Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A Quimper Tablescape Maggie B

In October when members of the QCI gathered in Dallas, TX for the 10th Annual meeting one of the many highlights arranged was a visit to Beverly S's home to see her magnificent collection.

The meeting hosts had asked that the dining table be decorated as if for a festive meal and Beverly followed the instructions to the letter using Porquier Beau plates, compotes and serving dishes from the Botanical series and a magnificent centrepiece featuring large seahorses.

Centrepiece closeup.

Blackberries, raspberries and flying insects decorate this two handled serving platter above.

Each dinner guest has their own Porquier Beau Menu.

Close up of a menu featuring a Bretonne in regional costume.

Not all the PB plates are decorated with fruits and pretty flowers, colourful insects are a popular motif also.

A feast for the eyes as well as the palate, I'm sure you'll agree.

Berries adorn this plate.

Yet another floral decor.

New Year's Eve falls on a Thursday this year so it is only fitting that we share this wonderful display of Quimper with Susan and all the other talented tablescapers over @ Between Naps On The Porch for Tablescape Thursday.

As 2009 draws to a close I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our guest bloggers who have blogged about their collections and shared so many wonderful stories and experiences with us since the blog began in February.

A closer look at those black berries and raspberries.

Thanks too to all our visitors and especially those who have left a comment and joined the blogging community.We hope you will continue to support us as we go forward into 2010.

If you are a QCI member and would like the opportunity to blog here, please send an email to we would love to hear from you.

Your Club Needs You!

Many thanks to Club members Cerelle, Laverne, and Sarah @Hyacinths For The Soul for sharing their wonderful photographs of the event with us all.

Another view of the magnificent seahorse centrepiece.

A stunning tablescape indeed.

Happy New Year from the QCI Blog team.

A Gallery Tour ... jd

30 December 2009 – The Quimper pottery manufactures have always made an effort to produce works by artists, in addition to their more standard offerings. And many of these artists were or are known for their works of art in media other than ceramics. Our interest in their faïence production can lead us to discover their creations in other fields, and that is exactly what happens when visiting a new art gallery in Quimper. QCI member Philippe Théallet - already known in the Quimper pottery world as an author, a blogger, and a connoisseur – has opened a gallery on the rue Saint Catherine, next to the préfecture in the center of Quimper. I'm happy to be able to share with you the pleasure I had visiting the gallery with Philippe yesterday.

The splendid show window gives a hint of what is to be found inside!

Of course I'm delighted to find several works by the Taburets! And Philippe has written a book about Patrice Cudennec, so it's not a surprise to see Cudennec's paintings in the gallery. I was particularly taken with "Empreint de Jardin", the patchwork-style painting with herbal motifs; this is a departure from his trademark figures.

This artist to my knowledge has not produced works for the faïenceries, but he is known to long-time buyers of Quimper pottery, as he used to be a dealer. Bruno Lécuyer is clearly comfortable with several different styles of painting ... (that's Philippe in the photo!)

François-Marie Griot produced some very contemporary sculptures for HB-Henriot, and so it was a surprise to see that his paintings tended to impressionism.

In addition to this sculpture, the gallery has some framed works of Enrique Marin, and I realized that he had designed a famous poster for the Semaines Musicales in Quimper (a summer music festival).

This print was my pick of the gallery. I should say that I am particularly interested in the technical aspect of art, and I have more appreciation for a piece of art that requires a particular technical knowledge on the part of the artist. With this print, I learned about a new technique, called "gravure à bois perdu" – the literal translation is "engraving with lost wood", but it may have another name in English. A classic woodcut would have a different wood plate for each color of the print. This print is a woodcut engraved from a single piece of wood. After each color, the artist reworks his wooden plate for the next color. This means that at each step he has to print the entire edition for that color, and he has to print his colors from lightest to darkest (anyone who has ever done batik will recognize this way of designing). So the artist has to master his design, his colors, and his engraving technique very carefully to produce his works. This particular print was one of several with the theme of Exodus by Georges Le Fur – I will be very interested to see what else he creates!

And finally, Philippe maintains a showcase with some choice pieces of Quimper pottery for sale, old and new!

The Quimper art world ("art" in its broadest sense) is privileged to have someone with Philippe's talent promoting its creations. Years ago, before I ever met Philippe, I read his thesis about the artistic aspects of Keraluc; he has an innate feeling for the creative drive of an artist and, as important, he is adept at communicating his insights. I think his gallery will become more and more important, as Philippe continues to skillfully weave the threads among the various expressions of Quimper art.

On another note, this is my last blog of this year, so in the best blended tradition, I'd like to wish you all a "Happy New Year", with my "Meilleurs Voeux", and of course "Bloavez Mad"!!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Under the Tent ... jd

28 December 2009 – One of the highlights of the auction season for me is the HB-Henriot tent sale! There is a courtyard between the administrative building and the workshops, and a couple of times a year, HB-Henriot covers the courtyard with a tent and has a splendid sale. They sell the remaining pieces for decors that are being deleted from the production line; they sell pieces that have been lying around in the storerooms for a while, sometimes a long while; they sell pieces that were trial runs or models; they sell pieces painted by the painters in their own style – these are some of my favorites. It's a terrific opportunity to pick up some interesting pottery, often one-of-a-kind, always at very good prices.

The sale is run intelligently from a marketing point of view: it lasts a good week, and every day, more stock is put out. So the buyer can never be sure that s/he has seen everything, which necessitates a return trip at least once or twice. I like to go for the opening, return once during the week, and then make a final trip on the last day. You just never know what goodies are going to show up!

I think this is a wine-tasting cup form. I bought six of these, all different. I envision using them for nibbles and nuts, a small first course, or as part of a dessert tray.

The half-mug is my favorite contemporary Quimper form, because we do not use cups and saucers in our house, and these are perfect for after-dinner coffee. Unfortunately for me, HB-Henriot does not make this form any more. These two cups were part of an interesting sale from a year ago: the painters painted in pairs mugs and cups and saucers in all sorts of original designs. Each pair was unique, and it was offered for sale in a box with a coffee or tea sample from a local shop – the presentation was very attractive. These mugs were left over from that sale – lucky for me!

If it has stripes, polka dots, or checks, it floats my boat! I bought two dessert plates with different striping and this one little cup that had no saucer (that's okay with me, and I use these little cups for my 11.00am coffee break). The bottom of the cup has the word "DUR" imprinted in the clay – it means "hard" in French, and it dates the biscuit back to an era when the faïenceries were changing clay and needed to be able to indicate to the painter what kind of glaze should be used. I think that took place in the late 1950s, so the biscuit is old and the polka dots are new.

This plate might have been an apprentice piece to practice this motif. We do a lot of mixing and matching at our dinner table, and this will fit right in. (Sometimes we do mixing without matching, too, and it seems to work.)

For a number of years, HB-Henriot did a series of Christmas ornaments using old snuff bottle molds. This form is a bit larger than the ornaments were, and this decor is one that was short-lived in the late 1990s. Oddly enough, an old snuff bottle in this form was sold at auction last Saturday!

This dessert plate was a color trial run piece for a decor by Mik Jégou.

And these two plates were also color trials – the one on the right refers to Nicot on the back, so we can assume that it includes a blue used for a Nicot piece.

Here is an unusual tile – it is also a color trial piece, in this case for a matte gold glaze. HB-Henriot has been using platinum to highlight a couple of decors for several years now, and maybe there is a decor with gold in the offing!

These two dessert plates are leftovers from the late 1960s. The decor was called "Plougastel", in reference to the area near Brest where some of the best strawberries you've ever tasted come from. It's more pastel than many Quimper patterns, and here it is evident that the painter had some leeway with the decor elements.

And this is probably my tent sale prize find: it is a decor done by Michel Furic in 1994 as a model for a possible 50th anniversary D-Day landing plate that was never produced.

In times gone by, the painters were regularly given time to produce their own designs, some of which were commercialized but many of which were not. It is one explanation for those pieces that seem to have no explanation, and it is one of the most intriguing things about collecting Quimper pottery – you just never know what you might find. HB-Henriot has figured out a fun way to make it possible to find some of those pieces now rather than in another generation!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Le Menu de Noël ... jd

23 December 2009 – It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and the food frenzy in France is nearing its peak!! Preparing for the year-end family feasts is an important of the holiday culture here ... every grocery store, every caterer, every take-out food emporium has holiday menus to offer those who don't cook themselves. How does this menu sound - it's from my local grocery store ...

FIRST COURSE: scallops in their shell with mushrooms OR duck foie gras with two peppers and Champagne
SECOND COURSE: an apple/foie gras tart with Port OR a ragout of monkfish, shrimp, and bacon
THIRD COURSE: filet of duck with a choice of sauces OR a trio of tropical sole, Atlantic salmon, and scallops with Hollandaise sauce – accompanied by a choice of potatoes Dauphinois, rice, or chestnuts
FOURTH COURSE: cheese platter
DESSERT: chocolate pyramid OR nougat with red fruits

When I first moved to Brittany, I had a hard time getting used to these major marathon meals, where you're at the table for six or more hours – I'm not a very good sitter. Every year, my younger brother tells me that he really wants to experience one of these meals where you just go on eating. Well, the French don't actually just go on eating – they take their time, they relax between courses, and they eat fairly small portions. Still, Christmas is a feast.

As much as the take-out menus can be tempting, I enjoy the cooking. One of the things that I like about the French culture is that there is an appreciation of a quality product and a willingness to pay for it. We get our turkey or capon directly from the farm – it's excellent, and it's expensive: about $75 for a 5-kilo bird (around 12 pounds). At our house, the menu looks fairly traditional:

FIRST COURSE: oysters (the round flat ones), foie gras (duck), smoked salmon, galantines
SECOND COURSE: roast capon, chestnuts (some years from our own trees – one year, I detached my thumbnail from its nail bed shelling chestnuts), mashed potatoes (from our garden), gravy, green vegetables (I continue to have this misguided notion that vegetables are an important part of a balanced menu – I gave up on stuffing some years ago when it was clear that I was the only one interested)
THIRD COURSE: cheese platter (at least six different ones), large green salad
DESSERT: bûche de Noël or a baked Alaska (called a Norwegian omelette in French), fresh fruit (including our own kiwi)
WITH COFFEE: home-made cookies, lots of chocolates, brandy (particularly very old Calvados!)

This all takes about 6 or 7 hours to consume – lots of conversation and NO hurry!

Here's my French turkey story: a number of years ago, I thought it would be fun to do a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner for my French friends. Every day when I went to the market in Quimper, the poultry lady had turkey thighs for sale. So in early November, I went to her and asked to order a whole turkey for the end of the month. She said to me "Il n'y en a pas" – "There aren't any." There aren't any?? I was standing there looking at the thighs. What did she mean, there aren't any? Are they sending the turkeys back to the farm in wheelchairs? If there are thighs, there have to be turkeys somewhere. But no, the French only eat whole turkeys for Christmas, ergo the rest of the year, there aren't any.

Wherever you find yourself for holiday feasts this season, I wish you "Bon appétit!"

Friday, 18 December 2009

Last Auctions for This Year ... jd

18 December 2009 – And there are three auctions tomorrow!! Two are in Quimper, and they include important lots of pottery, and the third is an art auction in Brest. The two auction houses in Quimper have been considerate of the buyers – the Hôtel des Ventes Bretagne Atlantique is offering the pottery at the beginning, whereas Quimper Enchères is selling pottery about four hours into the sale. And if you have a helicopter, you could pop up to Brest in between the two and buy a painting!!

As Quimper pottery auctions go, the ones this season have had moderate amounts of pottery to sell. That leaves more time (and maybe money!) to look at (and maybe buy!) other things.

This covered bouillon is listed as a bonbonnière, but I think it really is just a covered bowl. However, it is one that I would like to own, because it is a piece by Suzanne Creston (of the Seiz Breur - the Breton art renaissance movement, post WWI). She uses a very particular tone of blue that I find appealing, and her designs are geometric. However, the Seiz Breur pieces usually go way over my budget ...

So where is this large and heavy unsigned platter from? The auction house thinks it is Quimper, probably because of the flower decor, but I'm not familiar with this form in Quimper pottery, and this use of black would certainly not be typical.

How about this Géo Martel bird inkwell?? Even with the lid missing, he's pretty cute.

Charles Maillard did other things besides pottery, and this bird (peacock?eagle?) letter opener in bronze from about 1925 is an impressive piece. It's also very heavy and could certainly feature in a detective fiction story as THE weapon.

There is a collection of samplers for sale (called "abécédaires" in French). They are very charming, indeed! Even though it's not the most highly worked piece of the group, I like the one that has sample stitches set into the piece of needlework.

There is often wine and other alcohol for sale at auctions. (The Tour d'Argent in Paris just sold 18,000 bottles from their stock, but that's an exceptional sale.) Of course you can't taste, and you don't know what the storage conditions have been, so it's an adventure to buy bottles. Several years ago, Marcel came home from an auction of a restaurant's stock with a number of bottles of wine and two mystery bottles. One was home-made apple brandy, more than 35 years old. We decanted it for Christmas that year, and it was fabulous – we made it last for almost a year. The other bottle was a banana liqueur, which certainly doesn't appeal to me, but when we finally opened it, we discovered that all of its banana qualities had disappeared, and we were left with sort of a caramel liqueur – it was good for at least five minutes of conversation at several dinner parties, but now I'd like to finish it to free up the decanter! Tomorrow's bottles are all covered with dust, and they include some rather old red wines, including some of the great Bordeaux, and a whole lot of sweet liqueurs, which I am happy to say don't tempt me at all. In any case, it will probably be 9pm before they get to the wine, and that's way past my bedtime!

And here is the show-stopper of the weekend, in my opinion. This couch came from a DESIGN furniture show in Milan in 1981, and it would look really terrific in your country manor ...