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Mme de Pompadour and Mme du Barry

I wrote about the colour pink a few weeks ago (you can read it here). Then recently I came across a pink conundrum that puzzled everyone I asked: is the hot pink ground colour of porcelain that became so popular in the 19th Century called 'rose pompadour' or 'rose du barry'?

First of all, who were Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry? Well, in the old days any self-respecting French King would marry purely for political gain, and then keep a maîtresse for love. Mme de Pompadour was the maîtresse of Louis XV, King of France in the 18th Century. After Mme de Pompadour died at a relatively young age, Mme du Barry was her successor.

As for the colour pink, I found references to both names and nobody seemed to agree which was which. Always intrigued by a good mystery I decided to do some research, and helped by my good friend and colleague Tom Smith from @dovecote_antiques I found out the following:

'Rose pompadour' is supposedly named after a colour that the Sèvres factory used in the mid-18th Century. But that turned out to be a myth... The Sevres factory called their pink colour 'fond rose' which you can read about here. In England, there was a colour called 'rose pompadour', named after Madame de Pompadour, who was not only the King's lover, but also the beneficiary of the Sèvres factory. However, this was not the same colour: it was more claret or maroon, much darker. So the term 'rose pompadour' was purely an English invention, it was originally a different colour, and was not used by Sèvres.

Then in the 19th Century Minton started to bring out a new style based on 18th Century Sèvres porcelain, and they decided they needed a suitable name for their bright pink colour. They revived the term 'rose pompadour" - even though now it was a different shade from before. This imaginative name worked so well that everyone then started to think that the Sèvres factory themselves invented the term 'rose pompadour' - in reality the French would probably not have kept that name, as after the French Revolution it would have been politically unwise.

Today, the confusion is so complete that on the internet you'll find all kinds of respected sources ascribing 'rose pompadour' to the 18th Century Sèvres factory!

Soon after, Coalport copied Minton's 'rose pompadour', but made it a stronger pink; quite different from their original soft pink, which you can see here in this beautiful dessert service from about 1820. Cleverly, Coalport called their new colour 'rose du barry' - after next the maîtresse of Louis XV!

The new French Emperor Napoleon III loved it and when he visited an exhibition in London in 1855 he bought a few pieces. When a few months later he and the Empress visited Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the Queen put in an urgent order to Coalport to produce a breakfast service in 'rose du barry' pink. Coalport produced it but, conscious that it could politically embarrass Queen Victoria to be seen to imitate the pieces that Napoleon II had bought only a few months ago, they made the pink softer again. From then on, 'rose du barry' was produced in both shades.

I have several pieces both in 'rose pompadour' and 'rose du barry', as well as the dessert service in Coalport's original soft pink - have a look and see if you can spot the differences.

Thank you to @dovecote_antiques and everyone who responded to my Instagram quiz!

Where to find things

You can find these pieces and many others among all my available stock here. If you always want to see the latest additions, follow me on Instagram... I post pictures and a story every single day.

Free Copy of Homes & Antiques

Do you want to find out about the history of British porcelain? Follow my monthly column in Homes & Antiques! You can order a free copy here; it contains an interview with myself alongside 5 other collectors. If you want to follow the story and read the monthly column you can subscribe to the magazine, which is delivered all over the world.

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Happy weekend, and go pink! 💕💕💕


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