As un-fired colours frequently bore no relation to the colour produced when fired, artists at the factory would have made use of one or more 'inventory' palettes, such as this example. Even though the painter's would have kept and used their palettes throughout their working lives, few have survived, and Sèvres inventory pieces are remarkably rare. The present lot appears to be the only known example with a gilt border. Two palette pieces are in the Musée National de Céramique at Sèvres; a teabowl decorated by Taunay fils in 1748, illustrated by Svend Eriksen and Geoffrey de Bellaigue, Sèvres Porcelain, Vincennes and Sèvres 1740-1800 (London, 1987), pl. A, and a documentary Vincennes teabowl inscribed ARmand Lainée, ce 9 juillet 1749 by Louis-Denis Armand l'aîné, sold by Sotheby's on the 22nd February 1988, lot 301.
The present soup-plate was painted in circa 1770 by Jean-Baptiste-Emmanuel Vandé père, who was active at Sèvres from 1753 to 1779 as a gilder, and later as a painter (he began his career as an oil painter, see Rosalind Savill, Catalogue of Sevres Porcelain [London, 1988], Vol. III, p. 1072).
The shades Vandé chose for this palette were commonly used by painters, and the majority are the result of various combinations of tints. Some of the important colours (including red, violet and grey) are absent from this plate, which implies that Vandé must have presumably used this in conjunction with other (probably two) 'inventory' palettes. Most of the shades represented are identifiable from their abbreviations, and the four letters at the centre of the plate represent Noir, Bleu, Jaune and Vert. These are then further graded into various tones around the border of the plate, for instance the greens are graded V.-1., V-2., V.-3., V.-4., V.-5., V.-5p., and V.-6 or V.-G (for Vert Gay?), and the blues range from the darkest, B.-f., to the lightest, B.-C.. To produce such a shading of colours would have required years of experience and a very skilful hand. The carmin (pink) must have been bought from Salomon Taunay, as he was the exclusive supplier of this colour from 1744 (Taunay was also the author of the bowl in the Musée National de Ceramique, mentioned above, which included this colour).
The ch stands for chatiron, the archaic name for dark brown; and the J.a for jaune ancien, colours which are still used at Sèvres today. These are all couleurs à peindre and were fired at a petit feu temperature of 750oC. For their names and chemical components, see Antoine d'Albis, Traite de la porcelaine de Sèvres (Faton, 2003), pp.182 - 257. Considering that each colour involved more than half an hour of grinding, followed by blending and shading, the production of this kind of palette would have required at least a week of full time work.
The glazes on four points of the central star (the grey matt colours) have deteriorated, and would not have originally been like this. (The deterioration could possibly have been caused by use with milk or vinegar, or sustained used with water).
The green, inscribed v.d.S.ce, for Vert de Service, located between the black and blue (at 6 o'clock in the principal illustration) is apparently made from chromium, a metallic element which was only used from the 19th century onwards. Sèvres pioneered the use of chromatic green in 1802, when the Director Alexandre Brongniart introduced it as a substitute for copper green. Antoine d'Albis has suggested that Vandé père would very probably have given the present palette to his son, Pierre-Jean-Baptiste, also a painter and gilder at Sèvres from 1779 to 1824, who could have re-fired it with the new chromium green, which would explain the sanding on the reverse.
We are very grateful to M. Antoine d'Albis for his kind help with deciphering this palette.