French Porcelain for English Palaces: Sevres from the Royal Collection

Release date: 
Friday, 30 January 2009

The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace
23 May - 11 October 2009

This exhibition brings together around 300 pieces created by the
pre-eminent European porcelain factory of the 18th century.  The finely painted and gilded works by Sèvres were loved by royalty, aristocrats, connoisseurs and collectors.  The factory’s unrivalled techniques and complex methods of production appealed to their liking for the rare, exotic and extravagant.  The assemblage of Sèvres in the Royal Collection is considered to be the world’s finest.  Much of it was acquired between 1783 and 1830 by George IV, who popularised the taste for French porcelain in Britain.

Porcelain production started in 1740 at the château de Vincennes on the outskirts of Paris, and the factory was re-established in the village of Sèvres in 1756.  Louis XV began the royal association with the factory, becoming first a customer and then a major shareholder, before acquiring it wholly as royal property in 1759.  The factory ran as a highly professional and specialist organisation, using some of the country’s most talented artists and celebrated chemists.  Each piece of porcelain had to pass through the hands of highly specialised craftsmen – from the thrower or moulder and the sculptor of details, to the glaze painter, the specialist painters of flowers, landscapes or figures, and finally to the gilder and burnisher.  During these processes, the pieces underwent repeated firings and re-touchings.

George IV was an enthusiastic collector of Sèvres, which suited his taste for lavish and colourful decoration, particularly at his London residence Carlton House.  In 1783, at the age of 21, he made his first purchase from the factory and continued to buy as Prince of Wales, Regent and King.  He bought ornamental vases to place on chimneypieces and furniture in the richly decorated principal rooms of Carlton House.  Pieces were often grouped together in pairs or garnitures by colour, shape or painted decoration.  George IV also followed the French practice of displaying practical tablewares, such as broth basins and déjeneurs (tea sets), as bibelots or trinkets.  To this day, dinner services bought by George IV continue to be used for State Visits and ceremonial occasions. 

The King’s choice of Sèvres was greatly influenced by his admiration for and extensive knowledge of France and the French royal family.  The French Revolution brought on to the market a vast quantity of furniture, porcelain and other works of art that had been the property of the French Crown and France’s erstwhile ruling classes, and there was an active trade in souvenirs of the old political and social system. George IV’s particular interest in the Bourbon dynasty is reflected in his acquisitions, such as the porcelain busts of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.

The Sèvres factory surpassed all others in the quality of its painting.  Scenes inspired by the work of the Flemish artist David Teniers the Younger were a fashionable choice of decoration around 1760.  Some of the most prized designs were of mythological, classical and historical subjects.  From the 1760s, pieces were often embellished with gilt bronze (bronze covered with a thin layer of gold), which added to the opulence of the porcelain.  In the sparkling interiors of French royal palaces, grand Parisian houses and at Carlton House, these pieces were displayed among plush furnishings, luminous candelabra and chandeliers, contributing to the overall impression of luxury.

Among the highlights of the exhibition are a garniture of three vases first bought by Marie-Antoinette and recently reunited through an acquisition by Her Majesty The Queen; a vase that was probably bought by Louis XV’s mistress Madame du Barry featuring a youthful profile of the French king, and the Table of the Grand Commanders, which was made for Napoleon and given as a gift to George IV by Louis XVIII.  Also on display will be part of the most expensive dinner service created at Sèvres in the 18th century for Louis XVI, and a pair of mounted vases that once formed part of the furnishings of the King’s private apartments at Versailles.

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated guide French Porcelain for English Palaces: Sèvres from the Royal Collection by Joanna Gwilt (Royal Collection Publications, price £14.95, hardback).  It marks the publication of the three-volume catalogue raisonné French Porcelain in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen by Sir Geoffrey de Bellaigue (Royal Collection Publications, price £500.00, hardback). 


Exhibition opening times: 23 May – 11 October 2009.  Daily 10:00–17:30 (last admission 16:30). 

Admission prices* for The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace (includes French Porcelain for English Palaces: Sèvres from the Royal Collection, Treasures from the Royal Collection and audio tours): Adult £8.50, Over 60/Student £7.50, Under 17 £4.25, Family (2 adults and
3 under 17s) £21.50, Under 5 free.  On-the-day tickets from The Queen’s Gallery. Advance tickets from or +44 (0)20 7766 7301 (a booking fee applies). *Tickets purchased directly from the Royal Collection entitle you to register for a year’s unlimited admission.

Admission to The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace is managed by the Royal Collection Trust, a charity registered in England and Wales (1016972) and in Scotland (SCO39772).


Further information and photographs are available from Public Relations and Marketing, the Royal Collection, 020 7839 1377,  A selection of images is also available from the Royal Collection’s folder in the ‘Companies Available’ section on PA Picselect at