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Huge and Tiny - China for Dolls and Ogres
Pot à oille, 18e siècle, porcelaine tendre de Sèvres, H. 25 cm, collection particulière. Pot à oille miniature, H. 5 cm, collection particulière. Vase des éléments (détail), 1883. Forme de Carrier Belleuse. Porcelaine dure de Sèvres, pâte sur pâte, H. 1,15, musée national de Céramique, Sèvres. © RMN/Martine Beck-Coppola.

SEVRES, FRANCE.-Musée national de Céramique presents Huge and Tiny
China for Dolls and Ogres, on view through March 20, 2006. Exhibition organised by the Musée National de Céramique, Sèvres, with the help of the Réunion des Musées Nationaux. Ceramics are traditionally appreciated – and lavishly praised – for their extraordinary forms, colours and materials, but this exhibition explores another dimension of the ceramist’s virtuosity, which finds an outlet in extremes of size. This aspect of virtuosity has given rise to hundreds of objects which are improbably large or small, or designed for unexpected uses, from Greek Antiquity to the present day.

Displayed side by side, huge and tiny things stand like milestones along a path which begins with the large kraters of Greek colonies in the 4th century BC and minute perfume flasks made in Corinth about 650-680 BC. It goes on to the glazed earthenware of the Middle Ages, and faience from Florence (Virgin from the Della Robbia studio) and Pesaro (Madonnas) in the Renaissance.

In the seventeenth century, the East India companies brought porcelain vases from China to Europe by the boatload. Dishes, basins, bowls and saucers – all stackable, repetitive shapes – served as ballast to stabilise the ships and later became collectors’ items.

Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such objects were accumulated for purely decorative purposes, forming “embroidered walls” of porcelain from China and faience from Delft. The museum has borrowed many pieces from abroad to illustrate this period. In particular, wooden panelling standing some 4 metres tall, with consoles decorated with porcelain vases from China (Gemeente Museum, The Hague), a set of 36 minute faience vases from Delft with their own cupboard (private collection, Delft), 50 miniature Chinese porcelain vases (private collection, Haarlem) and 106 vases of all sizes from the Zwinger Palace in Dresden, which will be used to reconstruct an entire wall of china in the style of the Japanese Palace in Dresden.

The Sèvres porcelain factory in the eighteenth century was the first to organise its production by the size of the items, ranging from the largest (“first size”) to the smallest (“fifth size”). In this exhibition, everything is arranged by size, even cups and saucers, statuettes and biscuits.

The nineteenth century produced quantities of colossal vases, first made in several parts and then, when new techniques permitted it, in a single piece. The exhibition is an opportunity to display the biggest porcelain vase in the world, the Neptune Vase, made at the Manufacture de Sèvres in 1867 and dismantled in 1920. Successive World’s Fairs gave rise to veritable contests for dishes and soup tureens fit for an ogre.

Contemporary artists have embraced the huge and the tiny in a derisory spirit, as can be seen with the tondo made of lava and painted by Alechinsky (diameter: 1m.30), or the hard-paste porcelain plate from Deshoulières (diameter: 1m.) to the glory of the Cannes Festival in 1995, or the tiny dinner service in mixed earthenware by Sylvie Saint-André-Perrin.

A special area has been set aside for the large number of doll’s tea-sets borrowed for the exhibition. Pride of place is given to the first doll’s tea-set made by the Manufacture de Sèvres, placed not far from the dinner service it was modelled on: Queen Marie-Antoinette’s Service riche.

In addition to the Marie-Antoinette’s ornately gilded and coloured service, forming a counterpoint to the huge and tiny items, the exhibition presents another equally prestigious table service: the Razumovsky service (1767, Rothschild Foundation), famous for its bird decoration on a turquoise blue ground. This is the first time it has left its home in Waddesdon Manor which makes its display here even more exceptional.

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