by: Joan Finger
As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Winter/Spring 2009
When I was asked to prepare an article in 1,500 words or less about Quimper I asked myself "How can I possibly describe this art form - which originated in the town of Quimper in Brittany, France in approximately 1685, in so few words?" AND "What can I possibly add to what has already been written?"
Iím not a historian -- my love for Quimper comes from my childhood days. About the age of eight or so I was designated "Saturday housecleaner - Kid of all Trades" to my Grandma (Pay - 25Ę per day). One of my chores was the china closet. Take everything out, wash and dry it, put it all back -- and donít break anything!!!
Grandmaís sister lived on a farm in upstate New York that her husband supervised for a "gentleman farmer" who also owned property in Brittany. Each year this gentleman went off and returned with pottery souvenirs for his "staff".
Aunt May passed some of it on to Grandma in the Bronx. And, when Grandma passed, I opted for the "peasant plates". Sometime later in life I learned that it was called "Quimper" - and that it may not have been a bad inheritance.
In the early 1950ís I found my way to Paris and was enchanted by the city. I found the Marche aux Puces (Flea Market) in Glinancourt and, there again, were the "peasant plates". I started to add to my "collection" (2 plates and 1 cup) picking up pieces from some of the lowlier marchands, i.e., the guys who had their wares spread out on blankets outside the shops of the regular storeowners. I bought a platter from one young man who was selling off his Grandmaís belongings. It still sits on a shelf in my Welsh dresser and is still used for the Thanksgiving turkey.
So, how does my experience and knowledge apply to you?
Youíve decided to go antiquing! Its either pre-daylight in a field somewhere, or at a posh big-city show. You wander into a booth and there before you are those "peasant plates".
Should you buy them? What should you be looking for to start or add to your collection?
Although I donít presume to be all knowledgeable, Iíll try to be of help.
Quimper (pronounced "cam-pair") is French and is produced in the town, of that name in France. (French law decrees that if it is called Quimper it must be made in Quimper). This charming town is located at the confluence of two rivers -- the Steir and Odet -- in Brittany, near the sea. There is a great cathedral (built from the 13th to 15th centuries); a fine arts museum; and a museum dedicated solely to Quimper faience. The type of earthenware produced here made a long transcontinental journey from the Middle East. At one point it passed through the town of Faenza, Italy -- hence the name faience.
How and when did it arrive in Quimper? A gentleman from Marseilles by the name of Jean Baptiste Bousquet, who had experience in faience production migrated north to Quimper and established a factory. (The clay from this area, as well as a supply of wood for firing the ovens facilitated production.) The factory prospered. Faience is still produced in the town -- various factories were established through the ages -- some passed from father to son - many merged through marriage.
Enough history -- you can and should read all you can about Quimper (see "Bibliography).
What should you buy?
You need to analyze why you are buying.
1. Because you love it! Then go! QUICK! Before someone else Ďgets it.
2. You would be happy owning this appealing art form, which compliments the decor of your home. You hope it has and perhaps will accrue in value.
3. You are a serious collector searching for the best you can afford and you have an interest in establishing a cohesive collection that reflects history, quality, value and perhaps be an investment. Study, do research, buy carefully.
What follows is a quick overview of some of the features that may be helpful to you in your quest for Quimper.
Utilitarian and art forms were produced. Dinner plates, cups and saucers, i.e., things needed to set a table and hold items of food and drink. But, it ainít just "peasant plates"!!!
There are platters with magnificent scenes painted by Alf Beau; the sea-related items by Mathurin Meheut; the figurals of Jim Sevellac, Berthe Savigny, etc. There are candlesticks, cachepots and inkwells, as well as marvelous statues and benetiers (wall pockets that have small bowls for holy water), etc.
You will be continually surprised at the diversity of Quimper.
Here are some of the features to look for. Develop "touchy-feely" -- the clay is a bit heavier in the older production.
These can be either on the front or the back. However, to complicate matters, many of the early pieces are unmarked -- so attention to design, clay, etc. are important.
While not all-inclusive, below is an overview of marks and their approximate registration or usage dates:
The dates for these marks are approximate. There are many more, including specific artist marks.
A Tariff Act, which was passed in 1890, decreed that, wares produced for export had to be marked with the country of origin. However, bear in mind that a piece of Quimper made in France for local consumption did not have to be so marked and could find its way out of France to a foreign market.
Below are some of the design features you will see that will assist you in identifying Quimper. Most are backgrounds -- not the main design -- but they enhance the beauty of the object.
The Influence of French Art Periods on Quimper Production
Quimper is hand painted (then the object is fired in an oven). Although you may only have seen the "peasant plates" -- the production was influenced by the art of their production period.
No discussion of Quimper would be complete without homage to the "painters" -- both the factory workers who produced the everyday "stuff" -- and those who produced the artistic designs. The ouevre of many of the latter can be found in the museums of France - be it traditional, art deco, art nouveau, etc. And, a strong influence in Britanny was the sea.
While Not All-Inclusive, Iíve Listed a Few of the Artists.
Alf Beau- A photographer by trade, he moved to Quimper in the late 1870s. His detailed designs of scenes from Breton life, i.e., marriages, church processions, vistas of the town, etc. are unequaled. They are great works of art on faience (and their prices reflect their desirability).
Mathurin Meheut- A 1920s Breton with a love for the sea. His paintings can be found in the museums of the area. While his museum art is more traditional -- his Quimper designs are stylized -- a sailor holding his catch; a fish alone; some seashells, etc.
Jim Sevellac- Influenced both by the sea and peasant life, he produced wonderful figurals. A classic is his multi-figured wedding procession -- a bride and groom and their accompaniers, several of them carrying colorful banners. This would be a very special and expensive addition to any collection.
About the author:Joan Finger was born in The Bronx, NYC and has lived in Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Texas and now South Florida.
Retired from corporate, government and not-for-profit jobs, she pursued a parallel career as an antique dealer doing shows both in the Northeast and Florida. Her earlier experience with Grandmaís Quimper "peasant plates" provided the impetus for her specialty.
Contact Joan Finger at PO Box 2645, West Palm Beach, FL 33402
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