European 18th-Century Art

French Ceramics

The faience technique came via Islamic Spain to Italy, and from there spread to the rest of Europe, with Italian decoration forms initially providing the models.

Craftsmen in France, like those in Italy, were soon able to fully exploit faience’s potentials. This tin-glazed earthenware was decorated with figurative scenes whose color and tone came quite close to those of true painting. In around 1750, the French began to make faience with decorations painted over the glaze. This technique was also used on the porcelain that manufactories were finally able to produce. For some time, faience’s forms and types of decoration corresponded to those of the Rococo’s more exclusive porcelain. Competition from porcelain manufacture did, however, gradually put most French faience factories out of business in the course of the second half of the 18th century.

Early French porcelain from the 18th century is soft-paste. It was made without kaolin and fired at a fairly low temperature, making it less durable than true porcelain. But the body has a lovely ivory-like tone and can be painted with an unlimited number of colors, which after firing have a unique depth and brilliance. The earliest manufactories were in or near Paris: St. Cloud, Chantilly, Mennecy, and Vincennes. The operations of the Vincennes manufactory moved in 1756 to Sèvres, after Louis XV had taken a personal interest in it, and this is where the period’s technically most perfect pieces were made.