The Ingalls Library Rare Book Collection includes a small, but exquisitely printed, group of books on Sèvres porcelain. Founded in 1740 as the Vincennes Porcelain Factory, the company moved to Sèvres, France, in 1756 and produced both soft-paste and hard-paste porcelain. As the official porcelain manufacturer to the crown, the company designed objects for use by the royal family and other aristocrats.
The patronage of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress, contributed to the success of the company. She encouraged artists of the time, including Francois Boucher and the French Neoclassical sculptor Augustin Pajou to become involved with the factory. Typical figures and flowers and other decorative objects from the manufactory are illustrated in Emile Bourgeois' two-volume set Le Biscuit de Sèvres au XVIIIe Sièle.
The Sèvres Porcelain Factory produced some of the most exquisitely designed and decorated porcelain ever made. In addition to dinner services, the company produced figures and extravagantly decorated vases embellished with three-dimensional designs. The company also introduced unique colors including rose Pompadour and bleu de roi. Among the most beautifully illustrated books in the Ingalls Library's Rare Book Collection is Edouard Garnier's La Porcelaine Tendre de Sèvres.
The French Revolution and the ensuing chaos found the Sèvres Porcelain Factory in a precarious state; under the direction of Alexandre Brogniart (director 1800-1847) the industry revived. Three plates from Brogniart's sumptuously illustrated book Description Méthodique du Museé Céramique de la Manufacture Royale de Porcelaine attest to the elegance and refinement of Sèvres porcelain.
The company's success in the 19th century ebbed-and-flowed due to economic conditions and changing artistic tastes. In 1876, the sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse was appointed artistic director; however, in the late 1880s, the company faced problems due to the combination of Carrier-Belleuse's death in 1887 and the lackluster reception of Sèvres porcelain at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris.
By 1900 new designs were introduced and the company's porcelain was well-received at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. The company flourished again until World War I halted production of fine porcelain.
Between the two World Wars, the company was managed by a succession of directors, including Alexandre Sandier (1896-1916) and Georges Lechevallier-Chevignard (1920-1938). Two plates from the Sandier/Lechevallier-Chevignard volume Les Carton de la Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres... illustrate the delicate floral compositions used to decorate Sèvres dinner services.
The company continues to receive commissions and produces both traditional and contemporary porcelain. Sèvres porcelain, both old and new, holds an esteemed place in the history of porcelain manufacture and collecting.