Sèvres Porcelain Factory
18th century

The French national porcelain factory, Sèvres, led fashions in ceramics throughout Europe up to 1815. Founded in 1740 in Vincennes for the production of soft-paste porcelain – a substitute for true, or "hard-paste", porcelain containing close to 75% kaolinit - it moved to Sèvres in 1756. Its great period began in 1751, when Jean-Jacques Bachelier (1724-1806) became art director. It was during this period that it became the manufacture Royale de Porcelaine. Promoted heavily by Louis XV (who was the principal shareholder and expected his courtiers to buy its wares), it was protected by edict against competitors. Fortunately, its high quality merited such promotion. After beginning by imitating Meissen, its developed its own distinctive and restrained version of Rococo design. Moreover, it outstripped Meissen technically, evolving coloured enamel grounds (typically deep blue, pea-green and rose-pink) of unequalled evenness. When the great sculptor Falconet was made chief modeller in 1757, a gentle Neoclassical style developed. This tendency was maintained by Simon-Louis Boizot, though he tended to increase the richness of the colour gilding, and after 1760 Sèvres became fully acclimatized to the Louis XVI style.

Declared state property in 1793, the factory fell into decline. However, when Alexandre Brongniart (1770-1847) became director in 1800 there was a radical reorganization. The factory developed new styles based on Greek, Roman, and Egyptian antiquities. Percier and Fontaine were called in to provide designs in the Empire style and artists of the quality of Jean-Baptiste Isabey were employed to paint the products. Heavily patronized by Napoleon, the factory became the principal promoter of the Empire style in porcelain and its products were widely imitated throughout Europe. After 1815, the factory was no longer a fashion leader.