Celestial Blue (bleu céleste)


Flower Vase (cuvette à fleurs Courteille), 1755–56, slide 10b

Celestial blue (bleu céleste) is a turquoise-blue ground color that was invented by the chemist Jean Hellot (1685–1766) in 1753, and was thus alternately sometimes known as bleu Hellot. It was a particular favorite of King Louis XV, and “became the most sought-after and expensive ground color produced by the factory" (Roth and Le Corbeiller 2000, 86). One reason for its expense was due to its copper content, which could damage other pieces in the kiln (Savill 1988, 3:1175).

In the Fritzsche Collection, bleu céleste is exemplified by the “Flower Vase” (cuvette à fleurs Courteille, 1755–56, slides 10a–10b), which is now in the Seattle Art Museum collection (SAM, no. 99.8).

Like lapis-lazuli blue, bleu céleste was one of the earliest ground colors introduced at the Vincennes Porcelain Manufactory. Unlike lapis, however, it was an overglaze, applied only after the application of a thick lead glaze. It was applied as a powder, “sieved onto a tacky undercoat” (Savill 1988, 3:1174).


Plate from the Catherine the Great Service (assiette), 1782, slide 56

According to some scholars, the inspiration for this color was the bright turquoise glaze found on the Chinese ceramics of the Kangxi (K’ang-hsi) era (1661–1722), and the term “celestial” (céleste) derived from the fact that China was sometimes called the “Celestial Empire” (céleste Empire) (Arend 1998, 41). 

Another vibrant example of bleu céleste is the “Plate from the Catherine the Great Service” (assiette, 1782, slide 56), whose history is discussed in greater detail on this page of the exhibit.


Plate (assiette), 1771, slide 43

As is the case with the other blue ground colors, the terminology was inconsistently used. For instance, the term bleu ancien (ancient blue) has been confusingly applied to both the very dark bleu lapis (discussed in the previous essay) and the bright turquoise bleu céleste.

No doubt for this reason, objects with very different shades of this blue are often all called similarly celestial blue. This is exemplified by the plate with the Prince Rohan monogram (assiette, slide 43), whose version of turquoise could also probably be considered a variant of bleu céleste.

References: Savill 1988, 3:1174–75, 1243; Eriksen and De Bellaigue 1987, 51; Arend 1998, 41; Roth and Le Corbeiller 2000, 86.