Decorative Arts

Decorative arts expand considerably our understanding of the relationship between history, technology, economics, and aesthetics.  Salt cellars, tea pots, and sugar bowls by the manufactories of Sèvres and Meissen illustrate the growth of these commodities in the eighteenth century and the rituals and ceremonies that arose around their consumption. Examples of furniture and accessories by Gustav Stickley, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Louis Comfort Tiffany show the contributions of American artists to arts and crafts and art nouveau, two movements that embraced the notion that art should be integrated into everyday life. Modernist ideas, such as form follows function, appear in the geometric patterns of El Lissitsky's plate (1923), Otto Lindig's cup and saucer (1923) and Margarete Haymann-Marks' covered server (ca. 1930).  

The Museum continues to add to its choice holdings of decorative arts primarily through the generosity of Virginia A. Marten, whose contributions of eighteenth-century porcelain have greatly enhanced the collections.

Mennecy Manufactory, Sauceboat, ca. 1755

2015 033 V0006Mennecy Manufactory, French, Sauceboat, ca. 1755, soft-paste porcelain, 4.13 x 9 x 7.25 inches. Acquired with funds provided by the Virginia A. Marten Endowment for Decorative Arts, 2015.033

This saucier Duplessis is the only known example of this type from the Mennecy Manufactory. Jean-Claude Duplessis (1699–1774), a goldsmith and bronze founder who was commissioned to provide designs for the porcelain manufactories at Vincennes and later Sèvres, created this sauceboat form from the motif of two waves crashing. François Barbin (1691–1765), the founder of the Mennecy Manufactory, had been producing both faience and porcelain in the faubourg Saint-Antoine in Paris but was sued by the Vincennes Manufactory for infringement of their monopoly in 1748. As a result, he moved out of Paris and by 1750 relocated his factory to the town of Mennecy, where this sauceboat was made. Duplessis’s wave motif that Barbin copied here became a hallmark of rococo design.

Cozzi Manufactury, Triumph of Neptune, 1780-85

Cozzi Manufactory, Italian, <em>Triumph of Neptune</em>, a pair, 1780–85, hard-paste porcelain, 10.5 x 7.3 inches. Acquired with funds provided by the Virginia A. Marten Endowment for Decorative Arts, 2015.030.a-bCozzi Manufactory, Italian, Triumph of Neptune, a pair, 1780–85, hard-paste porcelain, 10.5 x 7.3 inches. Acquired with funds provided by the Virginia A. Marten Endowment for Decorative Arts, 2015.030.a-b

This pair of white porcelain figures represents the first example at the Snite Museum of wares from the Venetian Cozzi Manufactory. They were part of a surtout de table, an ensemble of figures used to decorate a table at a formal event usually during the dessert course. Two similar figurines that were probably part of the same ensemble are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Scuole Grande di San Rocco, Venice. Table decorations, such as these, derive from the tradition of sugar sculpture and were likely displayed on large mirrors among flickering candlelight to create a dramatic and elegant effect.

Neptune, an apt subject for Venice given its reputation as a formidable force in maritime trade, sits atop a throne carried by four hippocampi with dolphins and trumpeting Sirens.  Geminiano Cozzi (1764–1812), a Modenese banker, founded the porcelain manufactory in 1764. Although he did not know much about porcelain, Cozzi was an innovative entrepreneur, and he recruited skilled designers and craftsmen from other nearby factories to supply his customers with fashionable table decorations and dishes used in the service of coffee, tea, and cocoa—new commodities introduced into Europe from overseas. 

Sceaux Pottery and Porcelain Factory, Tureen and Cover, ca. 1750-55

Sceaux Pottery and Porcelain Factory, Tureen and CoverSceaux Pottery and Porcelain Factory, Tureen and Cover, ca. 1750–55, tin-glazed earthenware. Acquired with funds provided by the Virginia A. Marten Endowment for Decorative Arts, 2011.001.002

This Sceaux tureen literally illustrates the rococo style, which takes its name from a combination of the French words rocaille, meaning stone, and coquille, meaning shell. The tureen rests atop three rococo-scrolled blue feet, features scrolled handles above raised female masks, and the domed lid displays wave borders, raised scallop shells, coral, and algae.

The factory at Sceaux, just south of Paris, operated between 1748 and 1794.  The tin-glazed earthenware and the porcelain that it produced was characteristic of the Louis XV style, heavily decorated with naturalistically depicted fruits, flowers, birds, animals, cupids and other light-hearted figures and objects.

Marten Collection Catalogue Published

tasteforporcelain_online_1_250View catalog online (5.7 MB PDF): A Taste for Porcelain: The Virginia A. Marten Collection of Decorative Art

In 2014 the Snite Museum published A Taste for Porcelain: The Virginia A. Marten Collection of Decorative Arts.  This collection catalogue features twenty-two eighteenth-century decorative artworks assembled over twenty-two years by Emeritus Curator of Western Art Stephen J. Spiro and was generously supported by Snite Museum Advisory Council member Virginia Marten.  Not only have Marten’s benefactions allowed the Snite Museum of Art to create yet another area of collection strength, but The Virginia A. Marten Endowment assures continuing development of the collection––as well as obsolescence of this publication.

World-renowned scholars of French art Dr. Gabriel P. Weisberg and Yvonne Weisberg undertook the catalogue project with their typical passion and industry.  Over the course of two summers they worked in the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory Archives in Sèvres assessing documents, drawings, photographs, and manuscripts linked with artworks in the Marten Collection. The Weisbergs also had opportunity to examine similar pieces in the Sèvres National Ceramic Museum including alternate pieces linked to those in the Marten Collection. In addition, research was conducted in the library at the Museum of the Decorative Arts, Paris.

Margaretta Higgins art history graduate intern Rachel Schmid, MA ’13, prepared essays on seven works created by the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, under the direction of Snite Museum Curator of European Art Cheryl Snay. Research Associate Elizabeth Sullivan, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, prepared entries on other German, as well as Italian and British, artworks within the Marten Collection.