French ceramics is another strength of NOMA’s collection, with a major emphasis on the porcelains of Paris from circa 1770 to circa 1870. The Paris porcelain collection at NOMA is the only one in the United States to survey the entire century-long history of these distinguished wares. Three areas of secondary concentration within the category of French ceramics are the Brooke Hayward Duchin Collection of nineteenth-century Palissy wares, Sévres porcelain of the eighteenth through the early twentieth century, and the Stern Collection of porcelain veilleuses which is focused upon the nineteenth century.
In 1997, the New Orleans Museum of Art received one of the most significant gifts to the Decorative Arts collection in NOMA’s history: the H. Lloyd Hawkins, Jr. Collection of nearly 350 works by the renowned Meissen Porcelain Manufactory of Saxony, Germany.
Mrs. Lois C. Hawkins honored NOMA with the donation of funds to construct a special gallery dedicated to the exhibition of her late husband’s collection. The gallery, a lovely 1,100 square-foot area on NOMA’s second floor, has been specifically designed as an intimate viewing space for these exquisitely crafted works in porcelain, so that a significant portion of the collection can be shown at a given time. NOMA rotates the Meissen pieces on exhibition to demonstrate the breadth and depth of the Hawkins Collection.
Contemporary audiences may not comprehend the mania for porcelain set off by the development of the formula for true or hard-paste porcelain at Meissen in late 1709. Among royalty and aristocrats, the possession of porcelain immediately became one of the major status symbols of the 18th Century, second only to owning an appropriate palace as a mark of rank and privilege.
Mr. Hawkins’ fascination for Meissen figures was certainly akin to that of the 18th Century collectors. He was presented the important Meissen allegorical set of The Four Elements as a gift in 1954. Over the next several decades, Mr. Hawkins acquired nearly 450 figures and groups. He was entranced by the virtuosity of the work and intrigued that the Meissen factory created an entirely new European art form when it introduced its now-celebrated figures.
A magnificent and comprehensive collection of glass objects is the single greatest strength of the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Decorative Arts Department. The glass collection is ranked among the top five in the United States and covers the history of the glassmaker’s art from its ancient Egyptian origins through contemporary studio glass. The NOMA glass collection presently numbers more than 12,000 objects.