This statuette is one of the first masterpieces produced by the factory set up in 1737 in the outhouses of the Château de Villeroy in Mennecy (in the Essonne region) by the Parisian faience and porcelain maker François Barbin. With this piece, the newly established factory, under the patronage of the Duc de Villeroy, demonstrated considerable creative freedom in relation to the Chinese models, which were very faithfully copied at that time by the Chantilly factory. The modeler rendered the exoticism, friendly smile and good humor of this whimsical Oriental figure; the dragon in front of him is also skillfully made and is clearly the work of a veritable animal sculptor. The magot’s robe is decorated with an extraordinary mix of flower motifs and scrolls inspired by contemporary Chinese and Japanese silks and Indian printed fabrics, and a curious dragon that seems to echo the one in the foreground. The decorative nature of the statuette conceals its utilitarian purpose: the melon placed in front of the figure, which originally had a lid pierced with holes (now lost), was used as a potpourri holder. As the porcelain paste used by the newly founded factory still had defects, the figure was coated with an opaque white stanniferous enamel that gave the colors greater dazzle – a ruse that had already been used by the Chantilly factory. Once the appearance of the paste had been improved, the coat of white enamel was replaced by a transparent lead-bearing enamel. From the second half of the seventeenth century onward, imported statuettes representing figures from the Chinese and Japanese pantheons had made these plump (or sometimes gaunt) figures popular in Europe; they were described in inventories as “magots” or “pagodes” – terms used indifferently to designate what Diderot referred to in the Encyclopédie as “figures made of clay, plaster, copper, porcelain, stocky, imitation, bisarre [sic], that we regard as representative of the Chinese or Indians.” The French philosopher mocked the fashion for collecting such figures, describing the magots as “precious knick-knacks with which the country has become infatuated: they have banished far more tasteful ornaments from our apartments. This [the reign of Louis XV] is the reign of magots.”
Bertrand Rondot (under the direction of), Discovering the Secrets of Soft-Paste Porcelain at the Saint-Cloud Manufactory, ca. 1690-1766, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 1999, cat. 174, repr. p. 228.