Henri-Léonard Jean-Baptiste Bertin, Commissaire du Roi at Sèvres from 1767-78,
used his cultural links with China for the benefit of the factory.
The long quest in Europe for a genuine porcelain and the way that chemists made hundreds of experiments without adequate understanding is well-known. I’ve been reading about developments at Sèvres, which had direct contact with China.
Sèvres and its predecessor at Vincennes depended on state patronage, notably from Madame de Pompadour, of a kind and degree absent in England. There were vast royal subventions and for a while the king forbade the manufacture of porcelain anywhere else. When high artistic standards and expensive research brought the enterprise to the point of bankruptcy, Louis XV bought it and maintained at his own expense. Meissen and other European porcelain factories were also royal possessions. In England, by contrast, when Chelsea, became unprofitable, it closed because, although George II is reputed to have been interested in it, it had no such patronage.
There were concerns in Britain in the 19th century that our designers lagged behind the French. Since Colbert’s time, France had also had a system of factory inspection that rooted out bad work. Whether state financing and direction of consumer industries secured a higher standard of design in France is an interesting question and one that’s not easy to answer.
While research into porcelain was underway at Sèvres it was fortunate to be under the direction of Henri-Léonard Jean-Baptiste Bertin, who had been Louis XV’s controller of finances and subsequently secretary of state with a wide range of commercial responsibilities. In 1769 a true hard-paste porcelain was produced at Sèvres using kaolin that had been found near Limoges. Bertin had a typically Enlightenment interest in China and believed that the advancement of French arts and sciences of would benefit from better knowledge of that country. He carried on a long correspondence with two Chinese Jesuits, Aloys Ko and Étienne Yang, who had been educated in France and who subsequently supplied him with materials for his collection, most of which consisted of images of Chinese vases and other artefacts and some of which, for example the misleadingly-named Vase Japon, were copied by Sèvres designers.