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Faience - Glazed earthenware china

Oval plate by Montagnon

After ten years of renovation work, the Faïence Museum in Nevers will do justice to this much-loved craft in a stunning building.

Nevers on the western side of Burgundy is famous for its faïence; practical, glazed tableware in every day use. Decorated with country images from birds and cockerels to flowers and churches according to the fashion of the time, the production goes back four centuries.

Characteristically the design of the tableware is by modern day standards rather flowery – plates with scalloped edges, the tureens with shaped handles, and intricate hand painted patterns in a naïf vein. Today we no longer need 72 piece dinner services and the trend for plain, clean lines is out of sync with the style. And so, from being a mass market item in the past found on everyone’s table, the faïence factories are staffed by artisans; the potters and painters plying their craft.

By looking at the subject of the decoration, the history of the years unfolds. Faïence came to Nevers from Faenza in Italy when the Conrade brothers started production in 1565. Scenes depicted the local landscape, the river Loire, events in history, and later, as Oriental designs became fashionable, faïence followed suit. Factories such as Wedgwood in England brought competition in the 19th C and the popularity of faïence rose and fell with the times.

Still today, five generations on, the Montagnon family have their factory, Du Bout du Monde, at the old town gate of Nevers. Tradition is continued with labour intensive methods, the prices reflecting the skill which has gone into each piece, everyone different. The cobalt blue glaze is one of their trademarks, as are organic colours painted on a white ground producing pastel tones. Other craftsman in town: François Bernard, Faïencerie Georges and Faïence Blue. Details from Nevers Tourist Office.

Down in the south of Burgundy at Charolles, the Terriers family own the Molin factory. Founded by the magnificent sounding Hyppolite Prost in 1844, the local clay was used up to the end of the last war, now it is bought in. Twenty-five people are employed in the factory, handcrafting the pieces, just as they have done for the last one hundred and fifty years. Here though, there is one very pronounced difference. Under the direction of Emmanuel Terrier, the son, Le Cercle design studio came into being and Faïence de Charolles, FdC, now produces contemporary lighting and accessories with pure lines still maintaining the quality or old and supplying clients such as Roche-Bobois and Ligne Roset.

See also: Musée de la Fence de Nevers