Thursday, 11 June 2009

Other Breton Potteries by Adela Meadows

It is not unusual to find a piece of pottery in a scene intended to represent daily life in Brittany...

…an Henriot figure, Jeune Fille à la Fontaine, by Pierre-Marie Lenoir (1879-1953)

…a painting entitled à la Fontaine by Jules Breton (1827-1906)

…a circa 1925 Henriot platter with croisillé border

…a painting featuring a Quimper ècuelle and bénétier by Gustave Loiseau (1865-1935)

…a vintage photo postcard of a decorating studio at Quimper's Grande Maison-HB factory.

But while Brittany and Quimper pottery may have become somewhat synonymous over the centuries, back in 1708, when Pierre Bousquet opened his pottery in the Locmaria neighborhood of Quimper, he was far from being the first to do so in Brittany.

Of course, the province had many potters during the Gallo-Roman period…

….this piece was unearthed during the construction of the Keraluc factory; it dates from 100 A.D.

In more modern times, a powerful family by the name of Fontenay had managed by the end of the fifteenth century to have a tax-free monopoly to provide ceramics in the area of what is now the Ille-et-Vilaine department, including the town of Rennes. Archeological digs have discovered evidence of a pottery dating from between the eleventh and fourteenth century in a community three miles south of Rennes which the Bretons knew as Karnod. When the area became part of France, the township was called Village de la Poterie; in 1860, the town name was changed to Chartres-de-Bretagne.

By the beginning days of World War I, the quality of their production had deteriorated and the centuries-old Breton pottery factory closed its doors for good. The newly-remodeled art museum in Rennes has several pieces of what has come to be known as faïence de Fontenay…a link to photographs of some examples can be found at the end of this blog post.

Another Breton pottery of note was that of the Graindorge family which was established in Dinan in the mid-1800s. The majority of their production was, unfortunately, unsigned…except for nine extraordinary examples made as part of a commission by Rennes’ Musée d’Archéologie during the period between 1895 and 1898. Those particular pieces are signed with the initials GA, said to represent Graindorge Ainé in reference to Ladislas Graindorge (1826-1901).

The museum in Dinan is housed in the remains of a fourteenth century château fort...

...specifically, in the portion known as the dungeon of Duchess Anne. Inside, among the paintings, early sculptures, elegant antique furniture and the like, are superb examples of Graindorge faïence…again, we were unable to photograph an example at the museum, so I’ll add a link to an image at the end of this blog post.

Other areas of Brittany had potteries producing faïence as well. An Italian immigrant by the name of Jean Ferro settled in Nantes and was granted a royal permit to produce glass and faïence…the year was 1588. He didn’t stay in Nantes for long…apparently the neighbors complained and it was difficult to maintain a supply of wood for the kiln. He was thus soon forced to relocate outside of Nantes, but by the beginning years of the seventeenth century, he was back…apparently having won over the citizens as well as successfully securing an independent supply of wood. Jean Ferro died in 1609 and, through various heirs, the business would continue until 1644.

Nantes was an important town in Brittany and through the centuries there had been several potteries working to supply the town folk with items either for their tables or for decoration. One of the potteries has come to be known as Derivas. The beginnings of the Derivas pottery of Nantes can be traced back to 1751; its name is derived from that of one of the early partners in the firm, Pierre-Auguste de Rostaing de Rivas. The Musée nationale de Céramique-Sèvres, commonly known as the Sèvres museum after the Parisian suburb where it is located, has examples that at first glance may appear to be Quimper faïence, but that are actually signed Derivas pieces from Nantes.

In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Joseph De la Hubaudière (1775-1848)…the Quimper-born son of Antoine De la Hubaudière and Marie-Elisabeth Caussy of Grande Maison-HB factory fame…left the family business to start a pottery of his own in Nort-sur-Erdre…about fifteen miles north of Nantes. Pieces from his factory are marked with a triangle-shaped insignia encasing the initials HB.

This is an unfinished piece from the De la Hubaudière pottery in Nort-sur-Erdre… is still in its biscuit stage…meaning after the shaping and initial firing of the earthenware, but prior to the decoration and any subsequent firing. The piece is part of the collection of the Musée de la Faïence in Quimper.

About forty miles northwest of Nantes, near the Breton town of Redon, is the commune of Saint-Jean-la-Poterie. With a name like that, there has to be a history of pottery! And a long history it is; a document dated 1420 describes an already thriving group of potters in Saint-Jean-la-Poterie.

Not too far from Saint-Jean-la-Poterie is Herbignac, another Breton town proud of its ceramic heritage. This is one of the roundabouts at the entrance to the town…

The municipal museum of the town of Guérande is housed in a former castle gate known as Porte Saint-Michel...

…Alfred Beau collaborated with the Porquier factory to produce this three-dimensional terre vernissée depiction of Porte Saint-Michel.

In the museum are many examples of local pottery...

...including this display of household items from Herbignac.

And imagine having to iron your coiffe using this ceramic contraption…

…made of pottery at the factory in Herbignac.

Another, lesser-known Breton pottery studio was located in Belle-Île-sur-Mer…the largest of several islands off the coast of Brittany. Belle-Île-sur-Mer has long been a paradise for artists and vacationers alike…the actress Sarah Bernhardt and painters Claude Monet and Henri Matisse are among the famous who sojourned there.

This painting of one of the harbors of Belle-Île-en-Mer is by Henry Moret (1856-1913)…

Another artist who summered in Belle-Île-en-Mer was Platon-Nicolas-Constantin Argyriades (1888-1968). Born in Marseille, he grew up in Paris and attended the national ceramics school in Sèvres. While at school he met the future glass artisan, G. Argy-Rousseau, who would later marry Platon’s sister.

In 1922, Platon opened the Poterie du Vieux Montmartre, an art glass and ceramics studio in Paris’ Montmartre district. In 1929, he opened a pottery studio in the village of Domois on Belle-Île-en-Mer.

Platon’s works produced in Paris are marked like so...

…and the pieces produced on Belle-Île-en-Mer have this mark…

On an “it’s a small world" note, I first learned of Platon after admiring a piece…it had a wonderful cat on it…at a foire d’antiquités et brocante in Paris. The dealer was from Brittany…

...Laurent Kerhir, who we know well because his Saint Goustan antiques store is one of our favorite Brittany Shop ‘n’ Tour stops!

Here’s a close-up view of a couple of faïence pieces by Platon...

…a pot for tobacco…

…a vase in the form of a book.

And that’s just a brief look at the history of some of the early potteries of Brittany. In more recent times, the years after World War II saw a pottery in Pornic commence operations and, every now and then, you may come across colorful pieces signed Leray…they were produced in Rochefort-en-Terre.

So, just as there were…and are…more than one pottery operating in Quimper, so for centuries have there been several pottery centers in operation throughout Brittany…and just to mix things up…in some cases more than one Breton pottery is represented in the same piece!

This figural of Sainte-Anne teaching the Virgin to read was made in Quimper by the HB factory…
...using a mold purchased by HB in 1869 that had originally been created at the Derivas faïencerie in Nantes.

Plus, a Breton pottery may be lurking in the history of a piece of Malicorne faïence, because the Plat d’Etain faïencerie in Malicorne purchased the molds of Dinan’s Graindorge pottery in 1918.

As promised, here are a couple of links…

For images of four examples of faïence de Fontenay from the research database of the Louvre Museum …click on each image to enlarge the photographs…

For an image of a Graindorge figure from the museum in Dinan…


  1. Adela,
    I am so enjoying reading your blog posts this month, they are fascinating, you are a born storyteller & educator.
    Thank you so much.

  2. Ditto! Adela, your blogs are very interesting and I learn something new with each one. Thank you! I find myself checking each morning for a new post.

  3. And the same here Adela, we are learning a lot and it's fascinating!

  4. Enjoying the great info and loving the photos! Thank you!

  5. Another wonderful, informative post with super pix.

  6. I'm enjoying the articles by Adela Meadows this month, and the wonderful illustrations that accompany them. One of the great joys of collecting is the opportunity to learn - and one could find no better teacher than Adela!
    Ruth Degenhardt

  7. Wonderful, Adela! I love hearing about all of the potteries! One of my favorite books is Potiers et Faïenciers de la Sarthe! I knew there were many in France, but just in this region there were SO many with fascinating wares! Beware, reading this will start you collecting whole new categories of ceramics..and as I have limited space, it is really getting stuffed in here! Love your photos too. Just discovered your "Favorite Things" slide show. Formidable!!

  8. Oh! How passionate I am when it comes to pottery things. I really admire your designs Adela its one of a kind unique art designs.