For Immediate Release
March 30, 2022
Digital Images Available Upon Request
(Williamstown, Massachusetts)—The Clark Art Institute recently acquired an extremely rare tea service that is noted both for the exceptional craftsmanship on the part of the woman artist who was central to its creation and for its subject matter, a remarkable 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.
One of the most successful porcelain painters of her time, Jaquotot was both an artist and entrepreneur, achieving great 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 legendary 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 elaborate 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.
MEDIA NOTE: A full biographical listing of the sixteen women featured on the tea service is available at clarkart.com.
ABOUT THE CLARK
The Clark Art Institute, located in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, is one of a small number of institutions globally that is both an art museum and a center for research, critical discussion, and higher education in the visual arts. Opened in 1955, the Clark houses exceptional European and American paintings and sculpture, extensive collections of master prints and drawings, English silver, and early photography. Acting as convener through its Research and Academic Program, the Clark gathers an international community of scholars to participate in a lively program of conferences, colloquia, and workshops on topics of vital importance to the visual arts. The Clark library, consisting of more than 285,000 volumes, is one of the nation’s premier art history libraries. The Clark also houses and co-sponsors the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.
The Clark, which has a three-star rating in the Michelin Green Guide, is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Its 140-acre campus includes miles of hiking and walking trails through woodlands and meadows, providing an exceptional experience of art in nature. Galleries are open 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Sunday, from September through June, and daily in July and August. Advance timed tickets are strongly recommended. Admission is $20; free year-round for Clark members, all visitors age 21 and under, and students with a valid student ID. Free admission is available through several programs, including First Sundays Free; a local library pass program; and EBT Card to Culture. For information on these programs and more, visit clarkart.edu or call 413 458 2303.
Visitors age five and older are required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination prior to entering the Clark’s facilities and are required to wear face masks at all times while indoors, and outdoors when social distancing is not possible. For details on health and safety protocols, visit clarkart.edu/health.
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