Thursday, April 30, 2009

Porcelain Lovers Unite

My husband tells me that there used to be a jingle for Bernardaud that still comes to mind for a lot of people. It sums up the essential -- Bernardaud, Limoges ancien, Limoges contemporain... (see below).

I know I love both old and new styles and mixing both. Why limit ourselves? A post by The Peak of Chic a few weeks ago discussed how porcelain was sometimes thought of as fussy and then went on to prove the contrary with fabulous objects from the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory in Munich. That post inspired a trip to the manufacture Bernardaud at Limoges last week. The lastingness of these proud porcelain manufacturers lies in their willingness to evolve with the best of the times in terms of art and technique and never to lose their traditional savoir-faire. Bernardaud dates only to the mid 19th century, but incorporates the Ancienne Manufacture Royale Limoges founded in 1797. It is particularly known as dynamic family enterprise and for close association with artists and designers of the day.

Plates by Kees Van Dongen 1950s; tea service by unmarked designer

We all know the name Bernardaud, but do we realize how inventive and closely tied it is to the art world? Kees Van Dongen, César, and Bernard Buffet count among Bernardaud's illustrious designers. In 1952, Marc Chagall signed a service, each piece with a different decoration. Raymond Loewy, Franco-American industrial design guru, created a revolutionary table service in 1967, mixing round, oval, and angular shapes. Later came painter Zao Woo-Ki and Hervé Van des Straeten, India Madhavi, Olivier Gagnère...

Porcelain making is one of the fascinating arts of fire, along with glass and metal working. It's not a wonder that many of today's designers with sometimes no special background in porcelain, are taken by it and wish to explore all its possibilities.

Olivier Gagnère, whose work is well known in ceramics, glass, furniture and interior design, already has a certain body of work with Bernardaud. He speaks of the magic transformation that takes place in porcelain and glass making and admits that working with these materials requires a lot of humility and patience. He is probably most known for his peppy striped tabled service, Galerie Royale.

Song vase by Olivier Gagnère
Cul vase by IBU (Irena Borzena Ustjanowski)

from the Al Dente Collection designed by Marco Mencacci

Tasses 1000 by Designers 5.5
(Vincent Baranger, Jean-Sébastien Blanc, Anthony Lebossé, Claire Renard)

These limited edition cups are playful -- imagine getting your hand around them for a surrealistic tea party!

Couronne vase design Martin Szekely

Anno cup design by Sylvain Dubuisson

Salsa cup 50s style with sits with spinning effect on its saucer. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the designer name.

Boulle inspired by the marquetry of the 18th century cabinet maker

Paradis tray

Diam plates, Loop cup design Christophe Pillet

One ring and Forever necklace are part of a large selection of jewelry that is well-distributed.

See more at Bernardaud and explore all sorts of historic pieces atAdrien Dubouché the porcelain museum of Limoges.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Manufacture Bernardaud

Just as depicted on this plate, the Manufacture Bernardaud stands today in Limoges with studio shelves copiously and ever so carefully filled with thousands of unfired examples of its treasures. This location operated fully until 1991 when the factory set off for modern premises just outside the city. Still in partial use as a work place, today it can be toured with a guide and demonstrations of the porcelain making process.

The Chinese were able to keep the ancient secret of their fabulous art of porcelain making until the 18 th century. Before this, these sophisticated products were known only to royalty and certain aristocratic European collectors who admired them for their beautiful translucent quality and fineness, as well as for their strength and impermeability. What a contrast with other opaque ceramics or fragile soft-paste porcelain made in Europe at this time ! Desire for exotic Oriental porcelain had reached fever pitch in the Occident in the late 17 th century and continued well into the 18 th. Experimenters in Europe had long been trying to equal Chinese products. This had already been accomplished in Saxe in 1708. The competition was on. Finally in 1767, the wife of a surgeon in Limoges found a particular clay that worked very well to launder her linens. Thinking it a sort of natural soap, she showed her discovery to her husband, who in turn showed it to an apothecary. Analysis proved this special clay to be kaolin, one of three ingredients along with feldspar and quartz, necessary for producing hard-paste porcelain. Limoges would now achieve world-renown for its porcelain artistry.

There is something beautiful about all these white molds and raw pieces. They have a mat glow, but careful this is not bisque -- fragile !

Handles and spouts are cast separately by pouring slip or liquid paste into special molds. These items are then attached to the body of an object with with brush applied slip -- never with glue.

Each piece is fired at least twice. One 24 hour passage in the kiln strengthens and makes the piece porous. This is bisque firing. After the piece has been dipped into glaze to make it impermeable, next comes a second, extremely high temperature firing. The final tureen at right shows a shrinkage of 14%.

These vessels have been fired twice and may or may not be decorated and fired again. They can now be tested for any imperfections with the flick of a finger. A perfect piece will have the characteristic ring of porcelain. Notice the Louvre pattern teapot and The Marie-Antoinette Laiterie coupe.

More finished examples to come !

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Peace and Quiet

On ne peut pas vouloir tout et son contraire. Off for a peaceful week in the country, I thought I'd be able to send at least a few posts. This was not to be, but somehow it's a good thing that everything isn't the same everywhere. It is still possible to get away from it all, even if it isn't always entirely on purpose.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Turn of the 20th Century Interiors

That people could come into the world in a place they could not at first even name and had never known before; and that out of a nameless and unknown place they could grow and move around in it until its name they knew and called with love, and call it HOME, and put roots there and love others there; so that whenever they left this place they would sing homesick songs about it and write poems of yearning for it, like a lover...
William Goyen House of Breath

A house is such a strong symbol. Refuge and edifice, it expresses who we are and sometimes who we'd like to be. It is a witness to so many important events and silently echos other more everyday acts. Last week you saw the Maison Prisonnière, a villa that is uninhabited, locked up, but that will surely one day break free of its chains. Any house represents many possibilities and also contains many memories. That particular house strikes the imagination because it seems lonely under its cloak of vines in the midst of an otherwise well-kept neighborhood. The shutters are left to swing on their hinges and creak in the wind. A broken window pane lets the wind howl through and may provide the only breath of fresh air that gets inside. But this was a family house and maybe even a proud dream house once. These turn-of-the-century paintings by Félix Vallotton help to imagine what the inside might easily have been.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

joyeuse paques

Just before Easter, from Thursday until Sunday morning, the church bells will not ring throughout France. This tradition dates back to the 7th century as a sign of mourning in remembrance of the crucifixion. The bells are said to have sprouted wings to fly off to Rome where they are blessed before coming back to each town laden with chocolate eggs. On Easter morning - Paques - the bells chime once again and children search for chocolate treats in the garden. And so in the life of objects, there is work to be done. This is the only case of holiday mythology I know in which the inanimate comes to life. As long as the children get their chocolate. . . .

Thursday, April 9, 2009

maison prisonnière

This house in the Paris suburbs is waiting for a new day. It appears to be abandonned, yet every so many months an old woman is said to be seen behind the gate, causing a stir among the school children walking by. By all rights, she is a witch. Before she disappears into the overgrown foliage, she shakes her finger at the them, "Il ne faut pas montrer du doigt! / It's not nice to point!" Although there are stars lining the eaves in orderly single file and there is a headless sphinx to guard it - the house is not faring so well. One day, la belle endormie will awaken, but every sleeping beauty requires a prince.

Esthétique Usine

With time and distance, things can be appreciated in a different way. This great print is a silk scarf found in a nearby antiquités-brocante. I like it in the same way I like the industrial looking black bisque coffeepot designed by Ineke Hans that figures on the Printemps Home catalogue. It's fun because we don't often see shapes like these for dress or in the home. More than representing the sleekness of the machine age, there is something primitive in these shapes that suggest the inner workings of plumbing and circuitry. Post-Fernand Léger tubular.

If I had received this scarf as a gift in 1961, the year it was made, something tells me I wouldn't have appreciated it at all, much less worn it. These must have been gifts to executive's wives or honored visitors to the factory it advertises.

Times change and I can now appreciate it and marvel at it. It is a 1961 calendar that boasts the capacities of a steel working factory with stylized pictures of its machines. The days of the year make up a cogwheel in the big industrial machine. But tradition has not been left behind in this modern factory; as is usual in France, each day of the year is associated with a saint and all those with the saint's name are remembered that day too. Everyone has his name day. It is clear that even saints go in and out of fashion. Here we see names we don't often see today (click for close-up) - St Tibure, St Fructueux, and my favorite,
St Quasimodo who is celebrated the 9th of April. Bonne fete, Quasimodo!