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Meissen Porcelain Factory, Meissen (manufacturer); Johann Joachim Kretzschmar (modeller), Augustus the Strong Elector of Saxony and King of Poland (1714-1725), porcelain (hard-paste), 10.9 x 7.3 x 6.3 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Everard Studley Miller Bequest, 1975. D143-1975

MELBOURNE.- The NGV is presenting its renowned collection of eighteenth-century porcelain sculpture in an exhibition, revealing eighteenth-century baroque life and culture – from commoners and aristocrats to famous actors and musicians. 

Eighteenth-Century Porcelain Sculpture showcases over eighty exquisite examples from famed European factories including the German Meissen, French Sèvres and English Derby factories, of intricately modelled porcelain figures, large-scale sculptural works and celebrity portraits. 

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Chelsea Porcelain Factory, London (manufacturer); Joseph Willems (modeller), Pietà (c. 1761), porcelain (soft-paste), 38.5 x 28.5 x 22.8 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the Alcoa Foundation, Governor, 1989.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, ‘The NGV holds the largest collection of porcelain sculpture in Australia and this exhibition offers an opportunity to view a number of our rarest and most important works, including the Chelsea Porcelain Factory’s large-scale Pietà sculpture of which the NGV owns two of the only three examples in the world.’ 

Whilst today porcelain sculptures are often considered ‘decorative’ items, in the eighteenth century many of the finest artists of the time were drawn to the novel medium. The exhibition includes the work of key modellers such as Johann Joachim Kändler – the era’s most important ceramic sculptor and a major innovator -, Franz Anton Bustelli, Johann Peter Melchior and Giuseppe Gricci, court sculptor to King Charles VII of Naples. 

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Meissen Porcelain Factory, Meissen (manufacturer); Johann Joachim Kändler, (modeller), Scaramouche and Columbine (c. 1740) porcelain (hard-paste) 17.7 x 13.5 x 8.5 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1939

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Höchst Porcelain Factory, Höchst (manufacturer); Johann Peter Melchior (modeller), Venus (c. 1771), porcelain, 19.5 x 9.2 x 9.0 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1944, 4813-D3

The exhibition also includes rare porcelain sculptures of popular eighteenth-century London stage actors including Kitty Clive, Henry Woodward, David Garrick and James Quinn. Collected by wealthy members of the elite, these figures give insight into the growing culture of celebrity in eighteenth-century England and demonstrate how porcelain became an important medium for the dissemination of popular imagery. Another highlight is the exceptionally rare Goffredo at the tomb of Dudone, modelled by Giuseppe Gricci for the Neopolitan Capodimote factory, which portrays an episode from Tasso’s great Renaissance epic poem Jerusalem liberated.  

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Bow Porcelain Factory, London, manufacturer, England, c. 1748–76, Kitty Clive and Henry Woodward, c. 1750, porcelain (soft-paste), Felton Bequest, 1938, courtesy National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Due to the fragile nature of porcelain sculpture, NGV conservators have undertaken five months of restoration work to return many of these pieces to display. One sculpture, by the Italian Doccia factory of a shepherd and his companion, is being displayed for the first time in more than twenty years. Individual fingers no more than 2mm across were remade from porcelain and skilfully attached to the shepherd’s hand, an incredibly delicate procedure that required three attempts. Conservators have also removed discolouration from other pieces enabling them to be displayed once more in all of their original beauty.  

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Volkstedt Porcelain Factory, Volkstedt (manufacturer), Johann Friedrich Prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, plaque (c. 1780), porcelain (hard-paste), 24.7 x 21.3 x 2.3 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Presented in memory of Mrs L. May by her family, 1988, D6-1988

The exhibition is accompanied by an online essay and public program offerings including floor talks which provide unique insights into the period. 

Eighteenth-Century Porcelain Sculpture is on display at NGV International from 27 February to December 2016. Open 10am-5pm. Free entry.

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Fulda Porcelain Factory, Fulda (manufacturer) , Autumn, from The four seasons (c. 1770), porcelain 16.2 x 7.2 x 8.5 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1944

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Fulda Porcelain Factory, Fulda (manufacturer), Winter,  from The four seasons (c. 1770), porcelain, 15.8 x 7.6 x 6.9 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1944, 4817A-D3

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Roman Charity (c.1763), Chelsea Porcelain Factory, London (manufacturer) Joseph Willems (modeller), porcelain (soft-paste) 53.7 x 34.2 x 29.8 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, purchased through The Art Foundation of Vicotira, with the assistance of Alan and Myra Scott, Governor, 1984

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Chelsea Porcelain Factory, London manufacturer, England, c. 1744–69, Joseph Willems modeller, Flanders c. 1715–66, Masqueraders, pair of figures, c. 1758–60, porcelain (soft-paste), Collection of Mr Kenneth Reed, Sydney

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Falstaff, figure (c1830) Shakespearean character, Derby Porcelain, Derby (manufacturer), porcelain (soft-paste), metal, 23.2×13.4×8.3, Derby, England, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne the Felton Bequest, 1956

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Europa and the bull (1765-1770) Derby porcelain, Derby (manufacturer), 31.2×19.8×15.5 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1956

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Ludwigsburg Porcelain Factory, Ludwigsburg, Wurttemberg (manufacturer); Johann William Götz (modeller), Winter, from The four seasons (c. 1760), porcelain (hard-paste), 23.2 x 17.1 x 12.1 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1940

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Dog (c1753) Vincennes Porcelain Factory, Paris (manufacturer), porcelain (soft-paste) 18.3 x 25.4 x 15.8 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Purchased through the art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of The Wynne Morris Collection, Governor, 1983

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The magic lantern, figure group (La lanterne magique), modelled 1757; (1757- manufactured 1760), Sèvres Porcelain Factory, Sèvres (manufacturer), Étienne-Maurice Falconet (modeller), Charles-Nicolas Cochin (after) (engraver), François Boucher (after) (tapestry designer) courtesy National Gallery Victoria