dated 1840 in the Louvre, and another, of 1839 to 1842, that sold in February at Christie's in Paris from the collection of Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé and just acquired by the de Young Museum in San Francisco. (The last two sets actually lack the lattice basket that holds the waste bowl in the Detroit service.)

The ground colors of these exotic services range from turquoise to pink, deep coral, green, and white. The Detroit set has a coral ground and is notable not only for its exceptionally wonderful palette but the very fine painting (see above) by the renowned Sèvres decorator Pierre Huard (the footed tray bears his signature). This beautiful set of fine porcelain was acquired in memory of Tracey Albainy, former associate curator at the Detroit Institute and curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It is a fitting honor for someone who was known for her devotion to French decorative arts and her superb eye for the finest of them.

Images: Tea and coffee service, designed by Hyacinthe Régnier (1803-1870), decorated by Pierre Huard (active 1811-1847), and made by the Sèvres porcelain manufactory, 1842-1843. Signed on the footed tray by Huard. Hard-paste porcelain with enamel decoration and gilding, tray diameter 20 inches. Detroit Institute of Arts, purchased in memory of Tracey Albainy through the gift of Gordon L. and Linda A. Stewart and various funds and donors.

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