Antique French Faience of the Last Century
by John Stephen Beers

As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Summer/Fall 2003

Faience potteries, or tin-enameled earthenwares, date back to ancient times. The actual name "faience" comes from "Faenza", a town in Italy, and was introduced in France in the 16th Century by migrant Italian potters. Earlier on, faience had often been thought to be nothing more than peasant ware, and not appropriate in elegant French chateaus or palaces. However, in the mid 19th Century, France and its royalty fell into financial crises after numerous wars and other national economic disasters.

The Industrial Revolution in the mid to late 19th Century brought new manufactured products and improved distribution of these goods. A newly emerged middle class sought items of aesthetic beauty for their lives and in their homes. Mass production allowed ordinary people to enjoy luxuries of life in a new era of economic independence.

The French faience pottery of the late 19th and early 20th Century revived a long history of the potters’ art, and embodied an artistic and social statement of the times. The earlier historic decors of Nevers, Rouen, Moustiers, Strasbourg, and Marseilles were captured and reproduced by factories at Quimper, Desvres, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Malicorne and others.

Well-known design trends, artistic influences, and color palettes established from previous eras, most notably the 18th Century, were embodied in whimsical styles and bold new shapes to meet the tastes of a growing audience. These decorative faience pottery crafts provided pleasure and fantasy as well as serving function and utilitarian purposes. At this time French Faience finally came into the height of popularity.

Desvres, situated in north central France, has been a pottery center since early times, having excavated pottery kilns from the Roman era. In the 1870’s the heyday of Desvres pottery began as the Formaintraux family of potters perfected their craft in the style and manor of old Rouen. Their retail operations provided cachepots,    jardinières, plates, candlesticks, miniatures, and other decorative items. Desvres pottery is known for a creamy white background decorated with bright "Delft" blue, brilliant lemon yellow, iron red and sage green. One specialty form in Desvres was known as jaquelaines, lady and men figural tavern jugs. Other artistic pieces include a pair of tall fanciful dragon candlesticks with paperweight eyes, and a wonderful pair of man and lady riders on horseback.

A faience antique can often be identified by the style, composition of the clay, form, glazes, colors, quality, and markings. Potters and decorators marks are a specialty area of study. As nearly all styles and designs in pottery were copied at later times, it is easy to be fooled when estimating age of antiques. In order to learn more about antique French faience, seek expert advice, visit fine specialty antique shops, museums, and read related books.


About the author:
John S. Beers, the author, is Co-owner of Fleur-de-Lis Antiques, located at the Via de Mario-Worth Avenue, 326 Peruvian Avenue, Palm Beach, Florida 33480, Phone 561-655-2295. John’s other articles for past issues of Antiques and Art Around Florida have included the subjects of antique milk glass, tavern jugs, and Meissen porcelain. John’s Mother Dorothea celebrates her "early" retirement this year at the age of 80 — she began collecting antiques at age 5! They invite you to visit the shop this summer for their "first sale in 50 years!" Please call for an appointment!

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