The Wallace Collection

A Sèvres soft-paste porcelain tea service, 1758-9
Detail from the decoration on the centre of the tray from this tea service (catalogue number C401-6)
Detail from the decoration on the centre of the tray from this tea service (catalogue number C401-6)
Treasure of the Month - December 2008

A Sèvres soft-paste porcelain tea service, 1758-9

This tea service was called a déjeuner ‘Courteille’ because the shape of the tray was named after the marquis de Courteille (1696-1767), Louis XV’s minister in charge of the Sèvres factory.

It comprises, in addition to the tray, four cups and saucers and a sugar bowl. A teapot and milk jug could be missing, or more likely household examples in silver would have been used as a sensible solution to the porcelain not being able to withstand very hot temperatures.

The ground colours are especially sumptuous and were difficult to apply because the dark blue (bleu lapis) was painted on under the glaze, then the piece was fired, and then the green was added as an overglaze colour.  It is highlighted with gilded patterns of partridge eye (œil de perdrix) circles of dots on the blue and with foliar tips on the green.  As a novel and highly fashionable combination at this date, this style of decoration was in demand at Court.

The scenes on each piece were painted by André-Vincent Veilliard (1717-90), probably after drawings by François Boucher (1703-1770). Veilliard specialised in such decoration at this time and here his subjects are touchingly feminine with children enjoying country and domestic pursuits: on the tray (shown above) they have been birds nesting, and one cradles the nest of fledglings in her looped-up skirt. On other pieces boys are fishing, playing the bag pipes, the oboe (or reed-pipe), the hurdy gurdy, and the flute, and girls are spinning, churning butter, watering or gathering flowers and washing clothes. Painted garlands of flowers also surround the scene on the tray and the cover of the sugar bowl, while the knop of the sugar bowl is a crisply-modelled yellow carnation.

The Sèvres documents reveal wonderful information about the workers at the factory, and we know that Vielliard was five feet high, and that he had little physical distinction except for his dark complexion and black hair.  He was thirty-four years old when he arrived at the factory in 1752, having previously been a fan painter.  The factory officials remarked in the personnel files of the 1750s that as a painter he worked very fast but was better at landscapes than figures and that there was little hope for improvement.  Despite this, his initial wage of 30 livres a month had reached 55 livres by 1755.  His brother was a painter in Paris, and his half-brother Etienne Evans was a bird painter who also arrived at the factory in 1752. By the 1770s Veilliard received an accommodation allowance of 100 livres a year, in 1784 his son became a painter at Sèvres, and he died while still employed at the age of seventy-three.

This service was bought by Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, for 720 livres in December 1759, possibly on the same day as Louis XV bought the three vases (with the same ground colours and contrastingly masculine, military scenes) on the shelf above to the left (C251-3). It would have taken Vieillard more than thirteen months of his wages to have bought such a lavish piece for himself.

Further Reading

  • Rosalind Savill, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Sèvres Porcelain, volume II, 1988, pp.615-21.

© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2006.
Text by Rosalind Savill