Lapis-Lazuli Blue (bleu lapis)
The color blue, especially the rich dark blue known as bleu lapis (lapis-lazuli blue), played a special role in Vincennes porcelain ground colors from the beginning. This lapis-lazuli blue first came into use around 1752, and was the first colored ground used at the factory. Bleu lapis is a particularly vibrant blue whose appeal was widely noted. In 1767, an art dealer noted its “piquant vividness of tone” (cited in Eriksen and De Bellaigue 1987, 51).
In regard to the vibrant blue ground, framed by elaborately gilded trellises and garlands, on the "Teapot in the Queen’s Style" (théière à la Reine, ca. 1753, slide 13), Roth and Le Corbeiller’s comments on gilding during the early 1750s are pertinent. They suggest that the gilding compensated for a flaw in the color: “Elaborate gilded decoration like this was often employed in conjunction with bleu lapis for the blue tended to run and this could be masked by the gilding” (Roth and Le Corbeiller 2000, 294).
Unlike most other ground colors, bleu lapis was originally used as an underglaze. What is striking about this method is that it creates what Eriksen and De Bellaigue call an “unevenness of intensity” which could be regarded as a “fault” but in fact “from an aesthetic point of view can be highly advantageous” (1987, 51). Savill similarly characterizes bleu lapis as “often cloudy and uneven” (1988, 3:1174). The vibrant appeal of this uneven tone is visible in the “Plate with Braided Décor” (assiette à cordonnet, slide 8). In practice, the final result greatly varied, depending on the temperature of its firing. If fired at too high a temperature it became nearly black, but if underfired it could take on the tone of mauve.
The lapis blue ground was sometimes combined with a striking pattern of gilding called caillouté (cobblestone), as seen in “Two Plates with Blue-Cobblestone Décor” (assiettes lapis-caillouté décor, 1769, slide 40). The gilding is applied over the bleu lapis ground color in a pattern of unevenly dispersed oval shapes that evoke cobblestones, and thus was often known as lapis caillouté (lapis-lazuli cobblestone). Roth and Le Corbeiller trace its origins to Chinese porcelain patterns “where similar gold pebbling can be found sparingly applied on borders” (2000, 117–18).
As with all ground colors at Vincennes and Sèvres, the terminology for this blue is varied and inconsistent. Sometimes the same color was described in various ways. Bleu lapis was also sometimes called bleu antique (antique blue) and bleu ancien (ancient blue), “since it imitated earlier blue grounds at St. Cloud in 1701 and on Chinese porcelain” (Savill 1988, 3:1174). By 1763 it was generally replaced by bleu nouveau (new blue).
References: Savill 1988, 3:1172–75; Eriksen and De Bellaigue 1987, 50–51; Roth and Le Corbeiller 2000, 117–18, 294.
Read more about other shades of blue at the links below: