French Quimper pottery adds charm to country rooms

A distinctive coutnry look in a home can be achieved by using choice pieces of aged Quimper -- a French faience of colorful quaintness and long tradition. Currently, this tin-enameled, hand-decorated earthenware is a prestige item among knowing decorators and colelctors of antiques. Well-executed, vintage examples of it -- bowls, plates, platters, and such -- are being hunted avidly at antique shows. Not surprisingly, such pieces have increased markedly in price over the past two years.

Quimper has been made in the French town of Quimper in the Brittany area for about 300 years by various potters, notably Jules Henriot et Fils and Faienceries Bretonne de la Grande Maison H-B (the initials which represent Hubaudiere and Bousquet -- two families long identified with this company). The most desirable items available in the antique market today generally date from the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th.

Much of this ware's charm lies in its frequent irregularity of form; its unusual design (bagpipe-shaped dishes, for example); and its hand-painted peasantlike decorations. Decorations range from floral to geometric and include full-profiled men and women in traditional Breton garb. Borders feature deep blue scrolls, or at times, ermine tails. Prized are pieces with picturesquely presented folklore motifs and 19th-century representations of the everyday life of the Breton peasantry.

Because these naive designs sprang spontaneously from the hearts and hands of local artisans, Quimper can be defined as a true folk art expression reflecting the spirit of the Breton culture.

Quimper blends mellowly in a room with rough-textured, checkered linens. It is equally at home in kitchens and in living rooms. When placed on the shelves of an old cherry cupboard, it becomes a delightful focal point in a room of "primitve" furnishings.

The decorative usage of Quimper is not limited to blending with country furniture. Certain pieces with floral decorations reminiscent of honored Rouen faience make a sophisticated statement in a colonially oriented room. And a Quimper plate enhanced with Breton figures and hung on a wall above a stenciled box or in a room featuring old painted furniture of the colonial era offers pleasing assimilation.

Because Quimper's markings are often a clue to its age, and because this pottery (including reproductions of antique pieces) is still being produced, serious acquisition demands a study of its wide array of markings, or reliance upon a knowledgeable dealer.

This spring Sandra Bondhus of Watertown, Conn., an expert on Quimper, will publish her long-awaited, definitive bokk, "Quimper Pottery: A French Folk Art Faience" ($45.00 plus $3.00 handling: P.O. Box 203 Watertown, Ct. 06795).

Mrs. Bondhus developed her interest in Quimper about ten years ago, when living in France while her husband attended school there. During her extensive research of the production fo the Quimper factories, she frequently traveled to the town of Quimper to ferret out elusive details about this earthenware. She even translated numerous French documents into English to garner as much information as possible for her book.

Like Americans, Bretons are becoming increasingly aware of the burgeoning interest in Quimper faience. Now, both here and in France, and old Quimper article of merit, although chipped or flaked, is not shunned, as collectors fell it still retains its folk art character. Sophisticated collectors much prefer such an item to a mint-condition new one.

Through the years, the Quimper factories issued much tableware that was sold in "better" department stores in America. Today the Mistral Blue and yellow-glazed Quimper pottery is still sold in such stores, and can be effectively and less expensively used with country-style furnishings. But the discerning decorator and collector favors aged Quimper faience that embues a home with a distinctive French folk art "charme" and the ambiance of the country look.

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