French Faience a la Bretagne
Quimper - the word is synonymous with not only an old and beloved town in northwestern France, in the region of Brittany (or Breizh, in the local patois), but also with a distinct mode of French faience.
This type of glazed pottery is typically associated with a few, specific makers whose factories were primarily based, going back as far as the 17th century, in or around the town of Quimper: the Grande Maison, or HB, of Quimper; the Henriot Quimper factory; the factories of Porquier, Fouillen, and Keraluc. Many of these began through people breaking off from the Grande Maison and setting up their own faience manufactories; many of these also merged little by little back into one grand Quimper faience factory over the course of some 400 years of production.
Recently, Oakridge has had the privilege of diving into the history of Quimper manufacture through a collection of Quimper faience pieces which have made their way into our 2019 auction cycle. Here, we share some of the distinctions of Quimper faience that we’ve encountered as we conducted our research.
Fig. 1: The footbridge of the Steir, Quimper, France, photomechanical print, c. 1890-1900. Library of Congress Photochrom Print Collection, accession number LCCN2001698682. Wikimedia Commons, accessed November 15, 2019.
HB and Henriot - putting the H’s in their place
Fig. 2: (11) Henriot and HB Quimper French faience pottery pieces, dating 20th century.
Several of the lots coming up in our November auction have a mixture of pieces manufactured by the oldest Quimper based faience manufacturer, HB, and the rival factory Henriot, which began as a pottery manfucature in 1778, founded by Guillaume du Mains, and began to produce faience in the late 19th century.
The pieces are marked, for the most part, with handwritten names of their respective factories, but the marks also differentiate from one another by date. Of course, no mark, whether on French faience or Chinese porcelains, is an infallible guide to date and make. Alas, between mergers, acquisition of trademarks, and some general inconsistencies facilitated by human intervention, several would-be hallmarks of date and origin are misleading. One example: Henriot-marked faience manufactured after 1968, when the Henriot factory had, in fact, closed. The trademark, however, continued to be used by the HB factory, which had legally acquired its usage rights.
Despite not being perfect indicators of date, there is a good deal to be inferred from what is missing or added to a given mark. Generally speaking, the pieces in this lot of Quimper faience all date to the 20th century, with the iconic Quimper decorative motif of the Breton peasant against a field of white, blue, and yellow.
Taking a closer look at the back of the conic wall-sconce, the use of a form number (F. 774) and a design name indicates that this sconce was produced in the later part of the 20th century, likely after 1968, when the HB factory needed to distinguish between the newly acquired Henriot label and its main line of faience.
Fig. 3: Detail of back of wall sconce
Alternately, the back of this circular plaque, which has merely the factory name Henriot Quimper and a number could date as early as 1900, when numbers began to be used by the Henriot factory to identify the specific artists of each piece, but is more likely to date from after 1922, when a lawsuit brought against Henriot by HB resulted in the Henriot factory using its full name, rather than the previously used abbreviation HR, to indicate its products. The condition of the piece would seem to confirm the latter date attribution.
Fig. 5: (4) HB & Henriot French Quimper faience pieces, late 19th-mid 20th century.
One of the really intriguing, and somewhat ingenious, markings involved the use of “Morse code” by the HB factory to identify its artists - which is to say, a combination of dashes, dots, circles, and crosses, symbolizing specific artist signatures. These ‘signatures’ were in use from approximately 1917-1948, while Jules Verlingue was the proprietor of the factory.
The base of the two-part tray in Lot 467 of our November auction demonstrates this marking method, using a short dot or dash, a circle, and another short dot or dash beneath the HB Quimper factory marker:
Fig. 6: Detail of back of bisected tray
P. Fouillen, Rouen Faience, and Other Rivals
In addition to HB and Henriot, the city and environs of Quimper were home to another faience factory under Paul, and later Maurice, Fouillen, who began his work at the Henriot factory and then produced faience under his own mark beginning around 1930.
The boldly decorated tea-set within Lot 299 of our November auction bear the mark of Paul Fouillen, dating the pieces to around 1930-1950. The designs are heavier and darker than the Breton-themed motifs of HB and Henriot so popular from the late 19th through the 20th century but continue to use the dominant color scheme of blue, yellow, and white ground.
Fig. 7: (7) Quimper French pottery pieces by Paul Fouillen and HB (the Grande Maison); all pieces date to the 20th century.
Located northeast of Quimper, in the French region of Normandy, the town of Rouen also produced historically well-known faience wares, some of which are represented in our upcoming and past auction lots.
Among the Rouen ware in our November auction is a 5-piece grouping of creamers, cup, a cask-shaped mustard pot, and a kidney-shaped box with a transfer printed image of Le Lion de Belfort, a sandstone sculpture by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi in the Fortress of Belfort, France, which commemorates the 104-day siege of the Franco-German War (1870–71).
Though similar in color to the Quimper wares, the decoration on these Rouen faience wares is delicate and predominantly floral. The shapes, too, are organic and fluid, with scalloped edges to the pitcher and cup, while the handles of the pitcher and creamers take dramatic bends and edges.
Designs in Rouen faience were heavily influenced by Chinese export wares, although French artisans expanded on the floral repertoire used to decorate their wares.
Fig. 9: 5 French Rouen Faience Containers Creamer & Cups
Like Quimper, the city of Rouen had several faience producing factories, beginning as early as 1526 with the workshop of Masséot Abaquesne. The cask-form mustard pot in this lot bears the mark of another, early factory, begun by Edme Poterat in 1656, and continued by his sons, first Michel, and then Louis. The Poterat workshop declined with the death of Louis Poterat, and we believe this piece to date to the first half of the 18th century.
Fig. 10: Underside of French Rouen Faience Containers Creamer & Cups, showing maker markings
The height of French faience production centered on the 18-19th century, encompassing cities across the north of France. Among the lesser mentioned, but equally prolific was the city of Charente, in Angouleme, from which we have at least three of the faience plates in Lot 297 of our November auction. Brightly colored and, in one case, curiously decorated with tropical trees and a wild pig, these examples of faience come from the 19th century workshops of Charente faience, of which the most famous was perhaps the factory of Roullet-Rennouleau.
Fig. 11: (4) French Angouleme & Savoyard Faience Plates 19th century
Quimper faience, at least, continues to be produced today, in patterns similar to those found on antique Quimper wares, although with crisper patterns and less sense of the hand-painted glaze that distinguished 18th and 19th century pieces. Among collectors, the newer, 20th century pieces are a great favorite, although much is to be said of the charm of the older examples, which testify to the long tradition of faience production in Bretagne and Normandy.
For a closer look at the Quimper and other French faience wares in our upcoming November Discovery auction, visit Live Auctioneers and Invaluable to view our online catalog:
About the Author
Katharina Biermann joined Oakridge Auction Gallery in the beginning of 2019, having completed her Master of Letters at the University of Glasgow in the History of Art with a specialization in Dress and Textile Histories. Ms. Biermann developed hands-on expertise of European arts and culture while interning in internationally renowned institutions including the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY. She remains particularly interested in medieval and 19th-20th century visual and material culture.