The story of pink has many tales but started as something very ambiguous. In the early years of the word pink being used had two meanings. Pink once meant yellow lake prepared from Persian berries or American oak. The other meaning was “frilled edge.” For example, the wavy edge that zigzag scissors cut is known as pinking shears. In the 16th century, pink also started to mean the notched petals of dianthus (Carnation) flowers which were also a pale red. The word pink dates back to the 1300s meaning “pierce, stab, make holes in.”
Pink has a reputation for being a very girly and innocent colour even though it didn’t have that much of a strong identity towards that at the time. Pink has a royal history with the rise of porcelain and Madame de Pompadour. Porcelain was pottery that aristocrats collected. It was considered to be “white gold” because of the hard-paste porcelain white finish. Most European potters made porcelain blanketed white with no other colours on it because they wanted to emulate the ancient Greek statues that were all white by the 18th century. Until 1720, the Meissen factory started to paint an underglaze blue to mimic Chinese blue-and-white porcelain with a gold leaf edged on their work. The Meissen factory often copied Eastern Asian porcelain designs called japonaiserie and chinoiserie which were commonly found around Europe.
French entrepreneurs wanted to copy the porcelain design for themselves but they didn’t know how to create the same type of porcelain. They made soft-paste porcelain which was a mixture of soap, frit (semi-translucent glass) and marl (a combination of clay and chalk). The Château de Vincennes, the leading French factory of the 1740s close to Paris, had an industry edge with its recipe for gold mordant from a Benedictine monk, Hippolyte Le Faure, who sold it for 3000 livres. Afterwards, the porcelain factory started to get noticed.
When Madame de Pompadour had an interest in fashion, teas or decor, everyone else in France followed. She lobbied for the first encyclopedias in France. She was a patron of architecture and the arts especially decorative arts like porcelain. One of the smartest people in the French court who discussed philosophy with Voltaire, Duclos, Montesquieu, Helvétius, de Fontenelle and other notable persons in the king’s salon during the Age of Enlightenment. She dabbled in printmaking, music, staged court amusements, engraving prints and gemstones, and oil sketches. And published influential books like the History of Stuarts in 1760 in her print shop. In short, she was one of history’s biggest influencers and tastemakers. She was like a minister of the arts in France. She supported the arts by paying artists and curating all types of artwork from paintings to porcelain to decorate the Palace of Versailles.
She was King Louis XV’s chief mistress. When King Louis and Madame de Pompadour met at a The Yew Tree Ball event between February 25 to the 26 in 1745 at the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. She was dressed as a domino, a common go-to costume for masquerades. The rounded eye mask and voluminous robe are black silks that can conceal the identity of the wearer without interfering with movement or conversation with others. Many of the men including the king were dressed as topiary yew trees. The event was organized for the marriage of the Dauphin Louis Ferdinand to Maria Teresa Rafaela of Spain. It was a chance meeting between the King of France with the young and attractive lady on a trip to the royal hunting grounds in the forest of Sénart.
Before she was the mistress of the king, she was married to the tax farmer and nephew to her legal guardian Charles Guillaume Le Normant d’Étiolles as Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson. Her father and his country in 1725 after the scandal over a series of tax debts which was punishable by death. Her mother, Louise Madeleine de la Motte, befriended Charles François Paul Le Normant de Tournehem, a tax farmer who raised and educated her. Her mother took her to a fortune-teller when she was a small child to be told that she was destined to reign over the heart of the king. She was nicknamed “Reinette” (Little Queen.) At an early age, people complimented her for her wit and charm.
She filed for separation from Le Normant d’Etiolles after the affair with the king to become the Marquise de Pompadour (commonly known as Madame de Pompadour) and the 13th lady-in-waiting by the queen. Her first husband never forgave her. King Louis purchased an apartment above his residence and the marquisate of Pompadour to have a title to be addressed in court. She was also given a coat-of-arms making her a person of nobility in court. Her mother and brother also resided in the palace with her. Over the years, she turned into an advisor, administrator, patron of the arts, organizer, facilitator and friend to the king due to persistent health and libido issues.
She first commissioned Vincennes to decorate her ceiling and floors with coloured porcelain flowers with scents to match. The commission works from Vincennes by Madame de Pompadour created many colours for porcelain work that matched her taste and was technically possible at the time. The porcelain factory made a rich bright pink after they moved to the Palace de Versailles near Sèvres in 1757 near Madame de Pompadour’s château de Bellevue. The porcelain factory became the royal factory and joined Gobelins in its entitlement to royal protection and patronage to compete with other porcelain factories like Chantilly in France and Meissen in Germany. It became the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres. It was introduced as a rose or rose in France but elsewhere, it was known as Pompadour Pink or Rose Pompadour.
The rosy pink shade started to have an identity. Madame de Pompadour made the bright pale colour fashionable. It was a gender-neutral colour that was more associated with being a sensual colour for a royal mistress. Many royal mistresses wore the pink shade, for example, Madame de Barry often wore pink pearls. But Madame de Pompadour oversaw construction projects and met with manufacturers and production vendors that produced the colour and paired the new-fashioned pink with her other go-to pale blue colour. The colour was also connected with being youthful after Madame de Pompadour’s 30th birthday she said that her days of wearing pink were over being fond of the colour in her youth.
The colour pink was called all types of names like Carnation pink. The breakthrough production of chemicals made the drying time sufficient and not up to whatever was around. Purple of Cassius and colloidal sol of gold made the pink blush tones in most Pompadour Pink porcelain products. It’s a colour known for its luxurious aesthetic, vivacity and beauty.
Banner Credit: Patterned image of a potpourri vase by Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory from 1758-59
Finlay, Victoria. “Rose: Madame Pompadour’s Luxurious Pink.” The Brilliant History of Color in Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA, 2014, pp. 66–69.