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History Of Pottery And Porcelain:
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English Pottery
Introduction To Porcelain
Oriental Porcelain China
European Porcelain
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Italian Porcelain
French Porcelain

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French Pottery

( Originally Published Late 1800's )



BEAUVAIS - NEVERS- MOUSTIERS- ROUEN- PALISSY - HENRY II. WARE.

In the domain of French pottery we commence our excursion at a point where dates and statements are rather vague, where the genius and aspirations of the great nation had not yet been unfolded. So far back as the year 1213 "poteries et merceries qui se vendoient dans la ville de Beauvais " are mentioned in a deed, but Jacquemart inclines to doubt all these dates, and in fact excludes them as not pertinent.

There is, however, in the Sevres Museum a pilgrim bottle bearing the fleur-de-lis, and the inscription, Charle Roy, in crude letters of the Gothic alphabet. This might lead us to believe in its French origin, and M. Brougniart assigns it to the Beauvais factory in the reign of Charles VIII,, who ascended the throne in 1483.

There is also another specimen of the presumed Beauvais ware of the same period in the Imperial Library at Paris. This was probably destroyed during the Communist conflagration; it bore the date 1511.

However conclusive these evidences may seem, they must be accepted cum grano salis, because in those ages the complimentary presentation of works of art was common with the imperial heads of those nations which were upon good terms with each other, and it is possible that these pieces just mentioned were a properly inscribed gift from some other nation. Brougniart, however, prefers to think differently, and such eminent authority we must accept.

Again, at Avignon are found traces of native pottery work. Its origin is quite doubtful ; for although it bears no resemblance to the Italian work, the Popes once re sided here, and it is not impossible that through them it was introduced. The Iiernal collection contained a few of these pieces, which commanded a considerable price at the sale.

To approach more definitely the history of pottery in France we come at once to Nevers, where we find an immediate but not at all positive link which associates it with the Majolica work of Italy. The almost constant antagonism existing between France and Italy at that time would scarcely have led to the introduction of Italian arts, but the arrival at the French court; in the latter part of the sixteenth century, of Catherine de Medicis would certainly have urged much toward such a result. Of the house of Urbino, under whose protection the Majolica work was carried to regal magnificence, and acquainted with the beauty and value of pottery productions, she undoubtedly urged upon her liege and the court generally the establishment of works which should enjoy similar privileges in her new abode. A near relative of hers, and prince of the same house, brought with him, upon his elevation to the Nevers dukedom, a few of the Italian Majolica workmen.

These were interesting but bloody times ; between the intrigues of the court, plottings and counterplottings, and almost successive wars, art and refinement in France seem to have flickered in a sort of languishing perpetuity. The court was too absorbed with its beautiful decoys and volleys of threats; it was fighting for its existence against enemies foreign, while a foe more fatal to its welfare dwelt in its own halls of council ; all the arts were fluctuating uncertainly, devoid of the impress of native genius, until later years taught France the folly of disregard. Not until 1640 do we find the Nevers faience becoming the vechicle of true French expression.

To illustrate the epochs, Mr. Marryatt divides the Nevers faience as follows:

1. Italian traditions, 1600 to 1660. Persian style, 1630 to 1700 Japanese and Chinese style, 1650 to 1738. Franco-Niverncais style, 1640 to 1789.

Three subdivisions characterize each of these epochs : 1. Polychromatic decoration. 2. Camaieu. 3. Enamelled sculptures."

In the Nevers faience we find the French mind asserting itself, although probably imitating Orazio Fontana and the Urbino school-and with many features that remind us of Luca della Robbia ; still we find here the tendency to delicate gracefulness and grotesque ornament, which is scarcely observable in the sober productions of Italy. The bold, heavy bas-relief inclines toward the Della Robbia work, the rich painting and color becomes subdued, and while exhibiting less of the great master, still asserts itself by its more accurate delineation.

The most eagerly sought of the Nevers wares are those made in imitation of stone. Of these the lapislazuli, a rich blue ware, seems most characteristic; Mr. Marryatt speaks of it as being unexceeded in brilliancy by any other pottery. The decoration consisted in the fantastic arrangement of birds and flowers after the Persian manner, the colors being mostly white and yellow.

This wandering and borrowed style of decoration terminated with the copies of Chinese and Japan wares. France dropped mythology and the old school of the Renaissance only to adopt the more advanced ideas which her progress demanded. Even then the red flag was an element in her political affairs, and " Liberte Egalite ou Mort," an axiom felt not only in her halls of legislation, but having its direct influence upon her arts as well. Pottery became a medium for spreading the Republican contagion throughout her borders; plates bearing emblems, inscriptions and patriotic designs calculated to touch and influence the minds of the people, were produced at Nevers. This became known as the " Fayence Patriotique," and undoubtedly its influence upon the public mind was decided and permanent.

Of the smaller works of France engaged in the production of pottery it is unnecessary for us to speak at length. As is generally the case, they followed closely in the foot steps of the parent factory. Lyons, St. Cloud, Agen, and Sceaux Penthievre were each at times engaged in the practice of this art, but neither of these were initial points. Their work dates from the middle of the sixteenth to the latter part of the eighteenth century, following each other almost successively in the order just named.

The wares of Moustiers, a remote mountain town of the Alpine district, remained, until quite recently, confounded with those of other factories, although mention of them has been made by writers more than a century since. Pierre Clerissy, an industrious fabricator, stood at the head of these works, and so successfully were they carried on that in 1743 they commanded the royal attention, and Clerissy's successor and relative received perma nent distinction from the hands of Louis XV. The decoration consisted principally in mythological subjects, scrolls, ciphers, interlaced chimaera, flowers, amorini, and insects. The pieces were mostly of monochrome decoration, the color being a dense blue, until innovations brought in the polychrome, and classical subjects were introduced as central figures. The Moustiers work has excited much interest and discussion, not only from its questionable origin, but in consequence of its merit both in design and color. The enamel here used was all stanniferous, and there was no terre-cuite work such as found at Lyons and other factories engaged upon the bas-relief productions. The finest specimens are plates, platters, and ewers.

Sinceny (acisne), Niderville, Strasburg, Hagenau, and Luneville are also portions of France engaged at times in the manufacture of pottery. These can be more readily distinguished by their marks than by description.

At Rouen new impulse seems to have been given to the art of pottery-making. In color, fashion, and execution it exceeds all other French faience, and it is not im probable that the sight and knowledge of these first prompted Palissy to his great work, which put the climax upon the art in France. The Rouen pieces are mostly large, of elegant and characteristic design, with polychrome decoration, red, blue, and yellow predominating, but with an intermixture of various hues, which serve to remind us of the Flemish school of painting.* The first period of the Rouen ware was not so profuse in forms and applications ; while it improved upon, it partook of some of the features of the Nevers work, dark blue decoration upon a light blue ground being frequently employed. But to advance a little we find it expanding into noble proportions,-great vases, fountains, busts, and chimneypieces having succeeded the conventional plates and plat ters of an earlier period. The color and design most frequently employed upon this later work was that called "a la corne," the cornucopia, from which issued in rich luxuriance the floral decoration. Here were produced both species of pottery-the terra-cotta with a soft lead enamel, and faience with the enamel of tin. Rouen pottery was the first French pottery which really introduced itself to the court, Louis XIV. having provided himself with a full service of this ware when he sacrificed his silver plate to assist in defraying the expenses of his incessant wars.

We approach a period in the history of French faience where history and romance combine with individual self sacrifice to make it at once interesting and painful. That men of genius have toiled; and ever will, with desperate persistency in the prosecution of unattained results, we cannot deny; but that they will sacrifice everything to the dear scheme towards which they bend, we can fairly question. We may search the records of history and fiction and not find one life to instance complete abrogation of self so vividly marked as is that of Bernard Palissy, the Huguenot potter. Where a man becomes so absorbed in his work as to forget the bare routine of living, to close his sense to everything but the evolving genius within, we may conclude that this is the pattern which surpasses fable. His townsmen crying at him " mad man; " the halter of intolerance hanging over his head because of his conscientious and manful assertion of the truth; a home better described as a spot of desolation than a serene shelter; by turns preaching, praying, writing, workingalways sad,-what might we expect from a life like this? Failure? No; a success which won for him an immortality both in the temporal and the eternal spheres. Born-no one knows where, but probably-at Chapelle Biron, about the year 1509, among a people famous in love and war, he was brought up like one of those strange waifs which dart into history only when they have earned their place. Surrounded with the most homely and unprogressive conditions, he commenced life at the kilns, employed as an ordinary workman in the art of Verrerie. His education was mostly limited to painting and drawing upon glass, that being the dominant industry of his neighborhood, " a royal art," as he termed it. Here he thought, labored, and lived during his earlier years.

" Artistic taste," says Bentley, in his " Celebrated Characters,"-which always in the first instance connects itself with religious worship, as if it were anxious to return to its source and exalt itself by its association with things divine-dawned on the mind of the young potter from the splendid gothic designs of the colored windows of his cathedral. He knew that this glass, which allowed the sunbeams to pass into the church, and exhibited the wonderful scenes of the Bible and the Gospel, consisted only of earth and sand most carefully tempered by the hand of man, purified and hardened by the fire, and made transparent as rock-crystal by processes resembling magic. From that day, the earth he loved so well seemed to him mere mud; his imagination put before him a wonder to imitate and others to discover. He quitted his potter's kiln, and apprenticed himself to some workmen in glass, who at that time ranked almost with the nobility, on account of the science and dignity of their art.

His knowledge of drawing and aspirations soon led him to abandon the strict formula of his fellow workmen, and he commenced telling the truth as he saw it in Nature. The fauna and flora offered him good subjects, and among the ferns and lizards of his native haunts he doubtless imbibed his first longing impulses; and perhaps Montluc, who bore the scars and disfigurements of many battles, poured into his young ears the element of ambition. Palissy became a wanderer, and his mind commenced inquiring, absorbing, studying. Now detained by some new method of learning, attracted by everything that led to a more eminent mental condition, decoyed by alchemy, and entranced by all that was beautiful and great in art, everything came to the young aspirant except fortune ; and with that singular unconcern which characterizes every exalted genius, money and the wants of existence were the last considerations. The protest of fourteen imperial cities of Europe against the Papal authority opened a new avenue for labor, and won him to its principles, and the Concordat between Leo X. and Francis I. placed upon Palissy's heart the indelible seal of opposition, the presence of which to the end of his days he manifested with his lips. Although this had transpired in his earlier years, its effect was growing with him, and the burning words of Jean Cauvin (Calvin), a few years later, served to impress it more deeply.

In the year 1538 Palissy took to himself a wife at the little town of Xaintes or Saintes, where he had for some time resided. A man multiplies his chances for sorrow as he increases his sources of happiness; as with all of us, so was it to Palissy.

" The way's not easy where the prize is great, I hope no virtue where I smell no sweat;'

says truthful Quarles, and the toils of our potter were no exception to the couplet. Between glass painting and surveying, Palissy managed to get along after a fashion. It was not a fashion that we would call luxurious, for the village patronage of either of these could not have been over much, and with an increasing family he found himself unable to meet the appeals for support and comfort.

His house was situated in the outskirts of the town, and with that quaint humor frequently met in his recorded words he says: " At night I heard the dogs barking on one side, and the owls hooting on the other." Palissy's eye and heart were enraptured by the sight of an Italian earthen cup which came under his observation, and he writes: "It was turned and enamelled with so much beauty that from that time I entered into controversy with my own thoughts, recalling to mind several suggestions that some people had made to me in fun when I was painting portraits. Then, seeing that these were falling out of repute in the country where I dwelt, and that glass painting was so little patronized, I began to think that if I could discover how to make enamels, I could make earthen vessels and other things very prettily, because God had gifted me with some knowledge of drawing." He acknowledges himself entirely ignorant of the knowledge of clays and art of pottery facture, but reasons thus : " Item-The glass-workers must cease from their work, for they have no means of melting the ingredients of their glass except in vessels of earth (terre). The goldsmiths, founders, all melting, of whatever sort or kind it may be, would be at an end, and there would not one be found who could dispense with clay. Look also at the forges of the farriers and locksmiths, and you will see that all the said forges are made of bricks ; for if they were of stone they would be consumed. Look at the furnaces; you will find they are made of earth; even those who labor upon earths use earthen furnaces, as tilers, brickmakers, and potters ; in short, there is no stone, mineral, or other matter which ,could serve for the building of a furnace for glass, lime, or any of the before-named purposes, which would last for any length of time. You see, also, how useful common earthen vessels are to the community; you see, also, how great is the utility of earth for covering houses. You know that in many regions they know nothing of slate, and have no other covering than tiles ; how great do you suppose the utility of earth in making conduits from our fountains ? It is well known that water which flows through earthen pipes is much better and wholesomer than that which is brought through leaden channels. How many towns are there built of bricks, inasmuch as there are no means of getting stones to build them with ? " Witness by what gentle and seductive words and facts he endeavors to justify himself in making the hazardous attempt, for when he wrote this he was too poor a man to purchase the simplest instruments with which to begin his experiments, and too much in want to live the while they were in progress. Even under such discouragements as these he went to work; a small furnace was erected in his back yard to aid him in his experiments.

Palissy's chief desire was the discovery of an enamel similar to that which he had seen in the Italian cup which so captivated him.

Amid such discouragements as those which he labored almost any one would have desisted from the work after few attempts; not so with our determined and enthusiastic potter. Although we may justly doubt the expediency and justice of his efforts, he diminished the supplies of his already frugal board to supply the ravenous appetite of his furnace-what ought to have gone for bread went for fuel to feed his furnace ; and not until he had sacrificed the floor of his cabin to this all-devouring medium did he discover that discontents, unhappiness, and reproof met him in his own home. He was reduced to absolute penury and want; meanwhile, the potters abroad smiled at his ill success and courted his further patronage of vessels which he was to destroy in his experiments.

The life of Palissy would lead us to extremes which imagination could scarcely cxceed ; but without detailing his patient and suffering devotion through years of toil, we arrive at length at those days and nights without rest where success hung upon the momentous results of his last effort. Proscribed by the religious dictum of the prevailing church, scorned by his fellow-men, penniless and starving, hated by his wife and family, we find him at last triumphant, for forth from his little furnace came the unmistakable evidences of absolute success. He says: " When I had dwelt with my regrets a little because there was no one who had pity on me, I said to my soul, "Wherefore art thou saddened, since thou hast found the object of thy search? Labor now, and the defamers will live to be ashamed." Palissy's discovery was contemporaneous with another circumstance which boded him no little trouble-the persecution of the Huguenots ; but worse than all, his wife, discouraged at his fruitless efforts, became an enemy, and the wails which follow would pierce the heart of any but a stoic. As if to crown his life with more glory than awaited a poor potter at the advanced age of seventy-six, he was thrown into the Bastile, where, by the grace of God, only four years awaited his admission to the majesty of the Master whom he had so devoutly served.

Palissy ware is peculiar, partially from its individuality of decoration and partially from its color. He copied everything from nature; with faithful exactness he repro duced in color and form the designs which nature presented. Leaves, lizards, eels and shells were, with him, favorite subjects; occasionally he introduced paysage decoration, but rarely. The dish purchased by the Baron Rothschild, which I have mentioned in the introduction, was made up entirely of aquatic animals and plants. Most of the ornaments upon this ware are in relief, for, after he had discovered the enamel, he at once employed himself in the school which first engaged his faithful labor, the delineation of natural objects.

In this country there are a few pieces of Palissy ware. One is an uncolored piece in the collection of Miss Eliza Quincy, in Boston-a nautilus shell, supported upon a beach of shells. This piece is wanting in the rich color of Palissy's later ware; but another, in the possession of Mr. Gibson, of New York, is reproduced here in the above cut. From its similarity in color to the Italian work, the ware is sometimes confounded with majolica, but the eye, once practised, readily distinguishes between the two.

One extraordinary ware engages our attention as we close our consideration of the French fayence. It is known as the Fayence de Oiron, or, Henri Deux ware, and possesses the singular characteristics of a compromise between the hard and soft paste wares. It is also termed " Faience de Diane de Poitiers." Here we find the. impress of both the DelIa Robbia and Cellini schools, but with greater attention to the details of finish and elaboration. Mr. Marryatt says "the paste of this ware is a true pipe clay, very fine and very white; the glaze thin and transparent, and of a yellowish tint. Its style of decoration is unique: a flat ornamentation, consisting of initial letters, interlacings, arabesques, engraved on the paste, and the cavities filled in with colored pastes, so as to present an uniform smooth surface of the finest inlaying, resembling the niello or damascening of metal work. These inlaid ornaments appear to have been produced by tools used by book-binders, and it has been remarked that the patterns bear great resemblance to the works of Grolier and Maioli. These patterns are sometimes disposed of in zones of yellow ochre, with borders of dark brown, sometimes of a pink, green, violet, black or blue ; but the dark yellow is the predominating color."

Aside from this niello-like decoration, this ware has designs upon it in bold and elegant relief, consisting of natural objects, heraldic ornament, wreaths, and that characteristic decoration of the French wares-masks.

In the introduction to this chapter some intimation has been given of the extreme rarity and value of this ware. Not alone on account of its historic connection does it derive this distinction; its beauty and excellence alone would command for it a consideration which no other ware can claim. One small piece in the collection of the Cointe de Pourtalis was disposed of at his sale, in 1 865, for 1100., or towards six thousand dollars of our money. The piece of which an illustration is given in cut No. 17 on the following page, is from the collection of Sir Andrew Fountaine. There are in existence only about sixty pieces of the ware, and all of these, with the exception of three or four, are held in the great public collections of England and the Continent. There are no specimens in this country. The production of the ware dates between the years 1529 and 1568. It was first originated in the chateau of Oiron, by Helene de Haugest, an old lady, and after her death her son maintained it until the Huguenots destroyed the chateau and its contents.

It is not to be supposed that the history of French pottery concludes with one chapter. When Christian countries become acquainted with an art or industry, it is not in the regular order of things that they should forget or abandon an occupation which renders service to all mankind.

The arts of the past may become honorable on account of exceptional beauty and rarity. They may assume a place which modern productions cannot aspire to ; it is the "pass on" of marching ages which draws and fixes our attention to them as indexes of the genius of men before us.

While we may still retain the art of production, we cannot retain exceptional features; and though we might copy to a nicety, yet the copy could never aspire to the eminence of an original. This reason it is which inspires us to new developments rather than the reproduction of old works; originality, not imitation, commands our approval most; the disciple cannot receive the credit which pertains to the master.

We have watched France in these various attitudes, first timidly venturing upon a territory which belonged to others, then abandoning all this to launch out into a bold and perfect originality which will forever characterize her fictilia, place it where we may. Radical minds, like Palissy's, have served to fill France with genius and with misfortune; passion invented and controlled, where cooler minds would have let well enough alone. France might have been without revolution, but she would have been without that corresponding feature-great art.



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