LIBERTÉ, EGALITÉ - POTERIÉ - QUESTIONABLE PURSUITS OF THE GRUBBY-HANDED FRENCH

LIBERTÉ, EGALITÉ - POTERIÉ - QUESTIONABLE PURSUITS OF THE GRUBBY-HANDED FRENCH

There's far more to French porcelain than the outturn from world-famous manufactories such as Sevres and Vincennes - here's a look at some of the other productiion facilites in the 18th and 19th centuries:


You’ll all no doubt be aware that there is a quite properly perceived hierarchy with regard to the esteem in which British porcelain manufactories are generally held, with those that are considered to be the most famous names outstripping the rest of the field in popularity and “collectability”. What’s perhaps less well known – though not at all surprising, when you think about it - is that this pattern is repeated across Europe. Even the casual collector will have heard of Vincennes, Sevres, Meissen and Dresden from France and Germany – the high-end production facilities that can be considered to be every bit as worthy as Worcester, Derby and Spode. It should never be forgotten though, that for every Caughley, Pinxton or Rockingham on this side of the channel, there were similarly less-exalted operations on the continent, and it’s the products from these manufactories which will be showcased in our more general Continental Porcelain category – until such a time, of course, that we have talked them up to such a degree that they have become as sought after and valuable as the existing big hitters, at which point they’ll get a page of their own !


To France, in the first instance, and what might be considered to be the second tier of porcelain producers, operating away from the intense spotlight of royal patronage or locations in the immediate environs of the capital city – more provincial concerns, though able to produce some no-less alluring pieces.


To illustrate the regression downwards from the Paris-centric, and regally-underwritten big hitters, we’d be hard pushed to find a better place to start than with Mennecy-Villeroy porcelain – a facility situated some 50km (I’m going all metric and continental for this piece) south of the city centre, and supported by a mere “duc” rather than a Queen Consort or King, thereby illustrating a noticeable downgrade in the respect of both criteria. That’s not to say, however, that Mennecy-Villeroy was the contrivance of an agrarian dullard or upstart “fabricant de tuyaux en argile” – I am sure that Louis François Anne de Neufville, Duc de Villeroy et Retz regarded himself perfectly highly enough to be deemed quite respectable in his day !


Louis Frank was sufficiently elevated to possess his own chateau, and it was here, in around 1748, that he engaged the arcanist François Barbin in order to establish his own production facility. Barbin was the ideal candidate for Louis Frank’s patronage, having previously run his own concern in central Paris at Rue de Charonne near the Bastille, but having fallen foul of the strictures which underpinned the exclusive right of the Royal premises at Vincennes to produce high quality wares to the exclusion of wholly independent outlets, and being forcibly discouraged from carrying on his business (his stock was seized and sold on behalf of the crown). The Mennecy-Villeroy site was already turning out high-grade earthenware, and the addition of a master ceramicist to the operation meant that it was able to produce some very highly regarded figurines, especially once Barbin’s son, Jean-Baptiste, had taken over the reins in the 1760’s. These tended to feature players from popular “commedia dell'arte” theatrical productions of the day, dancers engaged in courtly progressions known as “galanteries” and the sort of pastoral, bucolic tableaux that were to prove enduringly popular in a country where bourgeois affectations were everything. There were also a considerable number of small pots, jars and lidded vessels in the pattern books – condiments, cruets and other more delicate tablewares – but not a great many classic dining sets or cups and saucers.


A similar distance north of the capital we find Le Château de Chantilly, overlooking the River La Nonette and (now) the famous racecourse which bears its name. This was the home – from 1730 – of Louis Henri de Bourbon, prince de Condé, another aristocrat, just outside of the immediate circle of the Parisian elite, who had the wherewithal to set up his own porcelain manufactory. Louis Henri – a prince of the Bourbon-Condé line of France’s ruling caste, and sufficiently close to the royal bloodline to have been born in the Palace of Versailles – was a noted collector of the authentic Oriental porcelain pieces which had inspired his countrymen to first undertake the reproduction of such wares, and his production facility began by fabricating their own versions of both Chinese and Japanese work, using colours derived from the same mineral sources as the originals. Another factory at Saint-Cloud was already producing excellent oriental facsimiles under the direction of a M. Ciquaire Cirou, and Louis Henri had little compunction in poaching this celebrated creative director and installing him in Chantilly’s studios; so impressive was Cirou’s work that he earned the manufactory a royal patent to produce “porcelain au façon de Japon”, which – obviously – meant that it was able to continue unrestricted by the punitive measures which had scuppered the work of Barbin’s Rue de Charonne undertaking.


Chantilly produced predominantly functional domestic pieces, rather than purely decorative objets d’art; tableware, knife handles, coffee sets and some rather curious gravy-boat type things, which looked like open-topped clogs with handles known as bourdaloues. These pieces were named after a M.Louis Bourdaloue – a preacher to the Royal court of Louis XIV in the late 17th century; Louis was quite the celebratory priest of his day, and those who attended his sermons were so eager as not to miss a single word of his Jesuit zeal that ladies would take with them these discrete chamber pots, which may – should the need arise – be carefully held in position amidst their morass of undergarments and decorously used in such a way that the congregation need not be unduly disturbed. Bourdaloue’s name is also immortalised in the name of a Parisian street, and – more latterly – pear pies which were produced by a baker in his premises located there; I’m sure he would have been delighted had his contributions to posterity gone no further than urban and culinary toponyms, but unfortunately his association with albeit seemly micturitive relief cannot now be redacted…


Of a more esoteric nature, there were a limited range of vases, miniature porcelain flowers which were incorporated in to chandeliers and any number of little seated oriental figures intended to lurk on mantel shelves over your fireplace and going by the generally hideous, gurning and manically-grinning faces of the characters, intended to scare small children and dissuade them from going near the flames – singularly ugly things, known as magots.


The Prince was to die in 1740, Cirou a decade later, and with its patron and leading creative talent gone, the Chantilly star began to fall. The more accomplished potters and painters were lured to the burgeoning concerns at Vincennes and then Sèvres; restrictive patents granted to these sites limited Chantilly’s sphere of endeavour, and the ultimate indignities for a French concern followed when first Wedgewood began to undermine its viability by the provision of creamwares, and then it fell in to the ownership of an Englishman, Christopher Potter, who proceeded to run it as a little more than a mass-production facility for transfer-printed plates – a far cry from Louis Henri’s lofty ambitions of sixty years earlier. Potter, as an aside, was a curious individual who during his years in France was imprisoned as a hostage during the British naval blockade of Toulon, dined with Napoleon Bonaparte and espoused the growth of woad as a commercially viable crop – a properly eccentric Englishman abroad !


Further from Paris, and under the auspices of someone not of French Royalist blood in the slightest – and thus fitting our narrative rather comfortably – we come to Luneville. At the time that Jacques Chambrette (Sr) laid the foundations for a later transition from the production of earthenware to something more closely approximating porcelain, his factory was not even in France, as Lorraine where it was situated was an independent Duchy and nominal possession of a former King of Poland, dispossessed of his throne after a five year war that involved – amongst others – the Kingdom of Sardinia, Duchy of Parma and Electorate of Saxony (sounds rather like the Europa League version of continental warfare, with the Champions League equivalent involving Prussia, France, Austria, Britain and other “proper” countries, but I digress…). Chambrette evolved his earthenware to such an elevated state that he was able to rebrand it as “Terre de Lorraine” at which point he was granted the status of administering “Le Manufacture Royale du Roi de Pologne”, by Stanisław I Leszczyński, King in Exile; again, what with him not actually being King of Poland, this smacks of one of those marginal appellations that should be marked with an asterisk rather than anything properly meaningful, but I am sure that the grant was well intentioned nonetheless ! Unfortunately, the allegiance to Poland and the fact that it was physically outside of French jurisdiction, meant that the products Luneville were saddled with punitive import taxes when Chambrette looked to ply his trade on the French mainland, as it were. The solution, as it turned out, was simple – hive off a proportion of the workforce, equipment, stock and raw materials and relocate seven miles up the road, over the French border, at Saint-Clément, Meurthe-et-Moselle. With this propitious undertaking having taken place, however, Chambrette promptly died and the business passed to M.Richard Mique, an architect who – you may recall – was responsible for designing L‘Hameau de la Riene – Marie Antoinette’s fanciful, faux village. Mique also had dealings with the sort-of King, Stanisław, and this “royal” patronage of the Saint-Clément project enabled the production of wares which more closely resembled unglazed, biscuit porcelain than had Chambrette’s fancy earthenware, although production of this more refined material lasted barely a decade to 1777


The factory’s outturn was for the most part what might be considered conventional porcelain pieces – dinner services, standard tablewares, tureens, matte-glazed vases and perforated “baskets”. There was a fleeting dalliance with the production of ornate rocaille pieces of a more decorative nature, but the marque is notable more for its rather curious provenance on the periphery of both French territory and Polish politicking than for any readily discernible style or type of product.


This brief list is, of course, by no means exhaustive and there were a number of other locations at which porcelain was manufactured with varying degrees of finesse across the length and breadth of France. We have already mentioned the popularity of Oriental facsimiles, and referenced Saint-Cloud which was found in the western suburbs of Paris. This long established premises had the manufacturing process off to a fine art, and was producing excellent quality, classically oriental blue and white pieces in the early part of the 18th century under the guidance of M.Pierre Chicaneau. The factory created reproductions of large Chinese vases and animal sculptures, a great deal of “standard” table ware and some more extravagantly coloured pieces – still after the Oriental oeuvre – before tending towards white soft-porcelain pieces in an attempt to carve its own niche in the marketplace as the production of its signature monochromatic china was monopolised by the larger “state run” concerns. Ultimately, however, this competition was to prove terminal to Saint-Cloud’s viability, and it closed in 1766.


Back in the heart of Paris was the Comte de Provence establishment – better known as Clignancourt, and with Royal provenance of its own having been supported by one Louis Stanislas Xavier, the future King Louis XVIII. The factory’s outturn was known as “porcelain de Monsieur” out of deference to Louis’ standing in society, and had a tendency to be suitably extravagant, with many gilded, finely decorated and elaborately conceived pieces.


Then there was Sceaux, Fontainbleau, Nevers, Niderviller and later Etoiles, Limoges and Revol, located from the Isle de France to the Rhone Valley and from near Strasbourg in the east to the Loire in the west. The pursuit of fine porcelain was a national obsession for the French in the 18th century, and it can be seen that a wide-ranging collection can be assembled even if one completely ignores the overbearing presence of the much-vaunted usual suspects; do check back to see our listings regularly, as some outstanding pieces from these less celebrated manufactories are almost always available…


Next up - the lesser lights in the firmament of German and Central Eruopean porcelain production - but for the time being, here's the link to our current listings of material from both these and the French sources mentioned above:


for more articles about European glass and porcelain, check the following links:


European Art Glass (part one)

European Art Glass (part two)

Italian Porcelain

German Porcelain

Maltese (Mdina) Glass

Meissen Porcelain


site search results for Continental porcelain - including the French producers featured above








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