Plaque (tableau)

Manufactory Sèvres Manufactory French
Decorator Charles Nicolas Dodin French

Not on view

In the late 1750s, the Sèvres factory began producing plaques to be mounted as decoration on pieces of furniture,[1] and this novel use of porcelain must have given rise to the idea of creating plaques as independent works of art that could function as wall paintings. Producing a flat piece of soft-paste porcelain to serve as a “canvas” was more technically challenging than it might first appear, due to the significant possibility of warping during the kiln firing. The decision to create paintings on porcelain suggests that the factory’s administrators must have felt great confidence in its most skilled painters and with its kiln masters, for every aspect of the production of these painted plaques required enormous technical skill.

The Sèvres factory archives make a distinction between the plaques produced to be applied to furniture and those intended to be sold as independent paintings.[2] The latter are recorded as tableaux, the French term for picture or painting, in contrast to the plaques destined to decorate pieces of furniture. It is possible that this tableau was the first to be produced at Sèvres, as it is marked on the reverse with the date letter H indicating the year 1761, as well as 1761 written as an integral part of the factory mark of interlaced LLs. The factory records indicate that a plaque entered the glaze kiln in October 1760, and it is likely that this same plaque was purchased by Madame de Pompadour (1721–1764) in December 1761.[3] A second plaque, described as a “tableau avec Portrait du Roy,” was sold on the same date to Étienne-François de Choiseul (1719–1785), duc de Choiseul,[4] and there is every indication that these were the first two tableaux produced by the factory.[5]

The back of the plaque also bears the painter’s mark for Charles-Nicolas Dodin (French, 1734–1803), and he has also incorporated his last name within the factory mark just below the upper juncture of the LLs. Dodin signed a number of his tableaux in this manner,[6] but many were marked simply with the more conventional date letter and painter’s mark. It is tempting to speculate that Dodin understood that his work on this plaque, probably his first, reflected a significant achievement, and therefore, he included his name and the year to mark his accomplishment.

For the composition on this plaque, Dodin has selected elements from a painting entitled La Halte de chasseurs (The Hunters’ Rest), by the Flemish artist Carel (Charles-André) van Falens (1683–1733). This painting, now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris,[7] was one of two presentation pieces (morceaux de réception) submitted by Van Falens in 1726 in order to gain admission to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Paris. Dodin has focused his composition on one figural grouping from the larger painting, and he has eliminated one figure and substituted another from a different section of Van Falens’s work. The reasons for Dodin’s alterations to the composition are not immediately clear, though the reduced compositional focus may be explained by the vertical format of the porcelain plaque in contrast to the horizontal format of the painting. Dodin returned to Van Falens’s composition on at least four other occasions to decorate both plaques and vases. The substitution of the figures is found only on the Museum’s plaque; Van Falens’s original grouping of the seated woman with figures in attendance is found on a Sèvres vase (pot-pourri Hébert) of 1762 at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, England,[8] a vase (pot-pourri feuilles de mirte) from around 1762 at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California,[9] and on a plaque mounted on an early nineteenth-century fall-front secretary. [10] Another plaque with the same scene, now serving as the top of an early nineteenth- century table, is reputed to be at Syon Park, Middlesex, England.[11]

The similarity of the compositions on the two vases and the three plaques, despite the minor variation on the Museum’s example, raises the question of the source used by Dodin and the painters of the other two works.[12] Since the orientation of the figures on all of the Sèvres porcelain matches those found on Van Falens’s painting, it is likely that the painting, which was in the collection of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, was made available to the factory for copying. However, the palette used by the painters at Sèvres for the figures’ clothing varies on each object,[13] and none reproduces exactly the palette used in the oil painting, making this supposition difficult to prove.[14]

The majority of the plaques painted by Dodin to serve as tableaux during the 1760s and 1770s had their source in paintings by other artists or in prints made after those paintings. Some of Dodin’s tableaux derived from works by contemporary French artists, such as Carle (Charles-André) Vanloo (1705– 1765) or Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre (1714–1789),[15] while others were based upon prints after paintings by popular Dutch and Flemish artists, such as Van Falens, whose work was prized in France in the eighteenth century.[16] On at least two occasions, however, Dodin originated his own compositions, and both of these record intimate domestic scenes.[17] Several of Dodin’s tableaux served as royal gifts, indicating the esteem in which these porcelain paintings were held, but it was King Louis XVI’s (1754–1793) order in 1779 for nine tableaux to decorate the dining room in his private apartments at Versailles that fully reflects the prestige accorded to these paintings on porcelain. Dodin was assigned two of the nine plaques, all of which were based on designs by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686–1755) that had been created to serve as cartoons (painted designs) for tapestries woven at the Gobelins manufactory in Paris.[18] The very substantial cost of 24,000 livres for the nine plaques and their prominent placement on the walls of Louis XVI’s private dining room attest to the achievement of the Sèvres factory in radically expanding the boundaries of the role of porcelain.

Footnotes (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] Daniel Alcouffe in Sources du design 2014, pp. 166–69, no. 46.
[2] Savill 1988, vol. 2, pp. 837–39.
[3] The subject matter of the plaque was not specified; Savill 2002b, p. 429.
[4] Eriksen and Bellaigue 1987, p. 130.
[5] The second plaque can be identified with the one now in the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg; Rochebrune 2012, pp. 168–69, no. 69.
[6] See, for example, ibid., pp. 180–81, no. 75.
[7] Ibid., p. 166, no. 67.
[8] Eriksen 1968, pp. 144–47, no. 51.
[9] Jeffrey Weaver in Bennett and Sargentson 2008, pp. 213–16, no. 85.
[10] Sotheby’s 1992, no. 306. The plaque was not able to be removed from its mount, but the author of the entry for the lot in the sale catalogue assumes that it dates from the 1760s and was painted by Dodin. It is not known when the plaque was added to the secretary.
[11] Ibid., p. 210, under no. 306. The author has not found an illustration of this plaque. An undated note by Clare Le Corbeiller in the curatorial files, Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, lists the dimensions of the Syon plaque as 11 × 17 in. (27.9 × 43.2 cm) and remarks on the similarity of the composition of the left half of the plaque to that of the Museum’s example, though the former does not include the architectural element of MMA 54.147.19. Le Corbeiller indicates that she believed the Syon
plaque was not painted by Dodin.
[12] The vase in the Huntington is unmarked, and the marks, if any, on the plaque mounted in the secretary are not known, so the painters are not readily identifiable.
[13] The Museum’s plaque and the vase at Waddesdon Manor, the two works known to have been painted by Dodin, share a very similar palette.
[14] It has been suggested that Dodin copied a print by Jean Moyreau (French, 1690–1762) made after Van Falens’s painting (Rochebrune 2012, p. 164), but it is unlikely that Dodin would have reversed the figures’ orientation in the print to that found in the original work.
[15] Ibid., pp. 173–75, no. 72.
[16] Ibid., pp. 178–79, no. 74.
[17] Ibid., pp. 170–71, no. 70, pp. 176–77, no. 73 (catalogue entry by Vincent Bastien).
[18] Ibid., p. 184, no. 78, p. 185, no. 79.

Plaque (tableau), Sèvres Manufactory (French, 1740–present), Soft-paste porcelain decorated in polychrome enamels, French, Sèvres

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