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.
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 keraluc.com and ceramics-design.)