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Figure group - Nature
  • Nature
    Boizot, Louis-Simon, born 1743 - died 1809
  • Enlarge image

Nature

  • Object:

    Figure group

  • Place of origin:

    France (made)

  • Date:

    1794 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Boizot, Louis-Simon, born 1743 - died 1809 (designer)
    Sèvres porcelain factory (manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Hard-paste biscuit porcelain

  • Credit Line:

    Purchase funded by the Friends of the V&A

  • Museum number:

    C.361-2009

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 1, case CA22

Louis-Simon Boizot (d. 1809), sculpteur du roi, became Director of Sculpture at Sèvres in 1773 and continued to provide models for the porcelain factory during the revolutionary period. This allegorical figure group, 'Nature' was made in 1794, a particularly uncertain time for the Sèvres factory, following the upheavals of the Revolution and preceding the new Empire. It is arguably one of Sèvres' most important and accomplished productions of the period.

1794 was the year after the execution of Louis XVI and two years after the factory had passed from royal to state ownership (following the founding of the Republic in August 1792). At the height of the revolutionary fervour, civil rights, benevolence to all men and all nations and the abolition of slavery were all endorsed by the new National Convention, prompting numerous engravings celebrating these high-minded themes. In keeping with the spirit of the time, Boizot made drawings of allegorical subjects such as Knowledge (La Sagesse), Modesty (La Pudeur) and French Heroism (L'Héroïsme français) which were reproduced in popular engravings. This group is based on an unsigned engraving, entitled 'La Nature' and attributed to Boizot, an example of which has survived in the Musée Carnavalet in Paris. 'Nature' is represented as a woman nursing two infants, one each of European and African origin. The practice of breast feeding, although revived latterly by the aristocracy during the Ancien Régime, came to symbolise the Republican values of equality and duty. Another group along the same lines was produced in the same year: Freed Slaves (Les Noirs libres) inscribed 'Moi égale à toi, moi libre aussi', it was certainly based on engravings by Boizot and depicts two Africans; the man wears the phrygian cap, a symbol of freed slaves dating back to Roman republican times also adopted as a symbol of the Revolution, while the woman wears a setsquare as a pendant around her neck, a symbol of equality derived from masonic iconography. An example of this rare group is in the collections of the Musée du Nouveau Monde in La Rochelle, France.

All the references to 'Nature' in the Sèvres archives date from 1794, 'an II' (year 2), in the Revolutionary calendar. Three examples came out of the kiln on 2 messidor an II (20 June), with the comment that they needed to be refired. Three were in the 22 messidor firing (10 July, possibly the same ones), a further four were fired on 22 thermidor an II (9th August), and three on 21 fructidor an II (7th September). This means that either 10 or 13 were produced. This piece one of only two surviving examples of the model. Its clear political and humanitarian message continues to resonate in the 21st century.

Physical description

Sèvres hard-paste biscuit porcelain group of a seated woman breast-feeding two babies, one of European origin the other of African.

Place of Origin

France (made)

Date

1794 (made)

Artist/maker

Boizot, Louis-Simon, born 1743 - died 1809 (designer)
Sèvres porcelain factory (manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques

Hard-paste biscuit porcelain

Marks and inscriptions

5
Incised on the side of the socle under the woman's right foot

Dimensions

Height: 245 mm, Width: 210 mm approx., Depth: 180 mm approx.

Object history note

Louis-Simon Boizot held the title of Sculptor to the King and became Director of Sculpture at Sèvres in 1773. This model was made in 1794, the year following the execution of Louis XVI after the manuctory had been transferred from royal to state ownership. It was also the year in which the National Convention voted in favour of the abolition of slavery, prompting numerous engravings celebrating the themes of civil rights and benevolence to all men and all nations. The source for the group is an engraving attributed to Boizot, entitled 'La Nature', showing an allegorical figure of a woman nursing two children, one of European, the other of African origin (impressions are in the Musée Carnavalet and the Bibliothèque nationale; see also References, below). The practice of breast feeding, although revived by the aristocracy during the Ancien Régime, came to symbolise the Republican values of equality and duty.

This biscuit group was arguably one of Sèvres' most important and accomplished productions of the period. It was made at a time when the manufacture's production was in decline, following the upheavals of the Revolution and preceding the new Empire.

All the references to the production of this shape in the Sèvres archives date from 1794. Three examples came out of the kiln on 2 messidor an II (20 June), with the comment that they needed to be refired. Three were in the 22 messidor firing (10 July, possibly the same ones), a further four were fired on 22 Thermidor an II (9th August), and three on 21 Fructidor an II (7th September). This means that either 10 or 13 were produced. This piece is one of only two surviving examples. Its clear political significance continues to resonate in the 21st century.

Two other engraving of 1793-94 with the same title signed by Boizot are in the Bibliothèque nationale. Like the porcelain group and the unsigned engraving, these show female figures with multiple breasts based on antique models of Diana (Artemis) of Ephesus (the prints were engraved by Jean Baptiste Gautier and Louis Darcis). Boizot modelled one other Sèvres porcelain group celebrating the abolition of slavery in 1794. Inscribed, 'Moi égale à toi, moi libre aussi', this represents a black man and woman freed from slavery, the former wearing a Phyrigian cap, representing Liberty, and the latter a triangular stonemason's or carpenter's level, representing Equality and Justice (an example is in the Musée du Nouveau Monde, La Rochelle). The same symbolism also occurs on a pair of prints entitled 'Moi libre aussi' designed by Boizot, again engraved by Darcis, impressions of which are also in the Bibliothèque nationale.

Descriptive line

'Nature', hard-paste biscuit porcelain, designed by Louis-Simon Boizot, Sèvres, France, 1794

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Gendre, Catherine (commissaire de l'exposition). Louis-Simon Boizot (1743-1809), Sculpteur du roi et directeur de l'atelier de sculpture à la Manufacture de Sèvres. Exhibition at the musée Lambinet de Versailles, 23 October 2001 - 24th February 2002. See catalogue entry no. 80, p. 232 for an anonymous engraving in the musée Carnavalet, entitled 'La Nature', of the same composition. The attribution to Boizot is based on the similarity of the details of this figure found also in other engravings on the same theme, which also recur in the biscuit model. According to the catalogue entry the print was engraved around November 1793 (so predates the Convention's abolition of slavery on 4 February 1794). The The iconography is linked to contemporary events and also to literature of the time (Paul et Virginie by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was published in 1788 and 1789). The Sèvres clientele were apparently not very taken with the model as it is only to be found once in the sales records: 8 messidor, an III (27 June 1795) purchased by citoyen Le Couleloc Conteleu for 660 assignats.
International Ceramics Fair & Seminar 2009 handbook. pp 88-89. Advertisement for John Whitehead illustrating this biscuit model, now C.361-2009, together with a print of the same composition. Caption reads: 'Sèvres hard-paste biscuit group La Nature incised S, 1794, Height 9 1/2 inches (24cm). Once the Convention had voted to abolish slavery in 1794, a number of popular engravings were produced in celebration. Boizot turned some of these into biscuit groups. This one deals with the themes of equality and fecundity, and also incorporates symbols of the elements, a serpent for the earth, water-lilies for water, birds for air and smoke for fire.' This appears to be the only known surviving example.' (In 2015 a second example was exhibited: see John Whitehead Works of Art, 2015 in References.)
John Whitehead Works of Art, Sèvres Porcelain Sculpture of the Eighteenth Century (digital catalogue), Paris Parcours de la Céramique, September 2015, cat. pp. 66-8

Labels and date

Nature
1794

This piece shows Mother Nature nursing a European and an African child. It was made in 1794, the year the French voted to abolish slavery in the colonies. The sculpture is one of many objects created at that time to celebrate the ideals of civil rights for all. The mother figure breastfeeding the children of the empire symbolises the Republican values of equality and duty. The composition is based on the print to the right.

France (Paris)
Made at the Sèvres factory
Designed by Louis-Simon Boizot
Biscuit porcelain
Purchase funded by the Friends of the V&A
[09/12/2015]
LOUIS-SIMON BOIZOT (1743-1809)
SÈVRES FIGURE GROUP: 'NATURE'
1794

In 1794 France voted in favour of abolishing slavery in its colonies. This act inspired many artworks on the theme of equality and human rights. This group shows 'Nature' nursing two children of European and African origin. It is one of 13 versions made at Sèvres. Originally royal, the factory had passed to state ownership during the Revolution. Further examples of Sèvres biscuit porcelain can be seen on display in Room 139.

Sèvres (France)
Unglazed hard-paste porcelain
Purchase funded by the Friends of the V&A
Museum no. C.361-2009 []

Materials

Porcelain

Subjects depicted

Black history; Slavery

Categories

Ceramics; Black History; Slavery & Abolitionism

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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