Street vendor

Manufactory Mennecy
After a print by Edme Bouchardon French

Not on view

François Barbin (French, ca. 1689–1765) was forced to close his ceramic factory at Villeroy in 1748 due to the increasing political influence of the newly established Vincennes factory[1] that had received a royal privilege for the manufacture of porcelain three years earlier. In 1749, Barbin and his wife purchased a house in the nearby town of Mennecy, and in the following year they established a new porcelain factory “ditte de Villeroy établie au village de Mennecy.”[2] As the factories at both Villeroy and Mennecy were run by the Barbin family, the two enterprises have traditionally been treated as a single entity, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the products of the earlier factory from that of the successor operation at Mennecy. Both factories used the same mark consisting of the letters DV, since they were under the protection of the duc de Villeroy. Genevieve Le Duc has argued persuasively that the mark generally appears in painted format on Villeroy’s production but incised on pieces from Mennecy, although exceptions to this practice exist.[3]

The soft-paste porcelain body developed at Mennecy was generally whiter and more refined than the one used at Villeroy,[4] and the tin glaze used to enhance the whiteness of most Villeroy porcelain was discontinued at the new factory. The scale of operation at Mennecy was considerably larger than at Villeroy, with the total number of workers employed at the factory in excess of one hundred and twenty.[5] In addition, much of Mennecy’s factory production was both more ambitious and more technically accomplished than Villeroy’s, but nevertheless, its output remained modest in terms of form, scale, and decoration. The factory concentrated on making small objects, including snuffboxes, small covered pots for meat juices, pots for cosmetic ointments, cane handles, tea wares, and some smaller dining wares.

However, Mennecy produced a relatively wide range of figures and sculptural objects, such as potpourris, compared to those made at Villeroy, and these works were significantly more complex and skillfully made than the relatively simply modeled figures from the earlier factory. This figure of a mushroom seller is one of the most ambitious and accomplished of all the sculptures that Mennecy produced. First, it is notable for the bright white, soft- paste porcelain body and for its lustrous, glassy glaze, qualities that are characteristic of the best of Mennecy’s production. The scale of the figure is relatively large for Mennecy, and its modeling is particularly fine and detailed. The plight of the itinerant seller is conveyed through his tattered clothes, undone britches, ragged hat,[6] and unbuckled shoe, and his stooped posture and expressive face reflect the hardships associated with his profession. He originally held a cane in each hand, which must have accentuated the sense of physical struggle. The seller carries a basket on his hip filled with mushrooms, but his listing pose appears due to arduous work rather than to the weight of the small caned basket.

This mushroom seller is one of several known similar figures made at Mennecy that must have originally belonged to a sizable group of street vendors produced by the factory. The most closely related figure to that in the Museum is one in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (inv. no. 86.DE.473).[7] The Getty vendor sells various produce and a fish held in an apron in front of his waist, but his pose is so similar to the Museum’s figure that the same model may have been employed for both figures with only minor alterations and additions. Two similar figures of vendors are in the Gardiner Museum, Toronto, one of whom sells prints, while the other offers old clothes.[8] Other related figures are a vendor carrying a magic lantern on his back [9] and a figure of a gardener in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art [10] that may have belonged to the same series.[11] With the exception of the gardener, all figures are depicted with a stooped posture, leaning forward and to the left, with the left foot extended. All six figures wear tattered clothes notable for the image of poverty that they reflect, and the faces of all but the Philadelphia figure reveal a sense of true deprivation.

The surprisingly realistic depictions of the street vendors made at Mennecy place them in marked contrast to the vendor figures produced by the Meissen factory in the mid- eighteenth century. Meissen produced several series of vendors during this period, but all of them reflect a consider-ably more romanticized portrayal of street sellers and tradespeople.[12] The numerous vendor figures made by the Capodimonte factory, produced contemporaneously with those from Meissen, also seem intended to illustrate the wide variety of contemporary street sellers and tradespeople rather than to capture the realities of the lives of people forced to earn money in this manner.[13] Despite their differences, all of the porcelain figures of vendors produced in mid- eighteenth-century Europe belong to a category known as the Cris de Paris (criers of Paris), who were described based on the manner in which they advertised their goods.[14] Numerous print series of street sellers were widely circulated at this time, and well- known artists, including Edme Bouchardon (French, 1698–1762) and Christophe Huet (French, 1700–1759), produced drawings of street criers that served as models for figures created at the Meissen factory during the 1740s and 1750s.[15] Specific sources for the Mennecy figures have not yet been identified, but given the vast numbers of two-dimensional images of street vendors available in the mid-eighteenth century, it is likely that prints or drawings provided the sources for the factory.
Assuming this to be the case, the accomplishments of the modelers at Mennecy are all the more remarkable due to the challenges of translating a two-dimensional image into three dimensions. The Museum’s figure is a piece of sculpture conceived fully in the round; indeed, it must be observed from the sides or the back in order to understand that the man is selling mushrooms from the basket that he carries. This requirement to be viewed from all sides suggests that the mushroom seller was intended for display on the dining table, where it could be fully visible. The group to which this figure and those previously cited might have belonged was probably displayed during the dessert course, when porcelain figures were most commonly employed as decorative embellishment. Despite their gritty realism, it is likely that the Mennecy street vendors nevertheless were regarded as objects to delight the diners at the table, serving the same function as their porcelain counterparts drawn from the commedia dell’arte, or those figures depicting the pursuits of fashionable society.

(For key to shortened references see bibliography in Munger, European Porcelain in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018)
1 Le Duc 1996, p. 317; Clare Le Corbeiller in Roth and Le Corbeiller 2000, p. 17.
2 Dawson 1994, p. 51.
3 Le Duc 1987, p. 26; Duchon 1988, p. 129.
4 The composition of the Mennecy soft-paste porcelain body is published in Dawson 1994, p. 51.
5 Ibid., p. 52.
6 There are several losses to the hat, which exaggerate its ragged appearance.
7 Williams 2012, p. 328, fig. 147.
8 Dawson 2002, fig. 9.
9 Christie’s, London, sale cat., November 27–28, 2012, no. 151. It appears that this figure is the same as that in the catalogue for the sale at Christie’s, Paris, April 16–17, 2008, no. 310.
10 Philadelphia Museum of Art (1942-59-41).
11 Two white Mennecy figures in the Boone Collection at the Field Museum, Chicago, offer parallels to this group but do not seem to belong to it due to both stylistic differences and their smaller scale; Meredith Chilton in Williams 2012, pp. 328–29, no. 107.
12 The most current literature on the figures of vendors produced at Meissen is Eberle 2001.
13 See Paola Giusti in Porcellane di Capodimonte 1993, pp. 63–68, nos. 19–23.
14 For information about the Cris de Paris, see Milliot 1995.
15 Eberle 2001, pp. 24–26.

Street vendor, Mennecy, Soft-paste porcelain, French, Mennecy

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