The Art of the Everyday

Faience in Seventeenth-and Eighteenth-Century France

Charger with a Biblical Scene (early 18th century) by Nevers, FranceGardiner Museum

The Art of the Everyday

The art of faience, or tin-glazed earthenware, reached France in the sixteenth century with the migration of Italian artisans who settled in the cities of Lyon and Nevers. The term “faience” speaks to this cultural connection, deriving from the town of Faenza, then a leading maiolica centre (the name given to Italian tin-glazed earthenware). Faience production spread through France in the second half of the seventeenth century, with the eighteen century witnessing the veritable booming of an industry. Economic and political factors favoured its rise. In the late 1600s, the cost of the Seven Years’ War brought Louis XIV to issue sumptuary laws requiring the nobility to send their gold and silver objects and tableware to the Royal Mint to be melted and turned into coins. These circumstances prompted members of the upper echelons of society to integrate ceramics into their daily lives. Yet faience reached a wide section of society, offering a less expensive alternative to Asian and European porcelain. The faience industry dwindled in the late eighteenth century. The discovery of kaolin sources in the region of Limoges in 1769 contributed to its decline, as this enabled the production of hard-paste porcelain at a lower cost. Moreover, faience makers could not compete with Wedgwood’s popular creamware. Widely imported into France, creamware provided a more durable, refined, as well as less expensive type of earthenware. 

Charger with Grotesques (c.1750) by Moustier, FranceGardiner Museum

This exhibition offers a selection of objects from the collection of French faience from the seventeenth and eighteenth century donated to the Gardiner Museum by Pierre Karch and Mariel O’Neill-Karch. The works on view document the most important production centres, highlighting regional styles and popular motifs drawn from French, Italian, and Asian sources. The combination of ornamental wares and functional objects offer a glimpse into the experience of the everyday. 

Rectangular charger manufactured by Guillibaud. (18th Century) by Jean-Baptiste Guillibaud ManufactureGardiner Museum

Faience Techniques

Faience is a low-fired earthenware with a fragile milky-white glaze containing tin made to imitate white porcelain. There were two types of decoration: grand feu (high fire) and petit feu (low fire). In grand feu decoration, a narrow range of enamel colours is fired at high temperatures on the unfired glaze. In petit feu decoration, a wider range of opaque colours is fired at low temperatures on the glazed object. Meissen first perfected this enamelling technique on porcelain in 1720.

Rectangular Charger
France, Rouen, Jean-Baptiste Guillibaud manufacture (1718-1739), 18th century
Tin-glaze earthenware (grand feu faience)

Plate with a Scene from L’Astrée (1650-1700) by Nevers, FranceGardiner Museum


In 1565, Ludovico Gonzaga of Mantua married Henriette de Clèves, Duchess of Nevers, thus transforming Nevers’ artistic landscape. Ludovico favoured Italian artisans, including potters who introduced the technique of tin-glaze earthenware into the city. Nevers faience was therefore initially inspired by polychrome istoriato maiolica, and the representation of scenes based on engravings or literary sources – such as Honoré d’Urfé’s popular novel "L’Astrée" (1607-1627) – demonstrates the continued influence of the Italian tradition into the seventeenth century. From around 1660, monochrome blue decoration inspired by Chinese porcelain became a specialty. As the only French centre active throughout the seventeenth century, Nevers was Delft’s fierce competitor.                                                                                                              

Tondino with Figures in a Landscape (late 17th century) by Nevers, FranceGardiner Museum

Tondino with Figures in a Landscape
France, Nevers, attributed to the workshop of Antoine Conrade, ca. 1640-50
Tin-glaze earthenware (grand feu faience)

This plate demonstrates the convergence of various sources of influence, making it a truly cross-cultural object. The tondino shape, characterised by a broad flat rim, derives from Italian maiolica. The dish’s decoration with European and Chinese figures in a garden rendered in monochrome blue demonstrates the impact of Chinese porcelain, while the loose, spontaneous brushwork shows the influence of the wares produced in Savona in the region of Liguria, Italy. Dishes in this shape would have been used to serve consistent soups or dishes with sauces, or alternatively to display a pyramid of fruit.

Charger with Scholars in Conversation (early 18th century) by Nevers, FranceGardiner Museum

Charger with Scholars in Conversation
France, Nevers, early 18th century
Tin-glaze earthenware (grand feu faience)

Decorated with a group of scholars in conversation in a garden, the charger shows the impact of the porcelain produced during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1661-1722). Monochrome blue decoration enriched with manganese pigments is one of Nevers’ stylistic innovations of the seventeenth century.

Inkstand and desk tidy (late 17th-early 18th Century) by Nevers, FranceGardiner Museum

Inkstand and Desk Tidy
France, Nevers, late 17th century- early 18th century
Tin-glaze earthenware (grand feu faience)

The inkstand and desk tidy is decorated with quills, sharpening tools, coins, and a coat of arms. On the back, a chinoiserie scene features a scholar meditating on a rock while gazing at the moon, a common motif on Chinese porcelain. The initials “JC” which appear twice inside the round containers may be those of the owner. Such everyday objects rarely survive due to their constant and repeated use.

Revolutionary Plate (1789-1792) by Nevers, FranceGardiner Museum

Revolutionary Plate
France, Nevers, 1789-1792
Tin-glaze earthenware (grand feu faience)

With the onset of the French Revolution, Nevers faience makers produced plates conveying political messages. This plate presents the symbols of the crown – standing for the monarchy – the swords – for the aristocracy – the crosier – for the clergy – and the hearts – for the common people. The crown placed above the three other social classes could suggest the desire for a constitutional monarchy as opposed to absolutism.

Pair of Plates from the Service of Bernard d’Avesnes (c.1730) by Jean-Baptiste Guillibaud Manufacture, French, 1718 - 1739Gardiner Museum


Rouen potters produced faience influenced by Italian maiolica during the last decades of the sixteenth century. The city then fell into a period of inactivity and the art of faience was revived in the mid-seventeenth century. At this point, Chinese porcelain and Delftware provided the most fashionable models. Rouen’s faience industry benefited from Louis XIV’s sumptuary laws imposing the melting of gold and silver, thus prompting the nobility to commission faience table services. The centre therefore played a leading role in the introduction of matching ceramic services such as the one made for Bernard d’Avesne, advisor to King Louis XV, at the manufactory of Jean-Baptiste Guillibaud (shown on the right). Located in Normandy in the North of France, Rouen was strongly affected by the importation of Wedgwood’s creamware from England. While eighteen factories were active in 1786, only four remained in 1807.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Dish wit hthe Arms of the Poterat Family (early 18th century) by Poterat Manufactory, Rouen, FranceGardiner Museum

Dish with the Arms of the Poterat Family
France, Rouen, Poterat manufactory, early 18th century
Tin-glazed earthenware (grand feu faïence)

This plate features the arms of the Poterat family. In 1648, Edme Poterat had received a royal privilege granting him a fifty-year monopoly on faience production in Rouen. Other factories only started to proliferate with the end of this privilege in 1698. The ornamental border framing the heraldic device is a signature feature of Rouen faience. This motif, called lambrequin, imitates lace or embroidery. The form originates from the Chinese practice of the late sixteenth and seventeenth century of wrapping the neck of porcelain vases with a piece of embroidery. Chinese artisans later decorated porcelain made for export with such motifs.

Charger (late 17th Century) by Attributed to the Poterat manufactory, Rouen, FranceGardiner Museum

France, Rouen, attributed to the Poterat manufactory, late 17th century
Tin-glazed earthenware (grand feu faience)

Rouen’s signature lambrequin border here frames a still life with a vase of flowers and a stag. The decorator was inspired by the “Hundred Antiques” motif encountered on Chinese porcelain.

Feeding Cup with Comparison to a Plate from Diderot's Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (18th century) by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert (engraving) and Rouen, France (Feeding Cup)Gardiner Museum

Feeding Cup
France, Rouen, early 18th century
Tin-glaze earthenware (grand feu faience)

Diderot and d’Alembert’s widely read Encyclopédie (1751-1772) provides a detailed description of faience production. The illustration shown here features a variety of common objects, among which a feeding cup similar to this example. The reader is informed of the object’s function as a cup used to feed liquids to the sick (“Un biberon pour la commodité des malades, fait pour contenir les breuvages qu’on veut leur faire prendre.”)

Jug with the Portrait of Monsieur Tourer (c.1737) by Moulins, FranceGardiner Museum


Several manufactories were active in the small town of Moulins from around 1730 until the French Revolution. Production was under the influence of nearby Nevers and Rouen. This jug inscribed “Mr Tourer 1737” is an early product. It features a rare portrait of an individual on faience as opposed to a patron saint. Geared for the hunt with his rifle and hound, the man’s dress and sword suggest that he was a member of the provincial nobility. But why has the inscription following the sitter’s name been scratched out and by whom? What aspect of Mr. Tourer’s identity did it originally reveal?                                                                                                                                                                     

Rectangular trays with décor Bérain (early 18th Century) by Moustier, FranceGardiner Museum


Moustiers rose to prominence as a faience centre in the last decades of the seventeenth century despite its remote location in the sub-alpine area of South-Eastern France. Light and with a brilliant white glaze, Moustiers’ faience was generally more expensive than the products made in other centres. These trays exemplify the great refinement of wares made at Moustiers. Each is decorated with grotesque ornaments finely outlined in blue on a white ground. The motifs derive from Jean 1er Bérain’s designs which were adapted in all media, including textiles and furniture. Bérain (1640-1711) was a painter, draftsman, engraver, and Louis XIV’s official court designer. In this role, he provided theatrical decors and costumes for royal entertainments.                                                                                                             

Plate from Ornament Designs Invented by J. Berain (page 65) Plate from Ornament Designs Invented by J. Berain (page 65) (late 17th–early 18th century) by M. Daigremont|Jean Le Pautre|Juan Dolivar|Gérard Jean-Baptiste Scotin|François Le Moyne|Jean Berain|Joseph Vivien|François Chauveau|Jules Hardouin Mansart|Jean Mariette|Pierre Giffart|Claude Duflos|Daniel Marot the Elder|ThuretThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Plate from Ornament Designs Invented by J. Berain (page 65), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1915, transferred from the Library

Plate with a Pastoral Scene (1750-1800) by Attributed to the Manufacture of Joseph Fauchier (1710-1795)Gardiner Museum


The art of faience flourished in Marseille throughout the eighteenth century with many successful family enterprises. Various manufactories employed petit feu firing, which resulted in a greater range of colours and more artistic freedom. This ensured the success of Marseille’s faienciers in the second half of the eighteenth century when porcelain was becoming increasingly available.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Fruit Basket with Chinoiserie (1750-1800) by Manufacture de la Veuve Perrin, French, 1742 - 1803Gardiner Museum

Fruit Basket with Chinoiserie
France, Marseille, Manufacture de la Veuve Perrin (1742-1803), second half of 18th century
Tin-glaze earthenware (petit feu faience)

Claude Perrin founded the manufactory now known as “de la Veuve Perrin” around 1742-43. He died soon after in 1748, and his widow Pierrette Candelot took over the manufactory (hence the manufactory’s name). Widows running potteries were common, as potters tended to die young, perhaps because of the toxic materials they worked with. Pierrette Candelot therefore ran the manufactory on her own for forty-five years, sometimes in partnership with other faience producers.

Ewer and basin with chinoiserie (1750-1800) by Manufacture de la Veuve PerrinGardiner Museum

Ewer and Basin with Chinoiserie
France, Marseille, Manufacture de la Veuve Perrin (1742-1803), second half of the 18th century
Tin-glaze earthenware (petit feu faience)

Ewers and basins were essential components of the morning ritual of the toilette, used for washing the face and hands in bedchambers or private apartments. This faience set with decoration inspired by Jean-Baptiste Pillement’s fashionable chinoiserie designs would have provided a less expensive alternative to examples made of porcelain or silver.

Chinoiserie from Nouvelle Suite de Cahiers Arabesques ChinoisThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Chinoiserie from Nouvelle Suite de Cahiers Arabesques Chinois
Designed by Jean Pillement French
Etched by Anne Allen, British
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1921

Charger (c.1750) by Lyon, FranceGardiner Museum


Faience was briefly produced in Lyon in the second half of the sixteenth century following the migration of artisans from Italy. Production resumed in the 1700s after a long period of interruption. Decorated with figures, pineapples, and coconut trees, this charger attributed to Lyon offers an imaginary conception of distant lands, which Europeans encountered through the travel narratives in circulation since the Renaissance. 

Bough Pot or Flower Holder (1755-1772) by Sceaux Porcelain, French, 1748 - 1794Gardiner Museum


In 1748, Jacques Chapelle established a soft-paste porcelain manufactory at Sceaux under the patronage of Louise, Duchesse du Maine. The following year, however, King Louis XV stopped the factory’s production to protect Vincennes and Sèvres’ monopoly. Sceaux therefore turned to the production of petit feu faience and faience fine (made of a white clay coated with a transparent glaze which simulated the appearance of porcelain). Sceaux produced some of the most refined faience of eighteenth-century France. 

Plate with a Male Figure in a Landscape (1770-1780) by Sceaux Porcelain, French, 1748 - 1794Gardiner Museum

Plate with a Male Figure in a Landscape
France, Sceaux, ca. 1770-1780
Tin-glaze earthenware (petit feu faience)

In a spirit of competition and rivalry, Sceaux was able to entice many skilled artisans, many of whom came from the Royal porcelain manufactory at Sèvres located only four miles away. Decorated with a delicate landscape, the plate testifies to the refinement of the wares produced at Sceaux. The blue feathered border, rendered in royal blue copied from Sèvres porcelain, is typical of the manufactory’s decorative repertoire.

Winter (mid 18th century) by Niderviller, FranceGardiner Museum


Niderviller is located in Lorraine, in eastern France. The region was blessed with an abundance of clay and wood for fuelling kilns. Faience was made there since the early eighteenth century, however, a manufactory was only established ca.1754. It produced both tableware and figures, originally under the influence of nearby Strasbourg. The factory successfully produced hard-paste porcelain between ca. 1760 and 1765, but the production of faience continued nevertheless.                                                                                            

Credits: Story

The Art of the Everyday, curated by Karine Tsoumis is adapted from an exhibition presented at the Gardiner Museum, August 22, 2013 to January 5, 2014.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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