As well as the revival of figurative ceramics by manufacturers like Doulton and Meissen in the early 20th-century, there was a revival among the studio potters. In England the most high-profile of these was Gwendolen Parnell, who was also the most invested in Rococo. Of her figures in Georgian dress, the most famous was her series based on The Beggar’s Opera, which had a phenomenally successful three-year run in London in the 1920s. The show inspired other modellers too. This Georgianism in ceramics was an interesting pendant to the wider Georgian revival that found in the architecture and furniture of the period an anticipation of modernist values of simplicity and reserve. But of course, its aesthetics were very different.
Some of Parnell’s figures were a pastiche of 18th-century Chelsea porcelain, replete with bocage and scrolled bases. The most outstanding, in my judgement, was the figure group called The Pompadour, which is in National Museums Scotland.
It has two ladies and a gentleman on a rustic seat with a lamb at their feet. The young man is in attractive déshabillé; one lady holds a fan, the other a tambour frame. Its affinity to Rococo shepherdesses is obvious. The title refers to the period and the pinks and purples, but it’s also bound to recall Boucher’s portraits. Parnell’s ladies, however, aren’t shown to have the serious intellectual interests that Boucher depicted – his Pompadour often has a book in her hands.
Ernst Gombrich was typically gracious in response to Charlie Rose’s sometimes silly questions in his 1995 interview (below). He wouldn’t admit to a favourite colour but he did admit to favourite painters, Valasquez and Chardin.
Michael Levey’s beautiful passage about Chardin in Roccoco to Revolution is worth re-reading:
There never was such a perfect world as Chardin’s … . It is a puritan, perhaps almost more truly Quaker, life that is depicted in simple, windowless rooms, dark and sheltered domestic interiors in which nothing more is happening than the preparing or serving of frugal meals, the education or amusement of children. The appeal is in the restriction: an emphasis on plain living and clean linen – linen, not silk. There is humbleness without poverty. Above all, everything indicates industry. The few possessions are polished and harmoniously arranged; the plain-coloured clothes are cared for, neatly worn. Gravity is present not only in the mood, but in the sense of each object ﬁnding its own place in the scheme of things. And objects are as important as people: they coexist, so that the copper cistern is no mere prop but is as fully realized, as measured and plotted, as the girl who bends at it.
In all this there is rebuke, if no more than a tacit one, to rococo sensations. A cold bath of purity replaces the heady hot-house languor of Boucher. Those tendencies for everything to shimmer, melt, dissolve – for art to hover on the point of orgasm – are counteracted by chastity: chaste draughtsmanship and chaste activity. Women remain the chief subject, but treated as household managers and mothers; girls are ﬁrmly put back into a domestic environment, often shown assuming maternal responsibilities. Chardin’s technique is equally in opposition to rococo ﬂuidity. Like Piazzetta again, he was a slow worker. His Father had been a carpenter and there is something almost of joinery in Chardin’s tiny slabs and slices of saturated paint which are, as it were, assembled and slotted into place in the composition.