As I mentioned in the last French Affaires posting, the country of France is so diverse and rich in things to do, see and experience. Northwest France is home to la Bretagne (Brittany), a rocky and remote region known for its extensive coastline, Celtic influences, ancient forests and legends, native costumes, music of the biniou (bagpipe) and bombarde (horn), marvelous sea salts including fleur de sel, delicious sweet and savory crêpes, and charming hand painted pottery known as “faïence de Quimper.”

Quimper

The lovely town of Quimper (pronounced kam-pair) is the capital of the Finistère department, a very traditional area of Brittany. It has been a center of faience (pottery) production for over 300 years as Jean-Baptiste Bousquet, a pottery maker from Provence, moved here in 1690 and began producing utilitarian salt-glazed looking bottles and bowls.

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Quimper is located at the convergence of two rivers and near ancient forests so natural materials were readily available for the production of the pottery. One could say that Quimper faience went ‘upscale’ in the late 1600’s. As King Louis XIV’s treasury was running low due to his numerous wars across Europe, he asked the French nobility to donate their gold and silver plates and goblets to fund his military efforts. Consequently, pottery became fashionable to the aristocracy, and faienceries developed across France. The everyday dishwares of the peasants were now being decorated by artists to appeal to the tastes of the upper classes.

The folk aspect of Quimper pottery intensified when regional costumes became popular across Europe in the late 1800’s. In the 1860’s, the familiar figure of the “petit breton” wearing sabots (wooden clogs), embroidered skirts or vests with hats or coifs (a woman’s hat) was first depicted on the pottery’s plates, cups, and bowls, as well as on decorative household items. The Quimper faienceries then expanded production beyond basic wares to include “souvenir” wares as travel became easier for French citizens and for foreigners. Pieces were made in Quimper and sold to shop owners in Brittany’s seaside resorts and other destination villages marked with the name of each particular place. By this time, the faience was known for its five signature colors: blue, green, red, yellow and violet.

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Quimper faience became popular in the U.S. between the two World Wars when department stores such as Macy’s, Gumps, Tiffany, Lord & Taylor and Marshall Field’s began selling the colorful French “folk art.” The production was specifically marked with name and or logo of the U.S. retailer, as well as, the mark of the Quimper factory producing the pieces. Stanley Marcus introduced Quimper to Americans during one of the early “Neiman-Marcus Fortnights” of France in Dallas.

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Styles of Quimper faience decoration and form have evolved with the influences of other faienceries in France and the movement of artists between these faienceries and from other regions of Europe. Despite of all the differing decors made in Quimper through the centuries, the “petit breton” remains the most recognizable symbol of Quimper ware.

Today, Quimper pottery is made much the same way as it was 300 years ago–by hand. It is possible to buy lovely new pieces of Quimper. And serious Quimper lovers are always on the lookout for beautiful and collectible old pieces. Many of them belong to the Quimper Club International which holds meetings and symposia both in the U.S. and in France on special aspects of the faience and its history.

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I love this Quimper piece showing the Breton woman painting the pottery herself!

Other areas of France with important faience tradition include Rouen in Normandy, Nevers in Burgundy, and Marseille and Moustiers in Provence. If you are intrigued by pottery and its history, there are faience museums worth visiting such as the Musée de la faïence de Quimper. There is also the wonderful Musée National de Céramique-Sèvres located in Sèvres just to the west of Paris. One of my favorites, this museum contains excellent collections of earthenware, faïence, pottery and porcelain from around the world, dating from the earliest to the present.

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French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

If this whets your appetite for a bit of Quimper, France, in the U.S., there are two events coming up in Dallas in February…

1) On February 7, the patron members of ”Friends of French Affaires” are invited to:

“The Glories of Quimper:
Private Talk & Viewing of Antique Quimper French Pottery”
Join the “Friends of French Affaires” for this special event featuring the beautiful and unique handmade French pottery from Quimper in Brittany. Dallas resident and president of the Quimper Club International, Susan Cox, will host us for this private viewing of her collection of antique Quimper pieces. She will talk about the history and artisanal nature of Quimper and what makes these objects so valuable and collectible. Our other featured speaker is Anne Marie O’Neill, a leading expert, author and dealer in antique Quimper pottery. Reception following the talk and viewing. Our gathering will be a special visit to Brittany, France!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012
6 to 7:30 pm
Private Collector’s Home
Dallas, Texas
RSVP required

Please note that this complimentary event is by reservation only for registered “Friends of French Affaires.” Attendance is limited at this particular event so please RSVP quickly at info.french@frenchaffaires.com . Directions to the event provided upon RSVP. To join the “Friends of French Affaires,” please click here.

2) If you are interested in collecting some antique Quimper faience of your own, dealer and expert Anne Marie O’Neill will be holding a Quimper pottery sale on Thursday, February 9, in Dallas, Texas:

Quimper Pottery Show
Hosted by Anne Marie O’Neill & Beverly Sherman
Thursday, February 9, 2012
10am to 1pm
6924 Oak Manor Drive, Dallas, Texas 75230
(located in the Lake Forest community; the gate house is just north of Forest on Hillcrest)
RSVP required to Anne Marie O’Neill at info@annmarieoneill.com

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