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‘Sèvres-mania’? The Histories of Collecting Sèvres Porcelain in Britain, c.1789-1886

McCaffrey-Howarth, Caroline Mary (2019) ‘Sèvres-mania’? The Histories of Collecting Sèvres Porcelain in Britain, c.1789-1886. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

This thesis positions the histories of collecting pre-Revolutionary French Sèvres porcelain within broader socio-cultural frameworks in nineteenth-century Britain, from the epistemic shift of the French Revolution, until the 1880s. ‘Sèvres-mania’ is introduced as a legitimate scholarly term that considers the complex processes underpinning a wide range of collecting networks including: collectors, dealers, agents, exhibitions, museum curators, scholars, and auction houses. It considers the different value structures assigned to ‘old’ Sèvres as objects were transferred, knowledge was exchanged, and new discourses emerged. It opposes previous scholarship that assumes the collecting of Sèvres was a mere continuation of eighteenth-century tradition. Instead it contends that ‘Sèvres-mania’ emerged at different stages during the 1800s, governed by shifting collecting paradigms and distinct cultural practices, including: as a stimulus to historial consciousness, changing notions of authenticity, as a prize specimen of public exhibitions, as an emergent arena for connoisseurial expertise, and a prize commodity of the late nineteenth-century auction room. Although at first limited to a select and privileged network of aristocratic collectors, from the 1850s onwards Sèvres occupied a new place in public socio-cultural discourse, influenced by the democratizing role of exhibitions and the dynamic competition of auction houses. Drawing on a significant number of archival sources, many of which have been previously undiscovered or overlooked by scholars, this thesis follows a chronological structure. Using an interdisciplinary approach influenced by object agency, sociology and history of collecting theories, it examines pre-Revolutionary Sèvres porcelain as a materialization of the ancien régime, which acted as a social agent amongst collecting networks engaged in ‘Sèvres-mania’. Throughout it unites socio-historical discourse and theoretical approaches with more connoisseurial methods found in traditional decorative art history. In doing so this thesis situates the histories of collecting Sèvres within wider interventions into the role of decorative arts in art historical discourse, and thus paves a way for a reinvigoration of French porcelain history within wider academic scholarship.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: history of collecting, art history, cultural history, french art, porcelain, Sèvres, french history, art market, dealers, auction houses, decorative art, connoisseurship, mania
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies (Leeds)
Depositing User: Mrs Caroline McCaffrey-Howarth
Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2019 15:44
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2019 15:44
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/25093

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