French Porcelain From J.P. Morgan Collection

For centuries, French 18th century porcelain has been the prized possession of the rich and famous – from Madame de Pompadour, one of the world’s most celebrated courtesans to the multimillionaire U.S. steel magnate, J. Pierpont Morgan. Through January 18, 2004, the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art will proudly present Passion and Porcelain: Pre-Revolutionary French Ceramics from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, an exhibition of priceless porcelain exclusively on loan from the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut that were gifted to the museum by financier J.P. Morgan in 1917.

Many of the 40 pieces from the Morgan collection can be traced back to the French royal family and members of the court. Undoubtedly, the most famous and intriguing person was Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of the King of France, Louis XV, between 1745 and 1764. As the king’s mistress, confidant, and friend Madame de Pompadour delighted in her new found status, collecting objects d’art, particularly the porcelains created at Vincennes-Sevres factory, the renowned royal French porcelain factory. Chief among the Sevres pieces commissioned by Pompadour and acquired by Morgan is a porcelain sculpture of “Friendship” (L’Amitie), ordered in 1755. It shows Madame de Pompadour as the personification of friendship, a role she embraced in 1750 when her relationship with King Louis XV became platonic rather than sexual.

Born in Hartford in 1837, Morgan rose to fame as a banker, railroad and steel baron, later becoming an avid art collector and generous philanthropist. In the last 23 years of his life, it has been reported that he acquired in excess of 20,000 works of art, valued in 1912-13 at $50 million dollars (a staggering $1 billion, three hundred and eleven million in current Canadian dollars). At his death, his vast collection of paintings, sculptures, manuscripts, rare books, prints and drawings, silver, porcelain, glass, enamels, ivories and bronzes were disbursed amongst the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Morgan Library and the Wadsworth Atheneum, which received a total of 1325 objects. According to Gardiner curator, Meredith Chilton, “Morgan was impressed as much by pedigree as by the beauty of an object. In particular, he relished pieces that were associated with influential court figures, such as the “Louis’s”-Louis XV and XVI, and his queen, Marie Antoinette, as well as Madame de Pompadour, and Madame du Barry, Louis XV’s royal mistresses. It wasn’t enough that a piece of art was unique, exquisite to look at and expensive, it gained greater stature if it had been owned by an aristocrat.”

The group of Morgan porcelains also includes pieces made at the superb factories of Saint-Cloud, Chantilly and Villeroy-Mennecy. Probably the most important piece Morgan bought was a Sevres vase cloche (after the bell shape of the porcelain) almost certainly ordered by Madame de Pompadour in 1763. When the cover of the vase is removed, a gold and silver statuette of an equestrian figure of Louis XV rises up. This figure is a miniature version of the equestrian sculpture by Edme Bouchardon, which now graces Place de la Concorde in Paris and commemorates France’s victory in the War of Austrian Succession (1740-48).

“Like the Medicis of the Renaissance and the Rothschilds of his own day, Morgan saw himself as heir to the great aristocratic and patrician collectors”, said Linda H. Roth, Charles C. and Eleanor Lamont Cunningham Curator of European Decorative Arts at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. “He was passionate in his desire to surround himself with beautiful works of art that had a place in history but he also wanted to share this great collection with the American public, who had rarely seen such objects of luxury.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a major publication: French Eighteenth -Century Porcelain at the Wadsworth Atheneum: J. Pierpont Morgan Collection, by Linda H. Roth and Clare Le Corbeiller, 2000. Copies may be purchased for sale in the Gardiner Museum Shop.

Published in: on December 3, 2003 at 11:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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