Exhibition opened by Kristin Scott Thomas reveals a Tour link to lavish times past

Actress Kristin Scott Thomas opens the new Antique Exhibition at Harewood House. Pictures by Simon Hulme
Actress Kristin Scott Thomas opens the new Antique Exhibition at Harewood House. Pictures by Simon Hulme
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A delicate yet flawless link between two European institutions is being bound by the arrival of the Tour de France in Yorkshire.

More than 100 pieces of invaluable and fragile Sevres porcelian, produced in the town of the same name which is passed annually by Le Tour, are being displayed as a collection for the first time at Harewood House, near Leeds.

Actress Kristin Scott Thomas opens the new Antique Exhibition at Harewood House, with Dame Rosalind Savill. Pictures by Simon Hulme

Actress Kristin Scott Thomas opens the new Antique Exhibition at Harewood House, with Dame Rosalind Savill. Pictures by Simon Hulme

The handcrafted objects made by the French royal porcelain factory survived the uproar of the French Revolution and were rescued and brought to England by wealthy collector Edward Viscount Lascelles, son of the first earl of Harewood, in around 1802.

With Le Tour rolling from the doorstep of the Yorkshire stately home during the July 5 stage one from Leeds to Harrogate, the porcelains’ unlikely journey to God’s Own County is being told for the first time.

BAFTA-winning actress Kristin Scott Thomas, who is based in France, ceremonially opened the ‘In Pursuit of the Exquisite’ exhibition alongside Lord Harewood David Lascelles and esteemed curator Dame Rosalind Savill at Harewood yesterday.

Scott Thomas, who has starred in both French and British cinema, said: “It’s very exciting, I didn’t even know the Tour started in different countries before this year.

“It’s fun to be able to come to see some Sevres, it’s strange to see something like that outside of France.”

In 1740, during a time of unrivalled extravagance, the French royal porcelain factory of Sevres was founded and went on to produce some of the highest quality wares that became the standard at palaces including Versailles near Paris.

After decades of expense, the French Revolution saw the monarch overthrown in 1792 and King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette executed a year later, sparking a firesale of valuable royal mementoes.

Viscount Lascelles amassed one of the world’s largest collections of Sevres during a lull in Anglo-French tension.

And although some of the collection was sold during the 1960s to places including The Louvre, in Paris, the majority remains. This years marks the 200th anniversary of Viscount Lascelles’ death.

Lord Harewood said: “Sevres has a strong French connection with Harewood and the story behind it is fantastic.

“As part of the Yorkshire Festival for the Tour this is really to try to engage the people of Yorkshire and encourage people to be part of it.”

Much of the porcelain, which individually took years to make, has been positioned to give visitors a vision of how French royalty would have used it, with a mocked-up dessert service and displays explaining tea-making for instance.

The exhibition, which runs until November 2, is one of the headline events of the Yorkshire Festival 2014, the first ever pre-Grand Depart cultural festival.

Sevres expert Dame Rosalind added: “They have all had extraordinary histories and have come back home in a way.”

Harewood is said to host one of the UK’s largest Sevres collections, the British Royal family has the world’s largest.

Visit www.harewood.org or festival.yorkshire.com.

FROM THE OLD COMES THE NEW

‘In Pursuit of the Exquisite’ displays and explains how some of Europe’s most finely crafted porcelain ended up in Yorkshire hands.

The artists of the present have also been given the chance to react to some of Harewood House’s most treasured possessions.

Contemporary artists Dan Scott, Livia Marin and Michelle Taylor have created new works inspired by the Sevres pieces.

Scott’s ‘Yesterday’ exhibit has seen the creation of a video called ‘Tingle’ that explores a clock at Harewood as a witness to history. It was once owned by Queen Marie Antoinette. Other works focus on sound and porcelain as an artistic material.