Saturday, 31 July 2010

My Last Collection

I have a well-developed appreciation for old Quimper and other French pottery, but at heart, I have a particular fondness for the post-WWII productions, like Keraluc and Ty Breizh and Kercy Quimper.

When I started coming to Quimper 25 years ago, on the rue Saint François, right near the market, there was a shop where a ceramicist named Mme Kercy displayed her wares. I was a fan right away!! The soup plate on the lower right of the above photo is one of the first pieces I ever bought from her, and it was soon followed by the two pieces  below (I actually bought two of the little bowls, but only one remains ... ):

As time went by, Mme Kercy's shop evolved, and it became more of a tourist shop with souvenirs and other items that she did not make, until one day her lease was not renewed and that was the end. By that time, I was living here, and I became more interested in her pieces. On a visit to St. Ouen in Paris, a dealer told me that this piece was from one of the Quimper manufactures in the 1950s:

I said, "oh, really? how interesting", knowing that it was rather more recent than that (Mme Kercy is older than I am, but not that much older!). And by then I hooked. However, these pieces are all put aside as I buy them, and I'm planning on this being my last collection, when the time comes that we have divested ourselves of all the rest of our pottery. It was rather fun taking out pieces to photograph, because I had no idea that I've already collected a fair amount!

Mme Kercy used lots of bright blue and ocher, and her brush stroke is emphatic. I don't know where her biscuit came from - in fact, I don't know much about her at all.

This blue is used with other tones, particularly raspberry and mauve. The covered mug has an insert for tea leaves!

Lots of ceramicists in this area are inspired by Moroccan pottery at times ...

Mme Kercy's signature is at times difficult to read, if you don't know what you are looking for, so on eBay pieces can be attributed to all sorts of names!

Last March, I was at a "stuff" auction (my favorite kind, you may remember). I specifically went to buy this large covered casserole:

On my way out, Mme Kercy spoke to me - it was kind of hard to have a major discussion in the middle of an auction, but she did say that she had a lot of stock left and that in times gone by, she'd had a number of American clients. I used to be a little more on the ball than I apparently am today, because I let a golden opportunity get away from me ... and I have been trying ever since to reach Mme Kercy to talk to her about how we might work together to get back in touch with the American market - I would love to see what she has left and to be able to sell it!!

But Mme Kercy has been very difficult to get hold of, and I understand from someone who would like to write an article about her and her pottery that she is somewhat retiring at this point in her life, although she told me that she likes to go to auctions for the fun of it. However, I did not see her at auctions this summer, and when the school year starts ("La Rentrée" - in France, it's a lot more than back-to-school, it's also back-to-your-normal-workaday-life), I'm going to redouble my efforts to talk to Mme Kercy in person.

In the meantime, I just bought these two plates:

I have been told that Mme Kercy worked for Keraluc at one time, and the designs on these plates would certainly support that theory - I'm hoping to be able to confirm it in person. 

So stay tuned - if I'm successful, I'll ask our blog chief for an opportunity to give you an update! In the meantime, I'm going to go on stashing Mme Kercy's pieces away - it's turning into a super collection!!

Friday, 30 July 2010

1st Anniversary Giveaway: The Rest Of The Story.

To celebrate the QCI blog's first anniversary earlier this year we gave away a beautiful heart shaped pendant necklace, created by Henriot Bijoux.

The winner of this lovely piece of jewellery was Mary @ The Little Red House and this week she blogged about receiving the gift.

You can read about how much she loves it and see more of her stunning photography by clicking here.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Quimper Tiles

A couple of months ago, Trudi took us on a great  tour of Italian tiles ... tiles date from antiquity, and they are wonderful decorative elements. When I used to be a tourist in Quimper, I would do my year's shopping of birthday, Christmas, and wedding presents in the faïence shops in town, and my purchases always included tiles. They made great hostess gifts as trivets, either in a wooden frame or with just a cork or felt backing (perfect for a teapot,  for instance).

In their heyday, which was the 1950s and 1960s (more or less), Quimper tiles were used for table tops, set into wrought iron bases. Bel Delecourt did many patterns, often with flowers or fish, and her tiles have a luminous quality to them because of the way she used glazes. This table was up for auction last weekend:

We bought several lots of tiles at auctions about five years ago, before I knew enough to recognize the decors of Bel Delecourt, and we have bits of her designs, four tiles here, three there, etc. We wanted to use them in our bathroom, but the technical difficulties of mixing them with new tiles that were perhaps not exactly the same thickness dissuaded us. However, someday, I'm going to put them together in some sort of jigsaw fashion ...

For years, I wanted one of these tables, but they can get expensive. In addition to Bel Delecourt, a number of other artists produced these tiled tables, including Maurice Fouillen. But I have no idea who this artist is:

The tile in the lower right corner is signed with someone's initials and HB Quimper. Very 1960s, yes?

Marcel and I don't often worry about where we might put something that we buy - our taste runs to smaller things, and we generally find a place. I always tell myself that if there is really no room, I'll just sell whatever it is. In any case, finally I was able to buy my table at an auction. I got it into the car, and I spent most of the drive home wondering where I was going to put it. When I unloaded it, Marcel wondered the same thing. Well, the table is a floater in our house. It's in my workroom much of the time, but it does get pressed into service when we have guests and need another surface for drinks and nibbles. It has red, pink, and yellow flowers on a black background, in the style that Guy Trévoux developed for Henriot; I don't know that this is his design, but it is signed Henriot Quimper in the lower right corner.

And my latest tile acquisition floats my boat for two reasons... these are color and design samples, done on tiles:

Are these splendid?? Makes me want to redo the kitchen again ...

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Going to auction

At certain times of the year, I eat, sleep, breathe auctions. But statistically speaking, apparently 85% of the French population have never set foot in an auction house and have no idea how it all works. It's really not all that complicated in one sense: 
*you get a catalogue or see photos on line or read an ad;
*you go for a preview;
*you decide what you'd like to buy;
*you set a maximum that you are willing to pay;
*you go to the auction;
*you bid;
*you win or you lose.

In another sense, it can be immensely complicated:
*sometimes photos and reality are distant cousins (any eBay shopper knows the truth of this!);
*at the preview, other people may get an idea of what you are interested in (it's a small world for any type of antiques or collectibles);
*decisions about what to buy can change during the auction itself, depending on your budget (if I get number 5, then I won't bid on number 12, but if I don't, then I could go for number 12 and number 14 ... );
*your budget has to take into account the buyer's fee (which used to be around 11% in France, until Christie's broke the monopoly - now it's an open market, and the fees are more like 19%);
*bidding at auctions is a very psychological experience - it's very easy to get carried away and spend more than you intended;
*you feel great if you win and bummed if you don't (but there's always another auction).

Catalogue auctions are the most interesting, because they are the generally the best pieces that the auction house has to offer. Catalogue auctions are one of the ways that I make my living, so obviously, I'm always keeping an eye out for what looks exciting. But in terms of my personal buying, I love what the French call a "vente courante" - it's a "stuff" auction, quite often from cleaning out houses, the French equivalent of a garage sale for people who don't want to deal with it themselves. A couple of years ago, I went with a friend to a "vente courante"; I wanted a box lot of sunhats and she wanted one of pieces of old fabrics. At this auction, everything was going to sell, and if one lot didn't, the auctioneer added it to the next one. We came home with 5 huge boxes: in addition to the sunhats and old fabrics, there were three boxes of various linens, a lot of it new ... you can always use extra pillowcases (and we do!), but I still have the SNCF sleeping-car sheets in their plastic wrapping - I'm sure there's a train buff out there who would like them - I'll send them to auction!

And what are the above photos? There's an auction going on even as I write this post!!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Oops ... I broke it!

Two days ago, I was getting lunch on the table. I started to leave the kitchen with a small tray that had on it an unopened jar of mayonnaise and a Villeroy & Boch small pitcher that I used only to serve home-made salad dressing. As I rounded the corner, the edge of the tray caught on something and it all went crashing to the tile floor, where everything that falls breaks. It was a mess ... broken glass, huge globs of mayonnaise, salad dressing everywhere, and chunks and bits of broken pottery. I cleaned it all up with paper towels, mopped the floor, and threw all the waste in the trash. The only reason I didn't swear a lot was that my mother was sitting in the living room.

Pottery being  the most fragile of the ceramics, if you live with pottery, already you probably have a certain amount of breakage in your life, and tile floors up the ante. We are a recycling household, so of course I don't throw away those bits of broken pottery (except when they are covered in mayonnaise and salad dressing) - they're on a shelf in the garage, waiting for their next life! 

There is a very talented craftsperson in this area who does terrific mozaics, on things as diverse as pitchers, mirrors, old foot-pedal sewing machines, trays, etc. She and I have worked together at times, but the only piece of hers that I have is this cup and saucer, which is "mozaic-ed" with broken Pornic pottery:
There is a meticulous quality to her mozaics that I quite admire. Obviously, you wouldn't want to drink your coffee out of this, but it looks quite charming with a small green plant in it!

Not too long ago, I was visiting Valérie LeRoux in her atelier, and she had some mozaic panels. She does all kinds of workshops for children, and I asked if she would do a mozaic workshop with me, to which she said yes - we're planning to get together in the fall. In one fell swoop, I will be able to clean out a corner of the garage AND add something original to our decor. And what I would like to make is something to complement the planter that sits by our front door. Marcel brought it home from a flea market years ago. It is made of concrete and is decorated in the "pique-assiette" style of mozaics - wouldn't it be great to have another one??

There is something for every Quimper lover in the decor of this planter (and bits of other pottery too), of which you can only see three sides here.  I have no recollection of what is on the fourth side, and this piece is so heavy that we may never move it again.
So what do you do with your broken pieces??

Monday, 19 July 2010

Trying out new colors: Nuanciers

If you stumbled upon these three plates in a flea market, would you know what they were?? A couple of years ago, I was lucky to acquire these as well as others. It was clear that they were color trials for a pottery manufacture, but the backs were unglazed and unsigned. However, I recognized the colors and the 3-dot motif on some of the swatches as being from the Faïencerie d'Art Breton Savigny babies, so I took the whole stack and off I went to ask questions. It was fun to see the production staff discuss the different plates and colors.

Indeed, these three plates were the Savigny baby color trials (it's nice to be right!). Under each color is the mixing formula for that color - my untrained eye does not see any difference between some of the variations, but I imagine that the painters saw all sorts of details that I'm missing.

These two plates show different blue and green tones, and the blue plate is dated 1997 - as collectors know, it's always nice to be able to date a piece!! Variations of brush strokes are tried out, to see what the color does as it is applied differently, an interesting way for us to see what design tools the painter uses.

This pair of plates is technically very interesting. The color was intended as a background color for a decor that would be exported to the US. The plate on the left has two bands that say N°1 on them and three that say N°2. On the back of the plate, it says "N°1 pose difficile" (N°1 was difficult to paint on the biscuit) and "N°2 [pose] délicate" (N°2 wasn't too easy, either). The plate on the right says N°5 on the yellow bands (we can suppose that there was a plate with numbers 3 and 4, but I don't have that one), and on the back, it says "N°5 pose correcte" (N°5 was the version that was a correct consistency for painting the decor). 


These two plates came from the HB-Henriot manufacture - their trial plates often end up in their tent sale, one of my favorite buying events of the year. The one on the left has sponging, stripes, à la touche motifs, and a filled space; on the back, it has color and decor references and says Nicot - was it a trial for the colors for one of the Nicot statues?? The plate on the right simply shows four different shades of blue; it says "B. ROY" on the back - "bleu roy" is royal blue. These two plates are glazed on the back as well as the front, so they can be used! 

These two pieces are also from HB-Henriot. The small plate was a color trial for a new decor by Mik Jegou - the brick/coral background was a new color, and this plate appears to have been created to show how other colors fired on it. The green is from the decor Jardin d'Eté, and the blue is a new blue: "Bleu Mik" - Mik's blue. This plate is a complete composition in its own right, with the placed border as well as the central motifs.
On the right, the tile was a trial piece for a matte gold color; I bought this one at the last December tent sale. Because the motifs chosen were the fleur de lys and the ermine tails (outlines and fill-ins - no brush stroke motifs), one could suppose that there might be a new decor in the offing??


Given my interest in the technical aspects of faience production, of course I was quite taken with the above plates, which were an auction offering this month. Both came from the collection of a curator of the museum in Saint Malo (northern coast of Brittany). Both are color trials from the Porquier-Beau manufacture in the 1890s. The one with the divided decor is the more valuable one - it is dated, and the design of the little figures on the right can be attributed to Alfred Beau himself - and it sold for 1300 euros at the auction. But I personally prefer the more simple one because I like flowers and I like the somewhat rustic aspect of the overall decor (I can fantasize that I might have been able to produce something that looked like that!); it sold for 350 euros.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Ceramics of Keraluc

In 1946, ceramics engineer Victor Lucas, after having worked 22 years for both HB and Henriot, created his own manufacture near Quimper: Keraluc. He attracted a group of young regional artists and provided workshop space and the necessary materials for their artistic creations, including traditional Breton motifs by Paul Yvain and Pierre Toulhoat, life on the ports by René Quéré, mythological themes by Jos Le Corre, and contemporary abstractions by Xavier Krebs. Nature being of prime importance to the life in Brittany, it was not surprising to find flowers and birds as a significant theme. 

The excitement of artistic production prevailed at this period, and I have been told by retailers from that time that in order to have pieces to sell, they had to be at the door when the kilns were opened, so that they could have a shot at getting something for their shops. Many of the pieces were one-of-a-kind, so once they were sold, that was it. It was a post-war renaissance of Breton artistic production!

In the 1970s, Pol Lucas, son of Victor, introduced the production of stoneware, which was a huge success at the time, with decors like G6 (Grès 6 - Stoneware 6) sweeping the market. (Pol Lucas' daughter told me once that her father was so focused on stoneware that there was absolutely no Keraluc pottery in their house - this was as she was paying me for a Keraluc pottery tea set that she bought from me on eBay.)

 Like many manufactures, including HB-Henriot, Keraluc went through a very difficult period in the early 1980s, resulting in filing for bankruptcy. The factory was reopened and survived for another 8 years, mostly producing objects with traditional Quimper motifs, like classic Breton figures and floral motifs. Its doors closed definitively in 1992, and a year later, HB-Henriot bought the rights to the mark Keraluc and reissued a limited amount of variations of several decors in pottery.

We started collecting Keraluc in our house about 15 years ago. Marcel came home one day with 6 cups and saucers in the G6 pattern. We acquired substantial amounts of the stoneware, which we have now sold. Most of what we had was catalogue production, rather than artists' pieces (although certain artists always painted their own, like Yvain, who is my preferred stoneware artist). I'm not a big fan of eating from stoneware, but I love it for serving pieces - the Keraluc ones are colorful, sculptural, and great at keeping things hot. So I have an armoire in the garage with the stoneware we've kept and I use it regularly. 

I personally prefer the Keraluc pottery. In particular, there was a series of pieces produced in the 1950s that are manganese on the outside and one of twelve colors on the inside. The manganese can range from black  to deep eggplant, and the twelve colors include creams, blues, greens, rose pinks and yellows - sometimes there are pieces that are just the inside colors, too. (The yellow pitcher in the front with colorful squiggles was painted by Victor Lucas, according to his son - it's one of my favorite pieces!)


So why did I choose to write about Keraluc today? Because what I think is the largest collection to ever come on the market is for sale at auction on Saturday here in Quimper ... most of it is pottery, and most of it is artists' pieces. In the last five or so years, it is pieces by the artists Quéré and Krebs that have brought the most money at auction, so it will be interesting to see what happens.  Here are photos of the showcases:

All the way on the top is a splendid fish plate by Georges Allier. Underneath him and to the left is a bottle by Pierre Toulhoat, showing the King Gradlon on his horse, probably at the moment he was fleeing the devil! The plate with the seahorses was done by Jos Le Corre, who opened his own workshop in Quimper -  Atelier du Steir - and who often used a matte glaze that I like. Two shelves down on the right is a plate with a yellow bird that was done by Xavier Krebs - pieces in this decor have come on the market little by little, always over my budget. On the bottom row, there is an abstract Yvain shallow bowl on the left and a gourd in the middle - super colors!

On the top, the rooster bottle is a Pierre Toulhoat piece. On the very right of that shelf is an abstract platter by Antoine Lucas, the grandson of Victor and an artist in his own right. More Yvain on the next shelf down, and on the third shelf are pieces by Jos Le Corre with his Breton birds, which have a particular insouciance that appeals to me! On the bottom are three plates in the center by Georges Allier and a bird pitcher by Pierre Toulhoat.

On the top row here, the fish platters left and right are pieces by Marie Toulhoat. Not only is she the daughter of Pierre, but she is also the granddaughter of Victor Lucas, by way of her mother. I like Marie's style (although I have a slight preference for her birds over her fish ... ). There is more Yvain, some stoneware pieces, and a couple of publicity pieces.

There are always surprises: in our heyday of buying Keraluc stoneware, we bought a number of pieces by artist André L'Helguen in this decor, but this is the first time I've seen this large gourd.

And I think that this platter by Yvain is gorgeous ... it measures 21 inches in diameter and is dated 1949. The decor is a striking mix of colors, using motifs from the local embroidery as well as the florals of nature. Estimated at 1000-1200 euros ...

This promises to be a historical auction ... it's always nice to be in the front row on these occasions!

(Note: my presentation of the history of Keraluc was exceedingly brief ... for more information and photos, try and ceramics-design.)

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Service for ?? Judy D

It used to be that you set your dinner table for guests with a matched service, the same pattern of china for every course and  matching cups and saucers for coffee after. Nowadays, it is the fashion to combine different patterns according to your own taste, and so complete services are much less popular and are harder to sell. A classic French dinner service used to include 24 dinner plates, 12 soup plates, 12 dessert plates, and assorted serving pieces; coffee services were separate, usually 12 cups and saucers, a coffeepot, a creamer and a sugar, and perhaps the matching serving tray. When classic Quimper services come up for auction, they can be a very good deal; there are also some unusual and special services that continue to be more expensive. Let's have a look at some services that were sold this past week at various auctions! (Note: prices noted are the gavel prices - the auction houses add a buyer's fee of about 19%.)

Here was an Henriot service from about 1930, classic Breton figures, classic borders. It included 36 dinner plates, 12 soup plates, 12 dessert plates, 3 round platters, a vegetable bowl, a salad bowl, 3 oval platters, a fish platter, two raviers, a double salt, a sauceboat, 3 footed compotes, and a soup tureen. Its gavel price was 550 euros. At the simplest calculation, that works out to less than 10 euros apiece ... my goodness!

This service, featuring the arms of Brittany and ermine tails,  was manufactured by Henriot around 1940. It included 10 dinner plates, 12 soup plates, 9 dessert plates, 2 round platters, 2 oval platters, 1 footed compote, 1 sauceboat, and 1 vegetable bowl. Its gavel price was 700 euros, not quite as much a the bargain as the previous service, but it has some historical value: this pattern is the one of the service that was offered to General Charles de Gaulle during one of his visits to Quimper.(If you are ever invited to dinner at the Préfecture in Quimper, they may set the table with the same pattern!)

Of course, this is oyster country here at Land's End, and Henriot manufactured a splendid oyster service in the early part of the 20th century, with three stacking platters for serving oysters and the sauceboat on top (for vinegar and chopped shallots). It is unusual enough to find the serving set intact, but this service was particularly outstanding because it also had 12 oyster plates with it. Its gavel price was 750 euros, and I hope somebody bought it to use!

The Quimper manufactures have produced a number of fish services, with different forms of platters and plates. This service was designed by Etienne Laget, the artist from Arles, and it was manufactured by Henriot around 1930. It included the fish platter (a form still produced today), the sauceboat with its langoustine handle, another fish serving piece that is like a tureen with a colander inside, and six plates. This is a very unusual service and it is not surprising that its gavel price was 700 euros.

And finally, this famous service by Mathurin Méheut, called the "Service de la Galette", which shows the various steps in making crêpes, including milking the cow, harvesting the wheat, gathering the eggs, mixing the batter, etc. - a complete service is one platter and 12 plates with different scenes. This one was 11 plates plus a damaged 12th plate and platter. Even so, the gavel price was 1600 euros.

I may have to take another look at what I'm setting my table with!

I'm linking this great post of Judy's to Tam's 3 or More Tuesday meme. which she holds each week at the Gypsy's Corner. If you haven't yet sampled Tam's blog do pop in, you'll be so glad you took a look.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Breton Costumes! by Judy D

It is almost impossible to collect Quimper pottery without developing an appreciation for Breton (and other) costumes ... the figures on the various pieces serve as references for the costumes of different areas at different eras. So it is not surprising that the pièce de résistance at a pottery auction last weekend was a costume, and in fact, it was the costume whose details are on the cover of the catalogue for that sale.

As I noted in my previous blog, this costume is thought to be the oldest dated example of a Breton garment. It is black heavy felted wool, with red embroidery, including the buttons and dated 1811 - it would have been a special order for a well-off Breton. Costume collectors are as fierce faience collectors: the estimation fo the costume was 1200-1500 euros, but the bidding shot up to 5000 euros in pretty short order. At that point, there was a pause while an absent bidder was tracked down on the phone, after which the bidding climbed to the final gavel price of 6000 euros (to which a buyer's fee of 19% must be added!). This piece made yesterday's paper, including a comment from the auctioneer that the jacket will remain in France.

For all of its historical significance, the black jacket is extremely sober, too much so for my personal taste.
On the other hand, this bridal costume (of which the back is shown here) of Plogonnec (west of Quimper) from about 1880 is full of color and texture, including wool, ribbons, embroidered lace, and glass beads. It sold for 1500 euros, and it is stunning!

And how about this one for a little boy??
In wool, from the beginning of the 20th century, gavel price 300 euros.

During the exhibit, I asked the costume expert which one he personally preferred - he told me that it was this one:

He said he liked it because it was a complete costume of the wife of a craftsman of Quimperlé (east of Quimper), and it gives clues to the lifestyle of the wearer. One can see the social standing of the lady by the elegant touches on her dress. The color of the black is a bronzed shade that would have cost more money to dye. There is black velvet edging her pockets as well as her sleeves and the back of the top of the dress. The quality of the fabric is another indicator of her economic class, and the quality is such that over 100 years later, the costume is in excellent condition.

Actually, one thing that amazes me is how good the condition of many of the costumes were. Some were undoubtedly specially preserved by families (particularly wedding costumes, I would think), but even so, you have to start with a good product to be able to keep it good for 100+ years.
We're linking this post of Judy's to "A Few Of My Favourites Things Saturdays" meme held by Laurie each week, on her blog entitled: Bargain Hunting and Chatting with Laurie. I think Laurie has a soft spot for Quimper although we haven't yet persuaded her to join QCI.
Please go over and visit with her & tell her all the good reasons why she would enjoy our group.