The Manufacture de Sèvres has been producing ceramics in a suburb of Paris since 1756. Once under Royal management with patronage from Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour, the factory and adjoining museum are now state run and preserve original techniques while innovating new directions. They have retained 2 bottle kilns from the 19th century and still fire them on special occasions, as well as offer courses in porcelain painting and flower making.
This table decoration "The Parnassus of Russia", modeled by Louis-Simon Boizot, was manufactured by Sèvres for Catherine the Great, empress of Russia, in 1779. The figures symbolize the arts and sciences paying homage to a statue of Minerva. The scene is fitting as Catherine was a patron of arts and education and strove to reform Russian along the lines of the Enlightenment. The hard paste porcelain sculpture is about 3 feet tall and shows remarkable detail and lifelike quality in the figures.
The museum at Sèvres is currently hosting a special exhibition on Picasso's ceramics. His pieces reference historical works, particularly early mediterranean ceramics, but also show a disregard for rules and a child-like freedom to experiment and play with the material. You can sense his hands and fingers in the clay, prompting desires to get out of the museum and into the studio. Although photography was not allowed, this glazed earthenware pitcher from 14th century Lyon, France reminded me of the work. The shy little face topping the Barbapapa body looks to be reprimanding those overindulging in his content.