The Hope Service — A Sèvres porcelain armorial blue-ground dessert service, 1787-1788. Sold for €343,500 in The Exceptional Sale at Christie’s in Paris on 27 November

‘My highlight of 2018’ — The Hope Service, 1787-1788

European Ceramics specialist Jody Wilkie was delighted by an encounter with a rare Sèvres armorial service that has survived for 230 years — of its original 108 pieces, only 13 are missing

‘The reason I love it,’ says Jody Wilkie, Co-Chairman of Decorative Arts at Christie’s, ‘is because it ticks all the boxes. It is rare, it is beautiful, and it has a story to tell.’

The specialist is referring to the highly prized late-18th-century Hope Service, made at the Royal Porcelain Manufactory at Sèvres just outside of Paris. ‘Think about what is going on in the country at that time,’ she says. The year is 1788 and France is fracturing. A weak king and a bankrupt treasury have created a volatile atmosphere that is the prelude to revolution. Nevertheless, there is still demand from the aristocracy and wealthy merchants for Sèvres porcelain, not least from the soon-to-be guillotined Louis XVI himself.

According to Wilkie, the popularity of Sèvres porcelain in the 18th century was partly due to the factory’s use of soft-paste porcelain, which gives the surface a glassy look and a satin-like texture. ‘In candlelight the patterns worked into the gold jump and you get this mesmerising play of light,’ she adds. 

So spectacular was the effect that Napoleon Bonaparte recognised its use in promoting French imperial power and virtuosity — Sèvres porcelain was given as gifts to visiting diplomats throughout his rule.

This particular service — one of only a handful of armorial services made at Sèvres — was commissioned by the English financier Henry Hope. Comprising originally of 108 pieces, it remains relatively intact. 

‘Some 230 years after it was made, only 13 pieces are missing, and we can account for all but three of them,’ says Wilkie. Five can be found in museum collections, while five others are known to have been lost between 1886 and 1911.

It’s been a great year for porcelain. We are seeing younger collectors coming into the market’ — Jody Wilkie

When Henry Hope died childless in 1811 the service was inherited by his niece Alice, and subsequently sold at auction on the death of her son, William Williams Hope. It has been offered by Christie’s three times since. First in 1876 as the property off a nobleman, when it went unsold, and again ten years later as part of the estate of the Earl of Dudley, when it was bought by an ‘A. Hope’ — there is some speculation as to whether this was a member of the Hope family buying it back.

On 27 November the Hope Service was offered for a third time in The Exceptional Sale in Paris. ‘It was acquired by a private collector for €343,500’, says Wilkie, who is hopeful that the service will remain together and not be split up.

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‘It’s been a great year for porcelain,’ says the specialist. ‘We are seeing younger collectors coming into the market. Eighteenth-century porcelain works well in contemporary settings, adding a pop of colour and soft, curved lines. You can put a pair of 18th-century vases on a glass and steel table and they will look spectacular.’