The East Wing’s decorative arts gallery glitters with silver and gold, glass and porcelain. Without a doubt, the star is the vase Bertin, a magnificent Sèvres porcelain likely to have been exhibited at the 1855 Exposition Universelle (Paris). Léopold-Jules Gély, sculptor-modeler and decorator at the Sèvres Porcelain Factory, applied pâte-sur-pâte technique, an incredibly labor intensive decoration.
Look closely -- an aquatic world carved in white enameled slip is caught in fishing nets and ropes. A fierce-looking lobster and a skate hang with ropes of mussels and an array of crabs and cockle shells, all surrounded by floating ribbons of seaweed. Oddly, there is a frog hanging by his front foot – what is the artist thinking here, putting this fresh-water fellow into the salty sea? The delicate celadon color of the vase echoes that of sea foam, a color that helped win the manufactory a gold medal at the Exposition.
Curator Stephen Harrison reminds me that the Museum also owns an 1855 Louis-Rémy Robert photograph of the companion piece to the vase, this one decorated with land creatures. And surprise! Published in London's 1855 volume of Art Journal is an engraving based on that photograph. Go team!