Limousin is famed for its heritage of crafting enamel, glass, tapestry, leather and much more, but Limoges is synonymous with fine bone china and this is where we'll focus our attention. This fiery art is always almost associated with the art of living and Limoges' mastery of this has given rise to immense creativity in several areas.
Ceramics aka Limousin white gold
The art of living à la Française
You don't get to be the capital of porcelain without having the necessary natural resources i.e. water, granite-derived minerals, kaolin and wood, which was used to fuel the kilns in the past. Famed for its whiteness, the china clay of Limousin was responsible for making Limoges the porcelain capital of France. The first porcelain factory in Limousin was founded by the Frères Grellet et Massié-Fournérat in 1771. From 1784, it remained an annex of the Sèvres factory until 1794 when it was granted the official title of 'Manufacture Royale'. The golden age of Limoges porcelain was at its pinnacle in the nineteenth century thanks to the efforts of the main, and largely family-run, factories. Haviland, Guérin, Pouyat, Bernardaud, Tharaud, Alluaud, etc. produced dinner services for heads of state, kings, princes and ambassadors and Limoges porcelain remains a symbol of the French fine art of living and can be found on tables throughout the world Over time it has become more affordable thanks to streamlined production methods and more accessible designs. But none of its unique heritage has been lost and many of the great manufacturers are still in business (Bernardaud, Raynaud, Haviland, J.L. Coquet, Medard de Noblat, etc.) - all helping to preserve this wonderful heritage while introducing new and inspired designs. This heritage is kept alive by a multitude of skilled men and women - artisan porcelain makers, skilled craftsmen, design houses, brands/distributors, etc. (Esprit Porcelaine, Feeling’s, Sylvie Coquet, non sans raison, Habitat, Yann Fayaud, etc.) who all contribute to ensuring excellence in modernity.
Cutting-edge technology coupled with artisanal expertise are integral parts of the long and complex design chain. The creation of a piece of Limoges porcelain requires up to 30 steps. But is the final decoration stage requiring incredible manual dexterity, which can take years to acquire, that is the essential element that has contributed to its reputation. Certain companies in Limoges specialise in the production of "blanc" or blanks such as Doralaine and the Porcelaines de la Fabrique. These blanks may then be decorated using colour lithography or vitrifiable decalcomania techniques, which are especially suited to contemporary designs. Porcelain manufactured in Haute-Vienne is stamped with the famous chrome green "Limoges France" stamp and initials or symbols identifying the various manufacturers (source: CRAFT et Comité Régional du Tourisme du Limousin).
Where tableware meets design
While tableware is still very much in demand, Limoges porcelain has continued to innovate and conquer new territories such as architecture, design and household equipment (furniture handles, switches, toilets, etc.). Artists and designers decorate these pieces turning this white gold into exceptional and valuable objects both in terms of technique and creativity.
Limoges remains a driving force in preserving its heritage and furthering its development. The goal of CRAFT (Centre de recherche sur les arts du feu et de la terre) is to seek out new and contemporary areas of creativity for ceramics. CRAFT also acts as an interface between the art world (artists, designers, architects) and the ceramics industry in order to develop projects and ensure production. It also has an extraordinary collection of contemporary ceramics, which is sure to astound and astonish (www.craft-limoges.org)!
"Ursule" suspended ceiling light by Elise Gabriel – 2013 CRAFT.
© Victor André
Mérigous "Cristobal" door handle by Alberto Pinto
Cypraea plates, flat plate in Limoges porcelain designed by the Habitat Design Studio and made by hand in a small factory in Limoges. Each piece is hand-crafted according to established expertise and has its own particularities. These irregularities and quilted checkers are enhanced thanks to the use of Limoges porcelain, which is synonymous with high quality dinnerware.