Transcript for Episode 373: A Brief History of French Porcelain

Category: French History

Discussed in this Episode

  • Les arts de feu
  • Limoges
  • Sèvres
  • Where to see and buy porcelain in France
  • How to tell what kind of ceramic product you have
  • Royal Limoges
  • Havilland (you can visit the kiln!)
  • Bernardaud (Elyse loves their designs)

[00:05:31] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Elyse

[00:05:32] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour Annie

[00:05:33] Annie Sargent: So today we have a conversation about something that I know absolutely nothing about!

[00:05:39] Elyse Rivin: And that makes me so happy because I really spent a lot of time preparing this because I want, I’m going to give you, a little lesson. There’s a couple of things actually on the table. People can’t see us but….

[00:05:49] Elyse Rivin: We’re going to talk about something that is part of what is known as the decorative arts. in n French, like in English, there’s a difference between what are called the major arts, which is painting sculpture, even architecture and, what is unfortunately called the minor arts. Which I don’t believe really are minor. And what made me think about that today was that if you go to Japan, there is no such difference between the two. And in fact, they don’t have a word for arts. I don’t know exactly what the word is, but it’s more about the aesthetic of things than anything else.

[00:06:26] Elyse Rivin: So, today, what we’re going to do is talk about one of the things that is famous for being produced in France, and that is porcelain. And porcelain is one of what are called–and I don’t, this is a translation from French because I honestly don’t know if this expression is used in English, but in French, the expression is wonderful. It’s les arts de feu

[00:06:49] Annie Sargent: Les arts de feu.

[00:06:50] Elyse Rivin: Les arts de feu, which means the arts that are from fire . And the reason why, and this is one of them, porcelain is, a kind of ceramic. And ceramic and glass making and things made from metal are all made by using heat and fire.

[00:07:10] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

[00:07:10] Elyse Rivin: And so this is considered to be one of the arts of fire, and I love that expression.

[00:07:16] Annie Sargent: Les arts de feu. I was not aware of that expression. Beautiful.

[00:07:20] Elyse Rivin: And one of the ones that is the most famous. And I actually will include in the texts, specific places where you can actually find these things except for, certainly big department stores, which you can, you can go to and look. But there are some very specific places where it can find them.

[00:07:36] Elyse Rivin: One of the things that is famous for being produced in France, not only in France. So let’s be clear about that. There are other places in Europe where it is produced, but the history of it really in Europe begins in France and that’s, what’s so wonderful about it. It is, the art of not just ceramics, but of porcelain making.

[00:07:56] Annie Sargent: So what’s the difference? I mean, in my mind, ceramic is kind of a rougher looking, maybe thicker vase or bowl or…

[00:08:08] Elyse Rivin: Technically ceramic is anything made from some kind of a clay. But there are many, many different kinds.

[00:08:16] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

[00:08:17] Elyse Rivin: Or, uh, other kinds of mineral that is baked or what we call , fired in a kiln, which is just a very big, big, big, big oven.

[00:08:28] Annie Sargent: That gets very hot.

[00:08:28] Elyse Rivin: That gets very hot. And so there are many different kinds of, uh, stoneware, which a lot of people use as for their dishes. For instance, a stoneware is a rather heavy kind of ceramic. It’s usually thicker and literally, you know…

[00:08:44] Annie Sargent: Heavier.

[00:08:45] Elyse Rivin: It’s also the kind you can put in the oven. Porcelain you don’t put it in the, in the oven. Yes. Porcelain you wouldn’t put in the oven, but for other reasons, there are all kinds of ceramics. Ceramic is a very generic term for anything you can buy that is made from, that’s not metallic, that’s not glass.

[00:09:03] Annie Sargent: So I’m drinking a cup of tea. Is that ceramic?

[00:09:06] Elyse Rivin: That is ceramic.

[00:09:07] Annie Sargent: Okay, but it’s not porcelain.

[00:09:09] Elyse Rivin: But it’s not porcelain. In fact now in on the table, in front of you.

[00:09:13] Annie Sargent: Yes.

[00:09:13] Elyse Rivin: I don’t even know if it’s a coffee or tea cup, but it has very beautiful design on it. I would like you to take it.

[00:09:19] Annie Sargent: I can’t! It’s too far.

[00:09:21] Elyse Rivin: Can I get it for you? Wait,

[00:09:22] Annie Sargent: Live from Elyse’s house Annie reaches for a cup.

[00:09:26] Elyse Rivin: Look at this lovely little cup.

[00:09:27] Annie Sargent: Can I look at the bottom?

[00:09:28] Elyse Rivin: Yes. I want you to look at the bottom and read what it says..

[00:09:32] Annie Sargent: Villeroy et Bosch Groupe Entarcia Bone china,

[00:09:37] Elyse Rivin: Bone china,

[00:09:39] Annie Sargent: Bone china.,

[00:09:40] Elyse Rivin: Bone china. Okay. Now put that down and pick up that lovely, tiny little,

[00:09:45] Annie Sargent: The white one.

[00:09:46] Elyse Rivin: The white one. And its saucer and hold the saucer up to the window. And look through it.

[00:09:52] Annie Sargent: Oh yeah, you can kind of see through it.

[00:09:54] Elyse Rivin: You can see through it. If you hold your fingers up on the other side, you will actually be able to see your fingers, wiggle the cup the same way you can hold it up. You can see.

[00:10:04] Annie Sargent: At the edge, you can see through it. I mean, tiny, tiny bit.

[00:10:08] Annie Sargent: A tiny bit of light comes through there

[00:10:10] Elyse Rivin: And read what it says on the bottom line on the bottom of the cup.

[00:10:13] Annie Sargent: It says B&C Limoges, France.

[00:10:16] Elyse Rivin: B&C Limoges, France.

[00:10:18] Annie Sargent: And see, I wouldn’t have thought that this was Limoges because it’s not blue,

[00:10:21] Elyse Rivin: But just blue has nothing to do with it. Okay. What do you have in your hand is a real piece of true porcelain. It’s white, the little cup is white. The saucer is white. It doesn’t always have to be white, but in fact it starts out by being white. But, the difference between the other one, that’s called bone china, which is an expression that’s in English. The French don’t use the term bone china, but that’s the expression that’s used in English.

[00:10:47] Annie Sargent: Bone china.

[00:10:48] Elyse Rivin: No actually believe it or not in French, they would say porcelaine d’Allemagne.

[00:10:54] Elyse Rivin: There are two kinds of porcelain. One that in English, and this really comes from the England, is called bone china. Which means it’s a kind of soft porcelain.

[00:11:04] Annie Sargent: I mean, soft, uh, c’est pas soft!.

[00:11:07] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. Soft has to do with the temperature used and the brittleness of the material.

[00:11:13] Annie Sargent: But this lets a little bit of light through as well. Yeah.

[00:11:18] Elyse Rivin: And the other one that’s, what’s called pure true porcelain. And it’s very, very, very hard. Although I don’t want you to drop it on the floor.

[00:11:27] Annie Sargent: No, I know what would happen if I dropped it on the floor, I would not be a happy.

[00:11:31] Elyse Rivin: And my dear departed mother-in-law would not be a happy camper either.

[00:11:35] Elyse Rivin: So porcelain, there were two places in France that produced porcelain. One is near Paris and it is the town of Sèvres.

[00:11:44] Annie Sargent: Yes.

[00:11:45] Elyse Rivin: Which is, north of Paris. And the other place is Limoges. Since we talked about Limoges in connection to some other things that were not such happy things, it seemed like it would be a nice thing to do to talk about Limoges in relation to this, which is an art.

[00:12:01] Elyse Rivin: And for many people, when they come to France, they’re actually looking to buy something to take home that’s really French. Now. I know a lot of people buy clothing, they buy scarves, you know, , you have to be very careful because a lot of things stamped Made in France and are actually not Made in France at all.

[00:12:20] Elyse Rivin: If you like tableware, if you like beautiful vases, if you like objects that are made from some form of ceramic and you like some very beautiful, delicate designs. One of the things you can look for and buy is a set or a piece of porcelain.

[00:12:39] Annie Sargent: That would be hard to take home though, wouldn’t it?

[00:12:41] Elyse Rivin: If it’s a small piece, it’s usually boxed up a lot, very carefully bubble wrapped. And if you buy a lot they ship it. That’s one of the things about porcelain. Porcelain is a commodity, at least now that is definitely high-end. It’s not typical tableware.

[00:12:57] Annie Sargent: This is a side thing, but I was really surprised when we moved from Utah to France, we did a big old container, like one of these 40 foot containers and it was chock full of stuff.

[00:13:07] Annie Sargent: And I had packed six wine glasses that were extremely thin . Not a, one of them broke. I was so surprised when I opened that box.

[00:13:16] Elyse Rivin: And you did the packing?

[00:13:18] Annie Sargent: You can’t pack your stuff when you move to France because they’re worried about people importing weapons into France. And so they force you to hire a company to at minimum supervise and a few boxes that I packed myself, they had to stay open so they could look through. Yeah.

[00:13:39] Elyse Rivin: Interesting. I didn’t know that.

[00:13:40] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Well, because in Utah, you can go anywhere and buy weapons, all sorts of things, and you can hide them in a 40 foot container quite easily, I think.

[00:13:48] Elyse Rivin: Now I’m sure that everybdy who ‘s been to Paris has visited the Louvre. And if you go into the Louvre, you can go into a group of rooms that are filled with magnificent tableware and vases and service pieces. And these are the pieces that were made for the Kings and the Queens and royalty.

[00:14:11] Annie Sargent: So is this the Musée des Arts Décoratifs or is it in the Louvre?

[00:14:15] Elyse Rivin: Actually, no, there, there are rooms of this in the Louvre and then right next to the Louvre is the museum of the decorative arts. And there, there is a whole wing with pieces also. But the difference is that in the Louvre you don’t have modern, very contemporary design pieces.

[00:14:34] Annie Sargent: Okay.

[00:14:34] Elyse Rivin: Whereas in the museum of decorative arts, they have basically from the old style up through very modern contemporary design, so that you get an idea of the design. It’s more involved with, you know, the concept of design in it.

[00:14:47] Elyse Rivin: But if you go into the Louvre, there’s a room with Napoleon’s beautiful pieces of porcelain from Sèvres, where you get the Kings and the Queens, all of them, that started by using porcelain. And you can see what it looks like. Now to be very honest, that kind of porcelain is not my taste. It’s really over the top, you know, I mean, it’s got guilt on it. It’s, it’s, uh, it’s usually covered with enamel with beautiful designs, but it’s actually extraordinary to look at.

[00:15:15] Elyse Rivin: The manufacture of Sèvres was created in the 1770s by Louis the 15th and his mistress. Thank you very much, Madame de Pompadour. Who, was very interested in the arts and in fact was a trendsetter and she had a Chateau in Sèvres. And when the French discovered this fabulous secret of making porcelain, which is what I’m going to tell you about, they decided Louis the 15th decided, since she was so interested in this and wanted to be basically the patron of all of this. They set up the manufacturer of the porcelain right next to her Chateau in Sèvres. And it’s been there ever since.

[00:15:54] Elyse Rivin: But Louis the 15th did something else because he was the king. Uh, you and I could not. He bought the patent for making porcelain and it became a Royal property. And whether it was in Sèvres or whether it was in Limoges anybody who wanted to try and open a factory to make porcelain, had to pay and get permission from the king. And the king of course, took off a commission off of everything.

[00:16:20] Annie Sargent: Of course. Yeah.

[00:16:21] Elyse Rivin: So he was doing very well with all of this now, he really was. But that is why, in fact, in Sèvres from Louis the 15th on until the year, 2009, only the king royalty aristocrats and the government were allowed to have pieces made in Sèvres.

[00:16:41] Elyse Rivin: And everybody else you, me and even very rich people who are not part of the royalty their porcelain came from Limoges.

[00:16:50] Annie Sargent: I see it was the cream of the crop.

[00:16:53] Elyse Rivin: It was the cream of the crop. Now, personally, I prefer the cream of the crop’s school Limoges, but, but there you go.

[00:17:00] Annie Sargent: So if you want to see a massive piece of Sèvres porcelain, if you’re at Saint Germain des Prés at the church, when you’re facing the church, there’s a park on the right side of the church. You go inside of that park at the very end, there’s a big old wall covered with porcelain and it’s mostly green and it’s porcelaine de Sèvres, les Deux Sèvres.

[00:17:25] Elyse Rivin: It’s interesting that it’s literally, it wasn’t until 2009, that Sèvres became something that anybody could actually, uh, have acquired.

[00:17:35] Elyse Rivin: Because, otherwise, once the revolution came and they more or less got rid of the Kings, because of course in the 19th century it was king yes, king, no, king yes, king, no. I mean, you know, they sort of played yo-yo with the whole century that way. It was the presidents that wanted to have beautiful porcelain for the presidential palace and they got it from Sèvres. So it’s been the same way for 250. Is that 250 or 350 years ? I think it’s 250, but this is the story of porcelain.

[00:18:03] Elyse Rivin: Now I know a lot of this because I had to learn a lot of this when I was doing my art history studies. And, uh, it has to do also with the connection between Europe and China. And that is the why in England it is called china. Nobody ever thinks about it. I can remember growing up and my mother saying, I’m going to go to the store and buy some china.

[00:18:24] Elyse Rivin: That sounds ridiculous now, when you think about it, I mean, I’m not going to buy the country. It’s like, it’s like, it never dawned on me that it was a really weird thing to say, you know, it was like, this is a really weird thing to say. Right? Go buy some china, you know, fine china, really? Okay. So this is the deal.

[00:18:40] Elyse Rivin: The Chinese were very, very, very much in advance. From way back in various art forms and in various forms of technology. And it is now for sure, proven for sure that porcelain was invented in China in about 200 BC.

[00:18:59] Annie Sargent: Wow.

[00:19:00] Elyse Rivin: And, I have been to, the Chinese collection at the metropolitan museum in New York, many times. And there are pieces there that are almost 2000 years old that are absolutely magnificent. And what happened was that the Chinese knew that they had come across a technique that was precious. And that really was something they did not want other people to know about. They traded starting in the early middle ages.

[00:19:28] Elyse Rivin: They traded with other countries, they traded with lots of places, but nobody was allowed to know the secret of how this particular kind of ceramic was produced. And this goes right through to the times of Marco polo, who was, of course from Venice, he and his family who were traders and lived for a number of years in China,

[00:19:49] Annie Sargent: Right

[00:19:49] Elyse Rivin: And this is in the 13th century, in the 12 hundreds and eventually Marco polo moved back to Venice. I think he finished his life in actually as a merchant in Venice and brought with him several pieces. The oldest piece of Chinese porcelain in Europe is in St. Marco’s in Venice still. I would like to go back now and see which piece it is. Cause I haven’t got a clue which piece it is, but it’s apparently a piece that was given to him as thank you for whatever it was he was doing in the trades and it dates back centuries prior to the 1200.

[00:20:26] Elyse Rivin: But he did not know what the secret was. He was a merchant. He was an import export guy. You know what I mean? That’s what Marco polo was, you know? And yet what happened was that the royalty in various European countries, they loved this stuff, you know, and it’s translucent, as you could see . It doesn’t matter if it’s got a white coating on it, or if it has a pale green, which is what’s called Celadon.

[00:20:51] Elyse Rivin: Or it has a different colors on it. If it’s true porcelain, you hold it up to the light. And it has a certain trans lucidity. It’s very magical actually. And so little by little into the middle ages, the Kings and Queens wanted more of this stuff, but it was extremely expensive to buy because they had to literally. It sounds like today, right? Get it from China! Except today, now, you get it on a container that comes on a ship. And now of course we’re having a problem because they’re all stuck out there because it’s too expensive, you know? Well, imagine on a camel and a caravan that took four months to get across the Gobi desert and all the rest of it.

[00:21:29] Elyse Rivin: I mean, nevermind. You know, talk about breaking pieces, you know, there you go. So starting in the 1500 and 1600, various ceramic chemists in Germany and France tried guessing what the formula was because they wanted to see if they could make it here so that they could save fortunes in money because all of the Kings and Queens wanted it on their tables, you know?

[00:21:54] Elyse Rivin: And so there were two ceramic chemists thought by looking at it, analyzing it, obviously they didn’t have all of these, you know, microscopes and all that nonsense back then, you know, they thought they came up with the right formula. And so at the end of the 1600 where you know where this is years, this is centuries and centuries and centuries where they have no idea how this stuff is made.

[00:22:13] Elyse Rivin: There is something that’s a magical secret ingredient, right? And so they try using melted glass. They were actually warm, but they weren’t hot. You see? So what happened was they made something and it broke. It was, and it didn’t, it wasn’t translucent. They were ready to give up and we get to the turn of the century, just about the year 1700 and the area’s a French Jesuit priest who is a great intellectual and who I don’t know why. I don’t know if it was his idea. It was somebody else’s idea. Get sent to China as a missionary. It happens that this man whose name was Father d’Estrecolles he spoke Mandarin or he learned to speak Mandarin. He learned to speak Chinese and he was first stationed in one city. I can’t remember which city it was.

[00:23:04] Elyse Rivin: And then by pure chance, he got stationed in the city called–and I’m going to massacre this cause I have no idea how this is really pronounced Jingdezhen. Okay. And in this city, this is the city where to this day, this is where porcelain is made. And what happened was when the court found out that there was this Jesuit priest, who was an intellectual who spoke perfect chinese, was in this place where the porcelain came from. They gave him a mission. This is mission impossible, but the da, he didn’t get paid extra for this. So, you know, he’s lucky that it was the time you didn’t get executed for this either. They told him that they wanted him to find the secret formula.

[00:23:45] Annie Sargent: Right.

[00:23:46] Elyse Rivin: And it happened that because he was a missionary and because his Chinese was good, he went to work, talking to the workers in the factories and little by little, whether it was one person, several people who knows? It took, several years. In 1712 he sent back a long letter, which you actually can still find because it’s in the national archives, it was a letter that included the formula for making porcelain. And he sent a second letter back 10 years later. I don’t know if the Chinese ever found out that he was the one that did this because he lived there until he was like an old, old man and no nothing ever happened to him.

[00:24:29] Elyse Rivin: But by sending back these two letters, which are very famous, the Court was able to ask the chemist and the ceramicist to try and make real porcelain. And one of the things that they discovered and this. Uh, I know all of this, but to me, this is one of those stories that I absolutely love to tell. The secret ingredient is a kind of clay.

[00:24:53] Elyse Rivin: I don’t think clay is actually the correct word, but I’m using that word. It’s called in French and in English, kaolin, K a O L I N, which is a transliteration of the Chinese word, young link, ah, something like that, something now, which means. The clay from the Hills of this city. And it turns out that it’s very, very, very white, very chalky, very crumbly, but it’s got silicates in it.

[00:25:25] Elyse Rivin: And a silicate is, you know, from it’s the same thing that is used in making glass. And somehow. Centuries before the Chinese had discovered that if you put this material into a very high temperature oven, that when it melts, when you mix it with something else, it melts, but then it hardens and it is trans lucid.

[00:25:48] Elyse Rivin: And it is very, very, very hard. And only kaolin is used in making true porcelain.

[00:25:56] Annie Sargent: So the whole thing is made of kaolin or is it a mix?

[00:26:00] Elyse Rivin: It’s mixed with two other ingredients. It’s mixed with a little bit of, aluminum and I can’t remember what the third ingredient is and it’s made…

[00:26:08] Annie Sargent: No clay?

[00:26:09] Elyse Rivin: No, no, no clay, no one knows no clay and it’s mixed with water to make a paste. And if for it to be true porcelain, it has to have a minimum of 30% kaolin.

[00:26:20] Annie Sargent: So you’re telling me that there’s aluminum in this thing.

[00:26:23] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. It’s aluminum. Well, it’s aluminum. Um, there’s another word that follows afterwards. It’s not aluminum, pure metal. It’s like, you know,

[00:26:34] Annie Sargent: We’re not chemists! As is clear!

[00:26:38] Elyse Rivin: But so what happened was that when they discovered the formula, the problem was nobody knew where the kaolin was in France. And whether there isn’t any kaolin in France and the place that they did discover some at first was in Meissen in Germany. Now there’s a huge porcelain industry. It comes out of Meissen.

[00:26:57] Elyse Rivin: And most of the Meissen is blue and white, which is probably where in your head, if you think of blue and relation to porcelain, because they knew that when they discovered at that approximately the same time that the kaolin was the secret ingredient, there were hills in Saxe, which is I’m going to be honest, I’m not even sure where that is in Germany. But anyway, the hills had deposits, huge deposits of this. And so, France was forced to buy the kaolin from there. And they brought it to Sèvres, which was the first place that they started producing porcelain. And that is why it became associated with royalty.

[00:27:32] Elyse Rivin: But this is what makes the story even more incredible and ironic. This priest where was he from?

[00:27:38] Annie Sargent: I don’t know! Limoges?

[00:27:41] Elyse Rivin: He was from Limoges! And what happened was that he told people in Limoges because he did come back, you know when he retired and finished his life out in France as an old man, and he went back to Limoges.

[00:27:54] Annie Sargent: He told them too!

[00:27:55] Elyse Rivin: And he told them about this formula. And it turns out that some people who were doing other kinds of, uh, I was reading this, I read this twice, but it’s rather an amazing story. Some chemists. He was a chemist. He’d heard this story from this priest and he said, you know what? I wonder if this is this stuff. And it turns out that his wife had discovered this vein of this white kind of chalky mineral that was in the Hills. It’s just south of Limoges. I mean, you know, a few miles away from Limoges and she was using it t o wash things and make them very, very white. I don’t know how she was using it exactly. I think she was rubbing things with it.

[00:28:33] Elyse Rivin: And so they went to test it and sure enough, it was kaolin. The largest veins of kaolin were and still are in Limoges.

[00:28:42] Annie Sargent: Huh.

[00:28:43] Elyse Rivin: And now Limoges exports kaolin to all the other places in Western Europe that want to produce porcelain.

[00:28:51] Annie Sargent: So, is it like a mining operation? Cause when I think of a mine, it’s like an ugly…

[00:28:57] Elyse Rivin: No, but you know, there are quarries, it’s a quarry, not, you know, as opposed to a mine, you know, for coal, it’s a quarry and you can see these veins of this beautiful white it’s kind of like quarries for marble. I mean, you can see that like veins of this, of this stuff, what happened was that in Limoges, even though Louis the 15th also decided he was going to buy that up, which meant that he had the patent, but he didn’t say in Limoges, it had to be exclusively for royalty. So there were several enterprising people who decided that they were going to start producing porcelain and sell it. Of course it was still a commodity that was not for poor people, but they were not exclusively for just Royal people.

[00:29:40] Elyse Rivin: And so the very first porcelain factory opened in Limoges in 1771. And it’s still one of the first ones. And guess what it has become? Royal Limoges which is one of the most famous brands of porcelain in Limoges. And so within the space of 25 years, between basically that and 1800, several other wealthy merchants, enterprising people who hire their own chemists and ceramicists, they themselves also opened up factories to produce porcelain.

[00:30:13] Elyse Rivin: And they started selling it everywhere, not just in France, but in other European countries. And that is why porcelain has so much comfortably associated with France. Even though now you have four countries that still produce pure real porcelain. You have France, Germany, England, and Poland of all places and China.

[00:30:35] Elyse Rivin: Well, of course China, I mean, China, China has never stopped producing porcelain, you know, but of course now we don’t need their porcelain anymore.

[00:30:42] Annie Sargent: So you meant in Europe?

[00:30:44] Elyse Rivin: In Europe. There’s a social part of the history attached to it too. Starting in 1807, there were five factories with 200 workers in Limoges. And it is the best kaolin in quality in all of Europe. In 1827, there were 16 factories. And Limoges was at its heyday. This was a hugely prosperous city. Everything turned around the manufacturering of porcelain. There was everything, they had the water, they had the forest because you have to have a wood to burn.

[00:31:16] Elyse Rivin: Oh, and of course I forgot one thing. That’s very important. Not only do you need to have the kaolin, but the secret besides using kaolin is that it has to be fired. Now fired is the word that’s used. You can say baked but basically the technical term for ceramics is fired. At over 1200 degrees.

[00:31:35] Annie Sargent: Right. So super hot.

[00:31:36] Elyse Rivin: And the best, hardest porcelain is even fired at 1400 degrees Celsius. So you had to have these enormous, enormous, enormous kilns with huge forest to provide all of the wood. And that is why Limoges became such a prosperous place. In 1850, there were 30 porcelain factories in Limoges.

[00:31:58] Annie Sargent: 1850.

[00:31:59] Elyse Rivin: 1850. And along comes a man named Mr. Havilland, who actually is the son of an American family. That for whatever reason, it’s not clear, leaves the United States and goes to live in France.

[00:32:13] Annie Sargent: Okay.

[00:32:13] Elyse Rivin: And he,

[00:32:14] Annie Sargent: Cause it’s nice here and that’s why.

[00:32:16] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. Yeah, I know. But you know, it’s like 1850, it’s not now., I mean, you wonder why, whatever, whatever reason he was brought up in the Limousin area and the region around Limoges from a, you know, relatively wealthy, but not super rich family.

[00:32:32] Elyse Rivin: And he decided that he had a lot of contacts in the United States and that he was going to open a factory that would cater to American tastes. And he created the largest porcelain factory ever produced or made in Limoges that had over 400 workers. And most of what he produced was exported back to the United States and the demand for porcelain became even greater.

[00:32:58] Elyse Rivin: So that porcelain became famous just about everywhere. And it became the tableware for all the wealthy and important people, including in the United States. By the end of the 19th century, however, uh, it turns out that working conditions for many of the people were pretty awful. They were working long days.

[00:33:19] Elyse Rivin: There was extraordinary heat. It was sometimes very dangerous. And you have the beginning of labor movements at the end of the 19th century, not just here in porcelain factories, but of course, everywhere. You know, this is the time of Zola. This is the time of this kind of turmoil. And little by little, what happens is it affects the, ability of Limoges to keep all of these factories open.

[00:33:39] Elyse Rivin: So that by the time you get into the beginning of the 20th century, there are fewer of these factories. And then you get the huge crash. The huge depression of the 1920s and the majority of these porcelain factories closed down. Ironically, the two big ones in Sèvres never closed down because they are royalty and then government.

[00:34:00] Elyse Rivin: And so they keep going no matter what. But they take the kaolin from Limoges up to Sèvres to make the porcelain up there. It’s just that it’s not available to people like you and me.

[00:34:09] Annie Sargent: This is so bizarre.

[00:34:11] Elyse Rivin: Isn’t that bizarre? But what happens is this last part of the 20th century, there is another movement to reopen the factories and to create more important contemporary design with porcelain. Because there’s more of an interest starting really the last part of the 20th century in decorative arts and beautiful forms of design. And it also coincides with the fact that lots of architects and people like that are interested in designing tableware. They’re not just interested in making houses anymore and things like that. So you have these kind of multidisciplinary people who want to use porcelain because it’s such a magnificent material to use.

[00:34:50] Elyse Rivin: And so it comes back to life. And so right now, believe it or not, in Limoges, there are 12 factories and there are over 1000 people who still work in making porcelain.

[00:35:02] Annie Sargent: And I assume that you can stop in Limoges and they have stores and…

[00:35:07] Elyse Rivin: I made a list with the specific addresses of five or six that are connected to some of these factories.

[00:35:14] Elyse Rivin: So of course you can go to any major department store.

[00:35:17] Annie Sargent: Right.

[00:35:18] Elyse Rivin: You can go to gallery Lafayette. You can go even here in Toulouse we have a lovely store called Midica that has really beautiful tableware. And you can find examples of the porcelain soft porcelain, which is bone china and the hard porcelain, which means it’s stamped in green and it says Limoges, France. And starting in the 21st century, because it turns out–here’s for irony, there’s irony. China is making rip offs of the Limoges porcelain. What goes around, comes around us.

[00:35:50] Annie Sargent: That’s right, it’s fair!

[00:35:51] Elyse Rivin: What happened was that the porcelain factories in Limoges made a demand first in France, and then with, the United nations, the world heritage, whatever they, UNESCO, whatever world heritage. To kind of cease and desist and said that they wanted to create a label that would be able to be proof that it’s true porcelain from Limoges.

[00:36:13] Annie Sargent: An AOC,

[00:36:14] Elyse Rivin: it’s. An AOC.

[00:36:15] Annie Sargent: Is it an AOC?

[00:36:16] Elyse Rivin: There is an AOC. And if you really want to know whether it’s porcelain created in Limoges, if you look at the bottom, you will see the little stamp. Uh, these pieces are older, so it does it’s in green and it does say Limoges..

[00:36:32] Annie Sargent: Right.

[00:36:32] Elyse Rivin: It does say Limoges, but there’s a new design on the stamp and it has like a little bit of a crown on top of it, but it’s green and it says Limoges, France. And that is really the proof that it’s French porcelaine.

[00:36:45] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

[00:36:46] Elyse Rivin: And it is now not only is it an AOC, but it is part of the patrimoine immatériel of France. So you helped me translate that.

[00:36:55] Annie Sargent: Oh, the immaterial, uh, material wealth.

[00:37:01] Elyse Rivin: It’s like savoir Faire, you know, it’s it, it has to do with, with like

[00:37:05] Annie Sargent: The know-how.

[00:37:06] Elyse Rivin: The know-how right. But it took them a bunch of years. And, uh, the AOC finally didn’t it came through actually only in 2017. Ah, they had to work on it really for a long time, because at first people will say, no, no, no, no. It’s just so because this economic competition with China and they said no, because what was happening was that China was making fake Limoges, porcelain stamping it

[00:37:28] Annie Sargent: Right. Because of wealthy Europeans and Americans have heard of Limoges porcelain when they’ve, might’ve never heard of any porcelain made in China.

[00:37:37] Elyse Rivin: Exactly.

[00:37:38] Annie Sargent: Yeah, they didn’t fight for their image quite as much.

[00:37:41] Elyse Rivin: So, you know, there were several very famous brands and one of them is Royal Limoges. Uh, there are two or three others. I’ll just mention names, but it’s because if people are really interested, any of the magnificent department stores in Paris besides specialty tableware stores or houseware stores will have some of it. But you have the Havilland, which by the way, has its own museum in Limoges.

[00:38:04] Elyse Rivin: Um, and it’s the only place where you can actually visit one of these huge kilns. I looked at a picture of it. It’s 50 feet, 50 meters high.

[00:38:13] Annie Sargent: So that’s really interesting industrial kind of tourism.

[00:38:16] Elyse Rivin: Absolutely. They do a tour there and they explain the whole process of it and everything. And it’s this kind of weird conical shape. And you can imagine you would melt in two seconds in 1400 Celsius, you know,

[00:38:29] Elyse Rivin: And then there’s, um, two brands, one of which I really like because I love some of the designs and that’s called Bernardaud uh, they are sold in all of the fancy stores, but they, these are places that if you go to Limoges, you can go to their factory shops and not, I’m not talking about seconds. This is not an outlet. You know? I mean, this is the places where you can actually go and buy

[00:38:50] Annie Sargent: So, the same way you can go see champagne at the source. You can go see Limoges porcelain at the source.

[00:38:56] Elyse Rivin: At the source. Right.

[00:38:56] Annie Sargent: That’s interesting.

[00:38:57] Elyse Rivin: I was thinking somewhere down the road a little bit, what I’d like to do is do another one about glassware because we have famous glassware in France. We have Daume and bunch of other brands, beautiful glassware, which is another whole story that has to do with that kind of art.

[00:39:16] Annie Sargent: Uh, when I went to see the Napoleon exhibit in Paris, they had some beautiful pieces that were made for Napoleon.

[00:39:24] Elyse Rivin: Yes.

[00:39:25] Elyse Rivin: But I don’t remember if they were from Sèvres, probably so.

[00:39:29] Elyse Rivin: Oh yes. They were.

[00:39:30] Annie Sargent: Just gorgeous!

[00:39:31] Elyse Rivin: And I’m telling you, they were like three or four rooms in the Louvre that have nothing, but

[00:39:36] Annie Sargent: Now typically, rooms full of

[00:39:39] Elyse Rivin: It gets boring.

[00:39:40] Annie Sargent: Yes.

[00:39:41] Elyse Rivin: Cause there’s a lot of this same old

[00:39:42] Annie Sargent: And I don’t really know the industry and it’s not something I’ve collected. Like I, my house I’m at the point where I told my husband and daughter, you know, when, cause we always break these coffee cups, thingys. There’s always the one that’s breaking. And so I just say, Hey, when you go somewhere interesting, bring back a cup, just one, just one, you know, and then we have an assortment of cups from different places and it’s kind of fun to see where they’re from. Whatever. I don’t have a nice china that I just bring out when guests come. My Mom did!

[00:40:19] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, my mom did too, you know, and I have actually some really nice glassware probably more than, than, than china. But I was looking at some of the other individual little pieces that I have that I bought mostly myself again, they’re other kinds of ceramic that are famous in France, but they are not china.

[00:40:36] Elyse Rivin: It happens that I have this because we inherited it actually. But otherwise my other pieces are, uh, pieces that are other kinds of ceramic, as we were saying earlier, you know, uh, at that are thicker, heavier, and. And they don’t have that magic.

[00:40:53] Annie Sargent: Yeah. So one year, I don’t know why my husband bought me a, um, really lovely cup with the queen of England on it. And I always wondered why did he the buy me one teacup with the queen of England. But anyway, I should ask him.

[00:41:08] Elyse Rivin: You should ask him.

[00:41:09] Annie Sargent: But I’m going to have to look at it and see if I can see light through it.

[00:41:12] Elyse Rivin: And look at the back and see if it says bone china or not

[00:41:15] Annie Sargent: Bone China or something. Yeah.

[00:41:18] Elyse Rivin: One of the things about the trans lucidity it’s it has to be up to a certain thickness because there is porcelain that, of course they are made thicker than that. And then it will no longer have that trans lucidity. But there are pieces even when they’re painted, because the truth is like the little white cup you just held up. That’s been basically fired twice. The first time it’s fired, it’s the raw shape. And then when it’s baked, it’s called a “biscuit”. That’s the term that’s used in French and in English. And then they would take that because you see, it’s got that beautiful, shiny kind of trends, almost luminescent white kind of covering that will be dipped. Literally.

[00:41:55] Annie Sargent: I see. And some of them are painted by hand. And I think in Sèvres that’s what they specialize in.

[00:42:02] Elyse Rivin: That’s right.

[00:42:02] Annie Sargent: The really amazing painting and there’s videos. I’ve watched a video that showed today what the crafts people can do. Teeny tiny painting, beautiful, beautiful stuff.

[00:42:14] Elyse Rivin: We saw a few of those Sèvres pieces in Chantilly actually.

[00:42:17] Annie Sargent: And they had birds too they were kind of cool looking.

[00:42:20] Elyse Rivin: There’s now a museum, the museum of ceramics for all kinds of ceramics is in fact in Sèvres, it’s not in Limoges. So there are all examples of every kind of ceramic you can possibly imagine. But it does say that if you want to buy Sèvres, every piece now is unique. I can’t even imagine what the price must be. Because nothing is made in series.

[00:42:43] Elyse Rivin: I have one behind you in the case there that’s a little, one of these hand painted little flower things. My mom loved. These were all English. You know, this is bone china, by the way, this is none of these are hard china. What’s called bone china, which means they’re kind of porcelain, but not the pure hardest kind of porcelain, but they’re all hand painted.

[00:43:02] Annie Sargent: It’s really interesting. You know, yesteryear, they had a way of, like, you knew it was going to be a special meal if my mom brought out the china. And the cutlery, she had a special for everything and my parents were not rich people.

[00:43:20] Elyse Rivin: But it was important

[00:43:21] Annie Sargent: But it was really important. And she had a whole set just for that. And we lived in a small apartment. So at my house, I don’t have that because, well, first of all, my sister kept the cutlery and all of that. The silverware. Which is fine. But I don’t think we even kept all the plates and all the things. There were too many things and we didn’t have room on our house.

[00:43:45] Elyse Rivin: That’s what happens.

[00:43:46] Annie Sargent: Who wants this stuff? Like,

[00:43:48] Elyse Rivin: I think your parents like mine, my mom received a bunch of stuff at the wedding.

[00:43:53] Annie Sargent: Yes.

[00:43:53] Elyse Rivin: And that was it. They were not, they were poor pretty much, you know, but she had these things that were really of a certain value that mostly she never used. She used them two or three times a year.

[00:44:03] Annie Sargent: Right. You use it for special occasions.

[00:44:05] Elyse Rivin: That was it, I mean.

[00:44:05] Annie Sargent: And I, I did keep some really fine wine glasses and they’re kind of an interesting shape, but I never use them because I don’t want to break them. And also they’re too small for wine glasses for nowadays. The stem is really short.

[00:44:21] Elyse Rivin: Oh, they’re those kind.

[00:44:22] Annie Sargent: Yeah. It’s like more of a aperitif kind of. Yeah. Anyway,

[00:44:26] Elyse Rivin: So, so we’re going to, we’re going to have to rethink. Table arts and our other arts decorative art. I think decorative arts are really pretty neat. The whole history of them, you know, I mean, it’s different because you don’t just stick it. Well, you and I do. I mean, in a sense you can put a piece on the wall or in a glass case and just look at it. The thing about them that makes them so interesting is that they wound up mostly being used at the same time.

[00:44:50] Annie Sargent: Right. And nowadays, if you want to do something special for a special meal, like Thanksgiving or Christmas or something, you just use a plain old white plate, but underneath you put like a, a gold plate or a colored plate, I do that. And you make it pretty that way, but it’s a cheapo under a plate, from wherever, probably China and, and, you know, and it just lifts up your normal plates and things. A few years ago I decided I wanted to get. Um, new cutlery, but then my husband lost his job, but now he has another job. So maybe I shouldn’t maybe go back

[00:45:25] Elyse Rivin: Go girl!

[00:45:25] Annie Sargent: To get my new cutlery. Cause our cutlery is really old, really old. It’s not like it’s at the top of my list for things to do, but, but yeah, I like tables. I like good meals. So it should go with.

[00:45:42] Elyse Rivin: I really like tableware. So, I mean, there were certain, you know, everybody has a different taste in what they like in terms of color and pattern and everything. But when the Galleries Lafayette in Toulouse had a special store, that was just for things like that. I would sometimes go in there and just walk around and look at all of it. I would like to create a lending library of tableware.

[00:46:02] Annie Sargent: That would be really good.

[00:46:04] Elyse Rivin: I would love to be able to do that.

[00:46:05] Annie Sargent: Somebody create an app!

[00:46:07] Elyse Rivin: So that you could, you have all these dishes and glasses and whatever, and you keep them for a month or two.

[00:46:15] Annie Sargent: The thing is shipping. ’em it’s expensive and delicate.

[00:46:18] Elyse Rivin: I hardly chip anything except my brain.

[00:46:24] Annie Sargent: All right Elyse! Thank you very much. I learned a ton. That was really good.

[00:46:30] Elyse Rivin: See you soon!

[00:46:32] Annie Sargent: Merci, au revoir !

[00:46:33] Elyse Rivin: Au revoir !

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Category: French History