This plate shows a picturesque view of the Manufacture de Sèvres, the prestigious French porcelain factory first established under Louis XV. The manufactory was more than just a workplace; many employees lived within the building or in nearby housing. The surrounding pastoral countryside had plots of land where workers could garden. The plate’s figure sitting by a wheelbarrow may very well represent a factory employee, resting after tending to his land. View paintings were often populated with small figures in order to provide scale with a monument and to create a sense of grandeur.
The superb enamel painting displays minute detail and a fine naturalism and that are balanced by a graphic border of concentric bands of scattered gold stars and advancing waves. The skilled artist responsible for the work was a Mlle Delavale, who worked at the factory for two years, beginning in 1821. Following factory convention, she copied printed sources, rather than producing original compositions.
The view of the Sèvres factory is based on an engraving after an 1817 drawing by Achille Etna Michallon. The artist was known for his landscapes; an 1822 catalogue of his works lists several views of sites within the vicinity of Paris and it is possible that the Sèvres view was exhibited at this time. Sèvres painters produced numerous topographical scenes, including one plate with an identical border decorated with a landscape view of the Chateau de Saint Cloud, once the site of its own porcelain manufactory. The self-referential nature of a Sèvres plate depicting the site of its manufacture is not unique; a painted interior view of the manufactory’s workshops was included in the company’s service des arts industriels of 1823.
The lush greenery surrounding the factory in the scene may represent the so-called “liberty trees” which were planted on the grounds during the Revolution in order to demonstrate Sèvres commitment to the republic and to downplay their connections with the monarchy. Remarkably, the factory stayed open throughout the revolution and went on to thrive during the First Empire and the Bourbon restoration. As an icon of the French luxury industry, Sèvres was closely associated with the nation’s economic success.
Rebekah Pollock is a decorative arts historian specializing in European ceramics and eighteenth-century print culture.