Patrons and Provenance:  Women in the Chitra Collection

Patronage is an important factor in the history of art and design. Exercising financial, political, or social influence, patrons can steer trends and shape stylistic developments. Unfortunately, like that of female makers, the legacy of female patrons has often been overlooked in retellings of art history.  Particularly in Europe, tea came to be associated with femininity. It was mainly in women’s hands that tea was served, shared, and enjoyed. However, wealth and power were typically concentrated in male hands. Consequently, many of the named patrons associated with teawares in the Chitra Collection are those of men.  Opportunities for women to have the means or prominence to become patrons of the arts were limited, and often dependent on their relations with men – whether that be through marriage or familial inheritance.

This Women’s History Month, we focus on women who are connected to the Chitra Collection through patronage or ownership. All of these women enjoyed a position of privilege which gave them the social status and affluence to commission expensive decorative art objects

Mistresses of Meissen

Mistresses of Meissen

While porcelain had been produced in East Asia for centuries, it was only in the 18th century near Meissen, in Germany, that Europeans first discovered the secrets to its production. Soon, the mass manufacture of porcelain at Meissen began in earnest. These developments were led by the royal house of Saxony, to which both of these female patrons were connected. Their sponsorship of porcelain manufactories indicates an awareness of the political prestige associated with patronage of the decorative arts.

Portrait de Maria Josepha, Louis de Silvestre, 1733.

Queen Maria Josepha, Electress of Saxony and Queen of Poland (1699-1757)

A large Temple of Venus, made entirely of porcelain, was the main table decoration at a dinner celebrating the marriage of Crown Prince Augustus III of Saxony, and Maria Josepha, daughter of the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor in 1719.

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Upon marrying Augustus III, Maria Josepha would become Electress of Saxony, Queen of Poland and the daughter-in-law of Augustus the Strong – a ruler renowned for his love of porcelain. Maria Josepha married into a porcelain-obsessed family. Captivated by this ‘white gold,’ Augustus the Strong devoted a palace to his zoo of porcelain animals. Later, he funded the first porcelain manufactory in Europe, at Meissen, near Dresden. Following in her new family’s footsteps, Maria Josepha became an active patron of porcelain wares. An intricately moulded porcelain teapot and presentoir in the Chitra Collection is believed to have been in her collection, part of a larger ‘breakfast service’ designed by Johann Joachim Kändler and Johann Friedrich Eberlein, two of Meissen’s most renowned modellers. Maria Josepha also commissioned an elaborate series of Meissen porcelain busts of the Hapsburg rulers. Made from Saxon porcelain, these busts manifested political and dynastic links between the rulers of Saxony and the Hapsburg house – a commission which highlights Maria Josepha’s awareness of, and involvement in, European royal politics. [1]

Teapot and Presentoir, Meissen porcelain factory, Germany, 1735, Chitra Collection.
Temple of Venus, Meissen porcelain factory, Germany, 1727-1728, Metropolitan Museum NY.

Maria Amalia of Saxony, Queen of Spain (1724-1760)

Maria Amalia of Saxony was born in Dresden, near the birthplace of European porcelain, daughter to Maria Josepha and Augustus III. Like her parents, and her grandfather Augustus the Strong, Maria Amalia took a particular interest in porcelain production. Aged only fourteen, she married Charles, King of Naples and Sicily, the future King Charles III of Spain, in 1738.

Maria Amalia of Saxony, Anton Raphael Mengs, 1761, Museo del Prado.
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Part of her dowry included Meissen porcelain. Both she and her new husband Charles were aware of the status and power which her family had gained due to the success and prestige of the porcelain manufactory at Meissen.[2] With this in mind, Maria Amalia encouraged Charles to fund the first Italian porcelain factory at Capodimonte in Naples. She also imported the Saxon court tradition of decorating palaces with cabinets of expensive and elaborate porcelain wares. A teapot dating to ca. 1750 in the Chitra Collection was made at the Capodimonte Porcelain Factory; it is decorated a fiori orientali o coreani (meaning ‘with Oriental or Korean flowers’), a style which is unique to Capodimonte porcelain at that time. Uncannily imitating the porcelain palace of her grandfather, Augustus the Strong, Maria Amalia created a porcelain boudoir in the Palace of Portici near Naples. The room is entirely paved with interlocking panels of white porcelain, all produced in her Royal Capodimonte porcelain manufactory.

Teapot, Capodimonte porcelain factory, Naples, 1750, Chitra Collection.
Queen Maria Amalia porcelain boudoir, 1757-1759, Museo di Capodimonte.
Women at the French Court

Women at the French Court

While European porcelain production began at Meissen in Germany, France quickly followed suit. The patronage offered by these women at the French royal court through the 18th and 19th centuries furthered the success of porcelain in France, particularly Sèvres porcelain, which is known for its exquisitely skilled and sophisticated hand painted decoration.

La Marquise de Pompadour en jardinière, Charles André Van Loo, 1754-1755, Palace of Versailles.

Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764)

‘One is not doing one’s duty as a citizen, if one doesn’t buy this porcelain,’ so supposedly said Madame de Pompadour, mistress of the French King Louis XV.[3] Her patronage of French Sèvres porcelain is legendary, acquiring more than 2,000 pieces in her relatively short lifetime.

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Today, Sèvres porcelain is amongst the most sought after of European porcelain. The Chitra Collection is home to several Sèvres pieces; dating to the manufactory’s early days in the 18th century, through to its golden era in the 19th century. Arguably, Sèvres’ success is in part due to the efforts of Mme de Pompadour. Born Jeanne Antionette Poisson, Mme de Pompadour was only 24 when she became the official mistress of the French king in 1745. Five years before, in 1740, Vincennes porcelain factory was established, partly with the political aim of rivalling Meissen porcelain from Saxony, and Chinese export porcelain.

Teapot, Antoine-Joseph Chappuis (painter), Sèvres porcelain factory, Paris, 1761, Chitra Collection

Mme de Pompadour was an early supporter and patron of the young porcelain factory.  She encouraged the King to finance the company, and facilitate its relocation to Sèvres, near her Château at Bellevue. Yet, her influence over Sèvres porcelain production was not only financial, but artistic too. Mme de Pompadour famously favoured Rococo design, and was even hailed ‘the godmother and queen of Rococo’ by the Goncourt Brothers (French novelists and critics) in 1860.[4] Under her influence, Sèvres porcelain adopted more designs by François Boucher, the celebrated Rococo artist known for his idealised, pastel-coloured garden scenes. She was also possibly responsible for the appointment of the flower, fruit, and animal painter Jean Jacques Bachelier as head of the Sèvres painting workshop in 1748.

Teapot, François Joubert, Paris, 1776, Chitra Collection.

After 1750, Mme de Pompadour ceased being mistress to the King, though the pair remained friends for life. To retain her authority and favour, she proclaimed this new relationship through allegorical portrayals of herself as Friendship – for example a porcelain statuette from 1755, now in The Bowes Museum, Durham. A teapot in the Chitra Collection includes a composition known as Autel de l’Amitié, or Altar of Friendship, designed by Boucher and inspired by the cult of friendship movement which she promoted.

Queen Marie Antoinette (1755-1793)

Delicate flowers in pale pink, orange, and cornflower blue are painted onto the gold ground surface of this elegant bouillotte, or water kettle, in the Chitra Collection. Produced at Sèvres porcelain manufactory, this kettle was most likely ordered by Queen Marie Antoinette of France in 1779. The ill-fated queen continued a tradition of porcelain patronage established by her royal predecessors.

Teapot, Sèvres porcelain factory, Paris, ca.1779, Chitra Collection.
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Marie Antoinette in a Muslin dress, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1783, Schloss Wolfsgarten.

Born Maria Antonia, she was an archduchess of Austria, and married the Dauphin of France (later Louis XVI) aged 15. Infamously, Marie Antoinette ruled over one of the most extravagant and fashionable courts in Europe. Porcelain was still considered a luxury material, and she regularly purchased items from Sèvres. This included several vases, thought to be among the most valuable objects created by the factory, costing more than the annual salary of a “lower-level professional worker” of the time.[5] She was also the patron of a porcelain factory called The Queen’s Factory, established in 1776 by André-Marie LeBeuf.

On the grounds of Versailles sits the Petit Trianon, a small palace built for Madame de Pompadour, which Marie Antoinette filled with LeBeuf and Sèvres porcelain, including a celebrated ‘pearls and cornflowers’ service with 295 pieces. She spent much of her time at her model dairy farm near the Petit Trianon, for which she commissioned a vast porcelain dairy service.

In the 1780s, Louis XVI recreated this dairy on the grounds of Rambouillet, a hunting lodge outside Paris.[6] Another Sèvres porcelain service was commissioned to furnish this new dairy. Known mainly through records in the Sèvres archives, this service marks a shift in porcelain design, leaning towards a new Neoclassical ‘Etruscan style’ inspired by archaeological finds in Southern Italy. Marie Antoinette only saw half of this commission, while still in production, before the French Revolution broke out in 1789. 

Bowl from the Rambouillet service, Sèvres Manufactory, 1787, Metropolitan Museum NY.
Portrait of Caroline Ferdinande of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, Duchess of Berry, Thomas Lawrence, 1825, Palace of Versailles.

Maria-Carolina, the Duchesse de Berry (1798-1870)

Upon giving birth to the son who would be heir to the Bourbon dynasty and the French crown, it is said that Maria-Carolina, the Duchesse de Berry, waited for witnesses to appear and see the child still attached to her via the umbilical cord.[7] One account alleges that she even encouraged a witness to pull the umbilical cord, in case he doubted the veracity of the birth.[8]

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In the complicated political climate of 19th century France, rumours of illegitimacy or swapped children could tumble a dynasty. This anecdote of determination and mental fortitude is characteristic of her life. A princess of the Two Sicilies, Maria-Carolina arrived in France aged 17 to marry Charles Ferdinand, the Duc de Berry, nephew to King Louis XVIII and heir to the throne. She and her husband were avid collectors of the arts, partly as a political manoeuvre which cemented their royal and political authority. Each of the three rivalling French dynasties – Bourbons, Orléans, and Bonapartes – engaged in artistic patronage to this end.[9]

Duchesse de Berry Tea set, Sèvres porcelain factory, France, 1816, Chitra Collection.

In 1816, the Duchess was presented with a lavish Sèvres porcelain tea set (now in the Chitra Collection) by her father-in-law, King Louis XVIII, as a New Year’s gift. It represents a golden era for the porcelain manufactory, with intricately hand painted decoration replicating several ancient Roman cameos now in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Around the border are painted trompe l’oeil jewels set against gilt scrolling and imitation malachite. The Duchess herself was a frequent patron of Sèvres porcelain manufactory. A pair of vases in the Versailles Palace collection evidence her taste for the Gothic revival style in the decorative arts. She has even been posthumously dubbed ‘the Queen of the Troubadour style,’ for her interest in an idealised French Medieval aesthetic.[10]  In 1820, the Duchess’ husband was assassinated in front of the Paris Opera.

In 1830, her uncle-in-law, King Charles X, was forced to abdicate following the July Revolution, and the family went into exile in Britain, then Naples. Later, she conspired to reinstate her son, Henri, as rightful King of France. However, upon returning to France, her brief rebellion collapsed, and she was imprisoned for almost a year. During this time she gave birth to a daughter, having secretly married an Italian count while in exile.

Fragonard Gothic vase (pair), Sèvres porcelain factory, 1824, © Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN / © Christophe Fouin.

Tea, Women and Modernity

The late 19th century heralded a new age. As women achieved greater autonomy and freedom, teaware design also experimented with new forms that blended historical inspirations with modern innovation. These women witnessed significant political and social upheaval, the outcome of which was a new world order. Through this, tea remained a conduit for social interaction and ritual.

Gisela Louise Marie Erzherzogin von Österreich, Prinzessin von Bayern, Rudolf Krziwanek.

Archduchess Gisela of Austria (1856-1932)

Known in Bavaria as the ‘Good Angel from Vienna’, Archduchess Gisela of Austria was a patron of several charities offering help and support to the poor, and ran a military hospital at the Palais Leopold in Munich during World War I. Born in 1856, Gisela was the daughter of the famous Empress Sisi of Austria and Queen of Hungary.

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In April 1873, she married Prince Leopold of Bavaria aged 16. This silver gilt tea set was made for Gisela by the firm of Josef Carl Klinkosch, sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century. Ensconced in a leather and wood case, the set imitates Chinese export ceramics – each piece is decorated in Chinese cloud motifs against a key fret background. Later, during the revolution of 1918 in Germany, Gisela did not flee Munich like most of her family, but stayed to vote in the 1919 elections of the Weimar National Assembly, in which woman over the age of twenty could vote for the first time.

Tea set, J.C. Klinkosch, Vienna, 1872-1922, Chitra Collection.
Detail from Tea glass holder, Maria Semenova, Moscow, 1899-1908, Chitra Collection.

Grand Duchess Vera Konstantinovna (1854-1912)

An inscription engraved on the base of this tea glass holder reads ‘From patient Tamarochka / 25 February 1907.’ It was given to Grand Duchess Vera Konstantinovna of Russia, the grandaughter of Tsar Nicholas I. Born in 1854, the Grand Duchess was actively involved in charitable institutions in Russia and Germany, where she lived after her marriage to Duke Eugen of Württemberg.

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The tea glass was made by the renowned Russian female silversmith Maria Semenova, and is thought to be a gift from a patient in a hospital funded by the Grand Duchess. In Russian royal circles, the Grand Duchess was well-liked but considered somewhat eccentric – she converted from Orthodox Christianity to Lutheranism, wore her hair short, never remarried after being widowed aged 23, and did not share the typically anti-German views of the Romanov royal family. However, her charitable work and patronage of hospitals made her popular in Württemberg. She also founded refuges for unwed mothers – at the time typically considered social outcasts. This tea glass holder is a key part of Russian tea culture. Traditionally, tea is taken with honey, sugar or jam – but without milk – in a glass which is then placed in a metal holder.

Grand Duchess Vera Konstantinovna, 16 July, 1909.
Tea glass, holder, and spoon, Maria Semenova, Moscow, 1899-1908, Chitra Collection.
Winston Churchill saluting his daughter Mary, 1941.

Mary Soames (Née Churchill) (1922-2014)

‘Small, dapper and rather twinkly’ was Mary Soames’ (née Churchill) review of Joseph Stalin.[11] Daughter of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Mary often accompanied her father to summit meetings, including to the Potsdam Conference in 1945 where ‘the Big Three’ – Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Harry Truman – negotiated the terms ending World War II.

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During the war, Mary enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, where she worked in an anti-aircraft battery, shooting down V-1 ‘flying bombs’ on the coast of England, aged only 19.[12] She was presented with this silver teapot on her wedding day in 1947, by members of Winston Churchill’s War-Time Private Office. The teapot and its stand were crafted much earlier, ca. 1794-1795, by Peter and Ann Bateman, two silversmiths who began their partnership following the death of Ann’s husband (Peter’s brother). The gift indicates the extent to which silver teawares were still deemed valuable presents for special occasions in the mid-20th century. Her husband, Christopher Soames, was a Tory Politician and later the last British Governor of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The couple lived there while it was a British colony and subject to acts which perpetuated a racist system of segregation.

Teapot and stand, Peter and Ann Bateman, England, 1794-1795, Chitra Collection.

[1] Matthew Marin, ‘Fragile identities: Eighteenth-century British portraits in porcelain,’ Art Journal vol 56, 2018.
[2] Steffi Roettgen, ’German Painters in Naples and Their Contribution to the Revival of Antiquity, 1760-1799,’ Studies in the History of Art vol. 79, 2013, p.173.
[3] Rosalind Savill, Everyday Rococo: Madame de Pompadour and Sevres Porcelain, 2021. Extract published in House and Garden, 14 April 2022, https://www.houseandgarden.co.uk/gallery/madame-de-pompadour-and-sevres-porcelain.
[4] Savill, Everyday Rococo, 2021. Extract published in House and Garden, 14 April 2022.
[5] A Taste for Opulence: Sèvres Porcelain from the Collection, press release 17 February 2006, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, https://www.metmuseum.org/press/exhibitions/2006/a-taste-for-opulence-s%C3%A8vres-porcelain-from-the-collection.
[6] Selma Schwartz, ‘The ‘Etruscan’ Style at Sèvres: A Bowl from Marie-Antoinette’s Dairy at Rambouillet,’ Metropolitan Museum Journal 37 (2002), p. 259.
[7] Jo Burr Margadant, The New Biography: Performing Femininity in Nineteenth-Century France, 2000, p. 45.
[8] Susan Caroline Bracken, and Andrea M Gáldy, Women Patrons and Collectors, 2012, p. 142.
[9] Bracken, Gáldy, p. 140.
[10] Bracken, Gáldy, p. 139.
[11] Douglas Martin, ‘Mary Soames, Daughter of Churchill and Chronicler of History, Dies at 91,’ The New York Times, 4 June 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/05/world/europe/mary-soames-daughter-of-churchill-and-chronicler-of-history-dies-at-91.html.
[12] David Reynolds, ‘Lady Soames obituary,’ The Guardian, 1 June 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/01/mary-soames.