Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Porcelaine de Paris" Pipe Bowls

By André Leclaire, Member of the Académie Internationale de la Pipe (AIP)

In the inventory records from 1898 of the Alice de Rothschild (handwritten document for the Bibliothèque de Grasse), a few pipes are described as “Porcelaine de Paris”. This provenance, well known by collectors, is still the source of much debate. Indeed, if a large number of these lack a brand marking, their defenders argue with conviction the identification of a style, a motif, in a word a facture that evokes the know-how of the Parisian porcelain manufacturers of late XVIIIth century.

 Wishing to discover a few threads linking these craftsmen to the pieces presented in the various collections, we tried to gather any available data on the workshops susceptible of having manufactured pipes in Paris. 

The manufacturing of hard porcelain in France is linked to the discovery in 1768 of a refractory clay, appropriate to obtain a glaçure stronger than the soft porcelain. The extraction of kaolin in the mines of Saint Yrieiz, close to Limoges, brings a revolution in the French ceramics industry. Within Europe, this discovery is a late one since from the early days of the XVIIIth century, the manufacturers of Meissen, Vienna, Venise, or Chelsea had been manufacturing hard porcelain. 

But the French workshops made up for lost time in a few decades. In addition to the Manufacture Royale de Sèvres, that owned the monopole in this sector, a number of workshops will open in the French capital. Between 1768 and 1781, eleven porcelain manufacturers were in operation, despite the many restrictions lined to the exclusive rights of the Manufacture Royale.

The name Porcelaine de Paris or Vieux Paris therefore applies to the production by the Manufacture royale and those small workshops some of which will operate until the middle of the XIXth century.

Polychrome painted porcelain bowl, representing French King Louis XIII.
Paris, circa 1840.Height : 11,5 cm. Courtesy Mazaleyrat Collection
Pipe reproduced in « Les pipiers français » by G. Guyot, Histoire et tradition, 1992, page 85.


Of those eleven porcelain workshops, four manufactured pipes:

- The one on Faubourg St Denis. Or rather one of the three shops that were in this district. Created by François LALOUETTE and Jean-Pierre HOFFMANN in 1793. In 1798, the activity was taken over by Jacques FLEURY; upon his passing in 1813, inventory records indicate the presence of “pipes decorated with light gold’ (Plinval de Guillebon 1985, 99);

- The manufacturer on Rue Thiroux is of particular importance given that it benefited from the protection of Queen Marie-Antoinette and accordingly had an excellent reputation in the capital. Its production supplied the famous porcelain shop called "Le Petit Carrousel" who provided pipes to the jewellers Biennais et Odiot who in turn would fit a windcover or stem. (Plinval de Guillebon 1985, 137).

- The manufacturer on Rue de Crussol was also the beneficiary of some protection, this time from the Prince of Wales (Le Prince de Galles). Opened by the English Christopher POTTER, it changed ownership a few times before it was acquired by Moyse MAYER in 1800, who also bought the inventory a significant component of which were pipe bowls. (Plinval de Guillebon 1985, 91).

- Lastly, the manufacturer NAST, whose inventory in 1811 mentioned 291 pipes (Encyclopédie 1975, 444).

Those small workshops are overshadowed by the Manufacture de Sèvres, which benefits from privileges such as the use of gold for decoration and a total freedom in the selection of colors or themes.


Located in Vincennes since 1738, its workshops are transferred to Sèvres in 1756. In 1760 it becomes "Manufacture Royale" and starts producing hard porcelain by 1770. Its production is intended primarily for the French Royal Court but also for foreign Princes and Kings.

One can imagine that the production of pipes could not rival the demand for tables sets or ornamental pieces created by the best sculptors of the time. However, in the archives of this manufacturer which is still operating today, we can find some indication of its existence. The records indicate that 1,159 pipes were manufactured between 1782 and 1848,

A closer look at the records, gives us some interesting insights:

-    First officially recorded pipe in 1782;
-    In 1788, indian pipes were manufactured and offered as gifts to the visiting Indian     
     delegation led by Tipoo-Sahed, the nabab of Mysore;
-    First figural pipe in 1790;
-    In the second semester of 1815, 493 pipes were manufactured.

Could this last observation be linked to the historical context? 

While this has not been confirmed, let us remember that the Battle of Waterloo took place in June 1815 and that the Prussian army was in Paris at that time. One document states that the security of the manufacture was provided in August 1815 by Prussian soldiers for whom the mold makers created pipes representing Blücher, Bülow and Wellington (Chauvié 1932, 93). The decors in high demand are scenes of bivouac inscribed with "Souvenir de Waterloo". The size of the production by the Manufacture de Sèvres in 1815 allows us to analyze the pipes more closely. 

A nomenclature of the different shapes produced by the Manufacture allows us to visualize the objects:

These shapes will be a surprise to collectors and I have to say that a few of those were completely unknown to me. However 85% of the pipes identified for this period were classified under the standard shapes, in three different sizes.

The above diagram breaks down the type of decoration applied to those bowls.

Half of the pipes bowls have a single gold thread highlighting a base of differing color, which is what we classified as "Décors simples". One pipe out of five has an inscription usually upon customer request. The group qualified as "militaires" includes battle scenes, bivouacs, or bowls representing the military chiefs we have mentioned before: Blücher, Wellington, etc. The group "personnages" refers to some decoration inspired by folk stories and popular imagery such as Pierrot from children's books.

We have the proof that the Manufacture de Sèvres, similarly to some smaller workshops in Paris, manufactured pipe bowls. After losing its royal monopoly during the evolution, the Manufacture has faced many a challenge to the point where its Director at the time, Alexandre Brongniart,

had to sell a large number of pieces not yet decorated (the "blancs") which were acquired by French or foreign decorators.

During the reign of Napoleon, the porcelain manufacturing found a new vitality and France rose to the top rank for its products, rivaling the famed German workshops.

"Two Sèvres porcelain Medici vases from 1811 epitomize Napoleonic prestige and the genius of Alexandre Brongniart, who helped give the Sèvres factory a new lease of life at the start of the 19th century. They are of outstanding interest due to their exceptional production quality, rare subject-matter, historic interest, virtuoso tortoiseshell grounds, powerful gold ornament and prestigious provenance.

The scenes painted by Jean–François Robert on these tortoiseshell-ground Medici vases are particularly accomplished. Although some less prestigious ceramics show the imperial family at leisure or at their various homes, such scenes seldom appear on vases – which were usually decorated with official portraits, military subjects or allegorical scenes. It was doubtless Brongniart who, with an eye on Napoleon’s political Public Relations, chose the subjects for these vases, cleverly exploiting Sèvres’ latest technical innovations and Robert’s outstanding talent as a figure- and landscape-painter.

One vase shows Napoleon in a carriage with Marie–Louise, in front of the Palace of St-Cloud, where their civil marriage had taken place a few months earlier. The other vase shows Napoleon on a grey horse in the hills of Bellevue/ Meudon, about to go hunting. He is flanked by four tall dignitaries in the gold-trimmed green uniforms of the Imperial Hunt sporting the star of the Légion d’Honneur." (Alain Truong)

The requirement to add a distinctive mark was placed upon the small workshops to differentiate from the Royal Manufacture. In that area, Sèvres is exemplary since each piece bears a mark specifying the year of fabrication.

Add to this mark, the personal mark of the creator of the artwork and even the decorator. The following presents some of the marks of the Manufacture: the first to under Louis XVI, then under the revolution, the Empire, Louis XVIII, Charles X and Louis Philippe,

But at that time, the pipes represented a minor portion of the production from the different workshops. Despite the resurgence in 1815 for Sèvres, this category remains small compared with the other European manufactures. By comparison, a report from 1845 refers to an annual production of 300,000 porcelain pipes by the manufacturer Hammer in Carlsbad, Bohemia (Peligot 1846, 73). Another manufacturer close to Magdeburg, produced 60,000 every year. In 1852, the author of a dictionary on commerce expressed his surprise that such manufacturing be so neglected in France at a time where it represents a real opportunity, specially in Germany (Andraud 1852, 1782).

Our visit at the National Museum of Ceramics at Sèvres did not allow us to examine any pipe manufactured by the parisian workshops. The only pipe found was in the form of a photo. It is a chibouk bowl bearing the intials RF for République Française and the date of manufacturing: 1887,

This piece belongs to the category we called décor simple, offering a blue color background (also referred to as" Bleu de Sèvres") decorated with a gold thread.

A biographical research added little additional information on the pipes made of Porcelaine de Paris.

One book presenting two such pipe bowls is the Encyclopédie du Tabac (1975):

- The first pipe bowl is from the collections of the Museum of Hanover and bears the inscription Sèvres at the bottom part of the base (Encyclopédie 1975, 417):

Hanover Museum

The second bowl, decorated with a military scene, belonged at the time to the collection of the Sèvres Museum (Encyclopédie 1975, 443)

Musée de Sèvres, Paris, France

Another pipe bowl is part of the collections of the Pijpenkabinet in Amsterdam,

Courtesy of the Pijpenkabinet, Amsterdam

Also bearing the inscription "Sèvres" at the bottom part of the base,and depicting a bivouac scene in the Bois de Boulogne, it was a present to General Friedrich Wilhem von Bülow (February 16, 1755 – February 25, 1816), a Prussian general who raised to fame during the Napoleonic Wars.

Pencil Portrait of General von Bülow, Meyers Großes Konversationslexikon, 6. Auflage

While it is still a stretch to talk about a style specific to the Parisian workshops, we can discuss another color, in addition to the blue mentioned earlier. I am referring to the chrome green, also called Empire green,

invented by the chemist Nicolas-Louis VAUQUELIN in 1798,

a green that we find on two pipes from the collection in Grasse,

Unfortunately, neither of these bowls bears the manufacturer's mark.

The same color can be found on a bowl representing Napoléon I sitting on a tree stump,

A second version of the same model can be found in the Rothschild Collection in Grasse, but in white porcelain. Can we attribute it to the same workshop? If so, one would need to consider a few other pieces in the Rothschild that could have been manufactured by one of the workshops mentioned earlier.

Admiral Nelson (1758-1805), Trafalgar Square, London

Frederick The Great (1712-1786)

One has to acknowledge that the best identification of the Porcelaine de Paris remains the presence of one of the many manufacturer's marks.

What remains to be done, is to identify among various collections, concrete examples to complement our information on the French porcelain bowls. An additional task for the readers of this blog who excel in solving such enigmas!

Porcelaine de Paris, XIXth century, Ramazotti Collection

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