“Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, 1721 to 1764, became official mistress to Louis XV in 1745. Their patronage of the Vincennes / Sèvres porcelain manufactory, both jointly and individually, ensured its success. Its production is characterised by brilliant colours, daring design and an insatiable pursuit of novelty,” explains Nette Megens, Head of Department of European Ceramics at Bonhams. “Her purchases, which she made regularly, from 1747 until her death, and the factory’s products are the subject of a definitive new book by Dame Rosalind Savill: ‘Everyday Rococo: Madame de Pompadour and Sèvres Porcelain’.”
The Bond Street auction house gallery is aglow as Pol Roger Champagne and mince pies are served at an exhibition ‘500 Years of European Ceramics’ covering Italian, Meissen, Vienna and Sèvres porcelain to celebrate the book launch on the tercentenary of Madame de Pompadour’s birth. “This exhibition and book launch is organised by Bonhams and The French Porcelain Society,” introduces Nette. “If you’re not a member of the Society, shame on you! Ros wrote a seminal book 41 years ago on The Wallace Collection Sèvres and to her credit it has remained up there with the best of books on the subject. It’s sold out. This new book is of the same canon… ‘Ros’, as she is known to all, is exceptional, generous, charming, persevering and kind.” Addressing the author directly, “You are a demigod of competence darling angel, simply the best; we are all the keenest members of your fan club tonight!”
John Whitehead, authority on 18th century decorative arts and Committee Member of The French Porcelain Society, continues, “Ros is the greatest scholar blessed with an extraordinary talent for communicating. Her events at the Society are always a sell out and her enthusiasm is infectious.” Back to Nette: “The tone of this book is all about hearing her talk. It feels so personal and lovely… Now it’s time for the Dame!” Dazzling in a Sèvres pink coloured dress, Dame Rosalind Savill discusses her book. She was of course Director of the Wallace Collection London, 1992 to 2011, and is a specialist in French decorative arts, especially Sèvres.
“We are here to celebrate the 300th birthday of Madame de Pompadour. She kept youth on her side, right to her death,” notes Rosalind. Nancy Mitford rhapsodises in her 1968 biography, “Madame de Pompadour excelled at an art which the majority of humans being thoroughly despise because it is unprofitable and ephemeral is the art of living.” Rosalind again, “This book covers her daily routine and what she bought each year in court. The pieces vary from simplicity to embracing the wildest extravagance – a gamut of some of the best ever produced. You can’t help but be drawn into these beautiful but useful pieces. It is their quality, their specialness, that makes them exquisite. The colours are so unbelievable and unlike textiles they haven’t faded. This is the 18th century staring you in the face!” She points out the beauty of one piece decorated with peacock feathers resembling the Christmas street decorations outside on New Bond Street. And the functionality of another: a cup with a deep wide saucer for drinking hot milk in bed. “Madame de Pompadour was worn to a frazzle trying to keep the whole show on the road. Louis XV couldn’t bear not to have her by his side.”
Pierre Arrizoli-Clémentel, Directeur Générale du Châteaux de Versailles, summarises in his Forward to the book, “In these beautiful volumes Rosalind Savill has had the inspired idea of recording the annual calendar of Sèvres manufacture for the marquise’s incessant orders which reveals her true love of French porcelain.” Rosalind entices the reader with her opening line, “Imagine being 23 years old and suddenly isolated in the competitive, combative world of the royal palace of Versailles.” Such an imagination is brought vividly to life in two volumes totalling 1,232 pages weighing 7.5 kilograms. She elaborates, “It is possible to trace her annual purchases from the factory, month by month, revealing how these were often intimately connected to events in her life.” Intriguing chapter subtitles range from ‘Dairies and Milk Mania’ and ‘Washing, Hygiene and Health’ to ‘Pets: Dogs, Birds and Other Animals’ and ‘Letter Writing: Embroidery and Knotting’.
The work is polished and academic yet entertaining and full of fascinating anecdotes from “Madame de Pompadour helped make bathing popular” to “She remarked on the King’s tenderness towards his children, though she was critical of their looks.” Rosalind writes movingly of the impact of her female subject’s death: “Louis XV outlived Madame de Pompadour by 10 years, but nothing could replace his 19 year relationship with her. Voltaire wrote of how surprising it was that ‘a beautiful woman should die… in the midst of the most dazzling career in the world.” In the words of Nancy Mitford, “After this a great sadness fell upon the Château of Versailles.” The last paragraph pf ‘Everyday Rococo’ sets the scene for the title of these volumes, “She was perfectly in tune with the rococo period in which she lived, and enabled it to evolve and flourish. But mostly she was buying exceptional objects to enhance her everyday life.” Dame Rosalind Savill dedicates her brilliant publication to “my darling daughter Isabella Dove Savill.”