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French Palissy Ware - Rustic Pottery inspired by the Natural World

Nic Saintey looks at the rustic pottery of French Huguenot Bernard Palissy (1510-1589) and the rebirth of Palissy Ware in the mid 19th century in Tours in the Loire Valley, which saw rivals spring up in Paris and influenced the Majolica Wares of those such as Minton and George Jones.

Bernard Palissy (1510-1589), a religious man and something of a polymath, flourished in France during the troubled spread of Protestantism. A Renaissance man, writer, philosopher, naturalist and artist, living in the village of Saintes, Bordeaux in the late 1530s. Primarily working as a stained glass maker, portrait painter and land surveyor, he turned to clay when his 'artistic' work dried up.

A wider French Palissy Ware dish signed and dated Boch 1892.

A wider French Palissy Ware dish signed and dated Boch 1892 (FS29/573).

The transition was far from easy and it took many years of trial and error and bouts of poverty before in 1555 he was successful. At one critical point, Palissy claims to have fuelled his kiln with his garden fence, the flooring in his house and his furniture!

Subsequently, Palissy became renowned for making playful rustic wares inspired by the flora and fauna around him. Often having the air of a garden pond or marsh about them, they were exquisitely modelled with glossy wet looking lizards, snakes, fish and frogs, all accurately rendered as they were more often than not moulded from the carcasses of little beasties.

At the time, France was in the grip of the Reformation and Bernard Palissy, a Huguenot who would not renounce his faith, was imprisoned on a number of occasions, finally succumbing to malnourishment in the Bastille in 1589. His skills and techniques died with him as he was understandably reluctant to share skills that were hard won during his early years.

However, the 'concept' didn't completely disappear. Several French faience manufacturers did produce tureens in the form of birds and boars heads and many produced tromp l'oeil fruits and vegetables during the 18th century though none achieved even passable realism.

The rebirth of Palissy Ware occurred in Tours with the Avisseau family of potters in the mid-19th century; led by Charles Jean Avisseau history seemed to repeat itself. He, too, had firing problems and unacceptable losses in the kiln – worse still his florid work didn't travel or handle well and often ended up in pieces in the hands of new owners. Unlike Palissy, Avisseau actually sculpted his animals from scratch rather than moulding from specimens.

A Landais family Tours School Palissy Ware dish.

A Landais family Tours School Palissy Ware dish (FS29/572).

Another significant proponent in Tours was Joseph Landais, Avisseau's brother-in-law, with whom he had an acrimonious three month partnership and then feuded with for the rest of his life!

As the century progressed, the Tours School supported many others such as Leon Brard, the Chauvigné family, George Delperier, Louis Tinier and Octave Deniau to name a few.

A Paris school Palissy Ware dish by François Maurice.

A Paris school Palissy Ware dish by François Maurice (FS29/571).

Paris became a rival centre when Victor Barbizet and his son Achille Barbizet started a workshop undercutting Tours by using 'mass production' techniques. They were able to manufacture prolifically by pressing clay into premade moulds and finishing by hand before assembly.

Contemporaries in Paris include Georges Pull who made copies of Bernard Palissy's work, often passed off as the real thing on the resale market, despite being signed. Others worthy of mention include François Maurice and Thomas Victor Sergent and countless others elsewhere across France.

A Palissy Ware plaque by Alfred Renoleau, circa 1890.

A Palissy Ware plaque by Alfred Renoleau, circa 1890.

Palissy Ware came to wider popularity when the Victoria & Albert Museum purchased several pieces at the Paris Exposition in 1855 and the trend spread further with a contemporaneous, but stylistically different centre of production around the town of Caldas da Rainha in Portugal. Also there are very obvious links with the majolica wares produced by Minton and George Jones, who looked to be just a teensy bit influenced by what was happening over the Channel.

An example of Portuguese Palissy Ware by Manuel Mafra.

An example of Portuguese Palissy Ware by Manuel Mafra.

A George Jones majolica dish and cover showing the influence of Palissy.

A George Jones majolica dish and cover showing the influence of Palissy.

Tags

  • Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood
  • Fine Porcelain
  • Bernard Palissy
  • Charles Jean Avisseau
  • Joseph Landais
  • Leon Brard
  • Chauvigné family
  • George Delperier
  • Louis Tinier
  • Octave Deniau
  • Victor Barbizet
  • Achille Barbizet
  • Georges Pull
  • François Maurice
  • Thomas Victor Sergent
  • Minton
  • George Jones

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About the Author

Nic SainteyNic Saintey
Ceramics and Glass

Nic Saintey has been a director of Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood since 2003 and heads up the Ceramics and Glass Department. He is part of the team specialising in Chinese ceramics and works of art.

Nic's first career was in the Armed Forces where he served both as a military parachutist and paramedic. He joined a firm of Somerset auctioneers in early 1995 and Bearnes during a period of expansion in June 2000.

His effervescent nature, sense of humour, broad knowledge and experience has seen him appear as an expert for BBC television programmes. He undertakes regular talks to both academic and general interest groups talking on subjects as diverse as Staffordshire pottery and pop culture, Chinese porcelain and the troubled relationship between Britain and the Orient, the English drinking glass and the Donyatt potters.

He is an occasional contributor of articles for national and local publications and is equally fascinated by the stories attached to pots as he is about the objects themselves.

His personal interests include Oriental and domestic pottery, but especially that produced in the West Country.

Accompanied by his Lurcher Stickey, he is a keen Moorland walker (but only in the winter), an increasingly slow runner and a chaotic cook who always eats his own mistakes and, yes of course, he collects pottery!