In the Mold of Clodion: Sèvres’s “Vases Clodion” and the Sculptor’s Legacy
by Elizabeth Saari Browne, PhD
Despite the delays occasioned by the pandemic, I was finally able to travel to France in September 2021 to fulfill my research trip dedicated to contextualizing the role of the vase in the oeuvre of the French sculptor Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814), for which I received generous funds from a Decorative Arts Trust Research Grant. Initially awarded the grant in summer 2020, my planned research trip was continually delayed due to Covid-19. Nevertheless, with the help of colleagues in France—and particularly at Sèvres of M. Denis Bernat and Mme. Coralie Dusserre—I was able to glean enough from the archival records to complete the chapter “The Many Vases of Clodion” and to successfully defend my dissertation in April 2021.
Claude Michel, called Clodion, Vase à décor d’une ronde des satyres et des satyresses, 1782. Marble. Musée du Louvre, RF 4202.
There were, however, references to fact-check and other lines of inquiry to follow-up on, and I am grateful that the Trust allowed me to reallocate the grant for those purposes. Specifically, I was able to travel to Nancy and Lunéville in northeastern France to see the paired exhibitions, Les Adam: La sculpture en héritage (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy) and La sculpture en son château. Variations sur un art majeur (Château de Lunéville).
The exhibition in Nancy represented the first retrospective of the dynasty of Lorrainaise sculptors, the Adam, of which Clodion was a member through his mother, Anne Adam. The curator, M. Pierre-Hippolyte Pénet, generously provided an intimate tour of the exhibition, which further solidified my understanding of the diversity of sculpture produced by this family. The Adams were founders, metalsmiths, and potters, and they produced fountain designs and architectural ornamentation, as well as freestanding figures in marble, bronze, plaster, and, of course, terracotta. All sculptors worked in all media; no one material seemed to have precedence over another. Moreover, the family worked in collaboration—even, as the show points out, across generations—and often independently of commissions, producing works for an open market.
The exhibition featured many works that have never been publicly displayed, and in a manner that enriches our understanding of the Adam family, of Clodion’s place within it (important for me), and of 18th-century French sculpture more broadly. It corroborated my arguments regarding Clodion’s work in clay, that the material was not used by the artist merely as a means of capitalizing on the taste for “sketches,” but as an autonomous medium, one among many materials within the broader field of sculpture, a field fully explored and exploited within his family.
For further reading, please view my exhibition review titled Les Adam: La sculpture en héritage La sculpture en son château: Variations sur un art majeur in the December 2021 issue of The Burlington Magazine.
Elizabeth Saari Browne received her PhD from History, Theory, and Criticism of Art and Architecture program at MIT. She is now the Remote Senior Cataloguer for the Decloux Collection at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
About The Decorative Arts Trust Bulletin
Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.