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Clark Art Tea Service Portrays Noted Women in European History
11:53AM / Thursday, March 31, 2022
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Clark Art Institute recently acquired a rare tea service that is noted both for the craftsmanship on the part of the woman artist who was central to its creation and for its subject matter, a collection of portraits of women noted in European history.
 
"The Tea Service of Famous Women" (Cabaret des femmes célèbres) is now on view in the Clark's permanent collection galleries. With miniature portraits painted by Marie-Victoire Jaquotot between 1811–12 for the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory, the service is one of only three known sets and features portraits of women noted for their achievements within governance, literature, philosophy, and international relations.
 
According to a press release, Jaquotot was one of the most successful porcelain painters of her time. She was was both an artist and entrepreneur, achieving professional success at a time when opportunities for women artists were limited. She was awarded the title premier peintre sur porcelaine du Roi (first porcelain painter to the King) in 1816, which allowed her to open her workshop to students. Jaquotot specialized in miniature portraits and reproductions of famous works of art at a time when these subjects were avidly collected and appreciated across Europe, both as prints and on porcelain. She used engraved portraits as sources for her portraits of the women on the tea service.
 
Jaquotot painted the three tea services over a five-year period from 1807 to 1812. The porcelain sets were produced by the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory outside Paris, in a complex process involving multiple specialists, including painters and gilders. The Sèvres factory employed many porcelain painters, both men and women, but few achieved the level of fame and success of Madame Jaquotot, who painted the portraits of the femmes célèbres on all three services at her Paris workshop.
 
These porcelain services were intended as special gifts. The set now in the Clark's collection was originally presented in 1812 by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to his first wife, the Empress Josephine, whom he had divorced in 1810. Josephine rejected the gift and returned the service to the factory. It was then presented by Napoleon's second wife, the Empress Marie-Louise, to her friend the Countess of Ségur in 1813.
 
"This exquisite tea service has so many stories to tell, with its of portraits of historic women, its technical expertise, and its association with one of the leading porcelain painters of the day—who just happened to be a woman," said Kathleen Morris, the Clark's curator of decorative arts and Marx Director of Collections and Exhibitions. "I am so pleased to be able to add this work by a woman artist who represented the pinnacle of her craft to our collection."
 
The women represented on each piece in the set include powerful European rulers including Elizabeth I, queen of England (1533–1603); Christina, queen of Sweden (1626–1689); Maria Theresa, archduchess of Austria (1717–1780); and Catherine II, empress of Russia (1729–1796). Medieval warrior and saint Joan of Arc (c. 1412–1431) appears on the milk jug. Several cups feature women who were influential in political, literary, and philosophical circles, including Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Madame de Sévigné (1626–1696), Hortense Mancini (1646–1699), and Antoinette du Ligier de la Garde Deshouliéres (1638–1694). The center of each saucer is decorated in gold with antique trophies and musical instruments, reinforcing the theme of power and accomplishment.
 
 
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