China in Versailles - art and diplomacy in the 18th century

Tuesday 16 September 2014: conference visit China in Versailles - art and diplomacy in the 18th century at the Palace of Versailles.

This exhibition, commemorating the 50st anniversary of diplomatic relations between the People's Republic of China and France, traces the trade and artistic exchanges between these two nations in the 18th century. It revolves around the three reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI.
Although diplomatic exchanges have occurred sporadically since the 13th century, it is only under the Sun King that they take on an official and continuous character.
In 1670, Le Vau had built, at the request of the king, for Madame de Montespan, the Porcelain Trianon which was designed in Chinese style but was decorated with faience of Nevers, Delft or Rouen. The oldest Chinese object in the collections of Louis XIV (1638-1715) is a small white jade cup from the Ming period from the sale of the estate of Cardinal Mazarin.
The reception of the ambassadors of the king of Siam in 1686 will impress the spirits and mark the beginning of the interest of the court for the artistic productions of the Middle Kingdom, but it is especially the interest of the king and a of his sons, the Duke of Maine (1670-1736), for the Jesuit missions at the Kangxi court (1654-1722) who will decide the cultural and diplomatic relations between the two countries. The visit of Father Couplet accompanied by a young Chinese convert Shen Fuzong strengthened the determination of the king to launch an expedition financed on his personal cassette.
The Jesuit embassies carried all sorts of scientific instruments that made it possible to take readings during the trip and were used as diplomatic gifts particularly appreciated by the Emperor Kangxi, a fan of science and astronomy. From their travels, the Jesuit fathers brought back travel stories or texts on Chinese culture such as Historical portrait of the Emperor of China presented at the Roy by the father Joachim Bouvet (1697), Confucius sinarum Philosophus translated by several Jesuit missionaries (1687) or the New briefs on the present state of China by Father Louis the Count (1696).
The Duke of Maine ordered the hanging of the history of the king of China in Beauvais. The tapestry «astronomersShows the Emperor of China (perhaps Shunzhi 1644-1661) in the company of Jesuit fathers and astronomical instruments. In the background of the landscape, there is a pagoda - perhaps that of Nanjing (Nanjing) - which is a recurring element used to give a Chinese character to fantasy landscapes.
However, Louis XIV put the gifts sent by Kangxi into 1700 (silks, lacquers, vases, etc.) to the storage cabinet, and Versailles rather exhibited the French taste, while the court was already beginning to collect porcelains and lacquers. His son, the Grand Dauphin (1661-1711), distinguished himself by his taste for porcelain from China, especially the blue and white (336 pieces including 69 arranged in his golden cabinet at Versailles).
The French East Indies Company, created in 1664 under the control of the state, had at first a political and not very commercial role. However, mention is made of pieces of Chinese cloth, Persian velvet and Chinese gauze, and so on.
It was during the reign of Louis XV (1710-1774) that the attraction for "Chinoiserie" was most evident: the adaptation to French taste of oriental materials by the addition of gilded bronze mounts for porcelains or the use of lacquered panel screens for the production of furniture, the imitation of Chinese or Japanese art, the influence of Chinese art on French taste and the creation of a fantasy China through artists like François Boucher.

1.Cut in white jade. China, Ming period (1368-1644), © Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts collection 3.Plat with arms of France (Louis XV) - Porcelain, China, Jingdezhen, towards 1730 © G. Boudic - Museum of the East India Company - City of Lorient

White jade cup. China, Ming period (1368-1644)
© Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts Collection

Plate with arms of France (Louis XV) Porcelain, China, Jingdezhen, towards 1730
© G. Boudic - Museum of the East India Company - City of Lorient

From 1700, the vessels approaching China at Canton (Guangzhou), a market opened which made it possible to make special orders, and the Company imported porcelain services with armor; we can thus see some pieces of the service of Louis XV to the arms of France adorned with the necklaces of the orders of St. Michael and the Holy Spirit.

Philibert Orry of Vignory (1689-1747), Comptroller General of Finances, whose portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud adorns a room, reformed the statutes of the Company, counting on the development of the East India Company to support the growth of the Kingdom of France.

The Company imports more porcelains and lacquers, wallpapers and silk gouachées called "pekin", which will not prevent the silky Lyon to propose taffeta painted inspired "pekins".

A travel kit offered by Louis XV to the Queen includes porcelain from China and Japan with gold-plated frames. These necessities, as well as the decorative elements or the furniture, were provided by the mercer merchants (merchants of everything and doers of nothing) who addressed themselves to different trades to manufacture the elements.

7.2 Perfume Fountain. Porcelain.China, beginning of the Qianlong period (1736-1795) .Golden bronze.Paris, to 1743 © RMN- GP (Palace of Versailles) - Daniel Arnaudet

Perfume fountain. Porcelain. China, early Qianlong period (1736-1795). Gilded bronze. Paris, to 1743. © RMN-GP (Palace of Versailles) / Daniel Arnaudet

6.Commode with lacquer panels from Japan and Parisian polish2. Delivered for Louis XV's room at Choisy in 1744, by the cabinetmaker Antoine-Robert Gaudreaus.Versailles, © national museum of the castles of Versailles and Trianon

Commode with lacquer panels from Japan and Parisian varnish. Delivered for Louis XV's room at Choisy in 1744, by cabinet maker Antoine-Robert Gaudreaus. Versailles, © national museum of the castles of Versailles and Trianon

A Qianlong celadon vase (1711-1799) supplied by merchant-mercier Hébert for the king's wardrobe is enriched with a sumptuous rocaille gilt bronze mount.
However, the king preferred the porcelains of Vincennes and Sèvres whose decorations could be "Chinese". In general, the king showed his taste for the East only in private apartments or at the Château de Choisy, but Queen Marie Leszczynska (1703-1768) participated herself in the realization of the panels illustrating the culture and the trade tea for his "Chinese" cabinet. In addition to Chinese objects mounted in bronze, the queen collected lacquer ware from Japan. Madame de Pompadour and Madame de Mailly decorated their apartments with oriental curiosities and furniture in lacquer Martin imitating lacquer.
Henri-Leonard Bertin (1720-1792), known as Secretary of State for his influence on economic thought and agriculture, played a very important role in the knowledge of China through his correspondence with the Jesuits, his collections of Chinese books or books written by Jesuits for collectors. This great sinologist was the one who pushed the manufacture of Sèvres to produce hard porcelain in the manner of the Chinese thanks to kaolin, identified by Réaumur 1730, which found deposits in the Limousin. He gathered in his Parisian hotel an important Far Eastern collection. It is also thanks to him that the suite of sixteen engravings illustrating the campaigns of Qianlong was executed on the order of brother Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) for the imperial court of China. A portrait of Qianlong was made in Sèvres from a watercolor drawing by Brother Giuseppe Panzi (1734-1812) belonging to Bertin.
Louis XVI (1754-1793), as his predecessor favored the porcelains of the manufacture of Sèvres, but the Count of Provence (1755-1795), future Louis XVIII, or his aunts Ladies Adelaide (1732-1800) and Victoire (1733- 1799), as well as Queen Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793) favored Oriental porcelains mounted in the latest fashion. Two rare aubergine-covered porcelain ewers from the Kangxi period mounted on gilded bronzes of rare quality (attributed to Pierre Gouthière) were presented in the Queen's boudoir in Versailles. The queen possessed, besides a collection of oriental ceramics, a set of Japanese lacquers: boxes, subjects, writing desk, tray, etc.

9.Plaque representing the Emperor of China by Charles Eloi Asselin (1743-1804). Royal porcelain factory of Sèvres, to 1776. © RMN- GP (Palace of Versailles): Jean-Marc Manaï 10. Pair of ewers aubergine.Porcelaine de Chine.Monture attr.Pierre Gouthière.Vers 1785Coll.part. © www.bridgemanart.com

Plaque representing the Emperor of China by Charles Eloi Asselin (1743-1804). Royal porcelain factory of Sèvres, to 1776.
© RMN-GP (Palace of Versailles) / Jean-Marc Manaï

Pair of aubergine-covered ewers. China porcelain. Mount attributed to Pierre Gouthière. To 1785
Coll.part. © www.bridgemanart.com

Fashion furniture decorated with lacquered perdura and the greatest cabinetmakers such Adam Weisweiler (1746-1820) or Martin Carlin (1730-1785) produced masterpieces using lacquer panels from China or Japan. The enthusiasm of the Parisian market for Chinese wallpapers led to the development of a French production, in imitation of Chinese manufactures.

The Vincennes manufacture produced from 1752, the blue lapis background inspired by the powdery blue of the Kangxi period and 1753, the celestial blue (actually a turquoise blue) in tribute to the Celestial Empire. The painters François Boucher (1703-1770) and Jean Pillement (1728-1808) considerably influenced the ornamentation of porcelain pieces. But beside this production showing a China of fantasy, Sèvres also produced pieces directly inspired by chinese porcelain and Louis-François Lécot (active 1763-1765 and 1772-1802) used for a lunch with tray images from the Qinding shoushi tongkao commissioned by Emperor Qianlong to improve farming techniques.

In 1777, the queen had installed at the Petit Trianon a Chinese ring game in imitation of that of the madness of Chartres raised by Carmontelle on the site of the current Parc Monceau in Paris. In 1781 a Chinese gallery was added which surrounded half of the carousel.

The 150 works presented in this exhibition come from several major French and foreign institutions as well as private collections.

14.Antoine-Joseph Chappuis and Henry-François Vincent, Pair of garden vases with Chinese decorations, 1780.Porcelaine dure.Sèvres, pedestal in gilded and gilded bronze, XIXth century © RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) .Christophe Fouin 15.Louis-François Lécot, Chinese Cabaret of Madame Victoire or Madame Adelaide, 1775 © RMN-Grand Palais Palace of Versailles: Christian Jean
Pair of garden vases with Chinese decorations. Antoine-Joseph Chappuis and Henry-François Vincent, 1780. Hard porcelain. Sèvres, pedestal in gilded and gilded bronze, 19th century © RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) .Christophe Fouin

Chinese Cabaret of Madame Victoire or Madame Adelaide. Louis-François Lécot, 1775. Hard porcelain. Sevres.
© RMN-Grand Palace Palace of Versailles / Christian Jean

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