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Longwy: Art Pottery from France
Browsing through a flea market with an eclectic jumble of old, quirky, worn and lovely things is an exercise that stirs the collecting instinct. Whether you're looking for antiques or bric-a-brac, classics or kitsch, the casual serendipity of the market allows you to examine and handle items, get a feel for what is considered collectible and select an object to treasure as a personal memento of your hunt. Sometimes a lucky flea market find unlocks a fascinating bit of history when you research its provenance.
French Art Pottery
While visiting France several years ago, our bed and breakfast host recommended a Sunday drive to a flea market in the town of Bergerac. At one of the stalls, among the Limoges cups and saucers and Laguiole carving sets, I discovered an example of art pottery marked "Emaux de Longwy". The turquoise vase decorated with a curvilinear floral pattern reminded me of the vivid backgrounds featured in Henri Matisse's paintings. The vessel had a slightly raised surface with each leaf, tendril, berry and petal outlined in black. The pattern seemed to grow organically from the form of the vase without repeats on opposite sides. This was a functional piece that could be turned slightly each day to present a new face. I bought the vase for a few euros, filled it with a bouquet of parrot tulips, and addressed my curiosity with a bit of research into the history of Longwy and the line of ceramics bearing that name.
Longwy, a Vauban fortress
The town of Longwy is located in the northeast corner of France, in the Meurthe-et-Moselle region of Lorraine. Close to the borders of Luxembourg and Belgium, the site of Longwy was for centuries a strategic military location, set high on a mountain plateau overlooking a valley. In 1679, following seven years of war with the Dutch, the treaty of Nijmegen officially deemed Longwy as French territory.
King Louis XIV wanted the northeastern French border to be secure against the threat of siege from the Spanish who still controlled Luxembourg. He ordered a new fortification to be constructed at Longwy, under the direction of the royal engineer, Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707). The old town was completely demolished, and a "ville neuf" was built to replace it, complete with ramparts, covered walks, bastions and protective gates. Within the hexagon-shaped fortress of Longwy, a church, municipal buildings and barracks surrounded a central parade square.
Today the town of Longwy is designated as a World Heritage Site, one of 12 Vauban-designed fortifications marking the outer edges along the boundaries of France. During his brilliant career as a military architect, Vauban restructured 130 existing fortresses, designed and constructed 30 new sites and drafted plans for 30 more to be created after his death.
From Convent to Faiencerie
The production of ceramics in Longwy started out with the transformation of an abandoned Carmelite convent into a "faiencerie." (Faience is a term used to describe tin-glazed earthenware.) The building was purchased in 1798 by Pierre-Joseph Boch, Charles Regnier and Nicolas Soldez and within three years, the first pieces of pottery were being fired. One of the most famous customers to patronize the Longwy works was Emperor Napoleon who ordered a set of dinnerware for the Imperial House of the Legion of Honour in 1804. A soup tureen from this set has survived and is displayed in the former military bakery that now houses the Municipal Museum of Longwy.
The enamelled faience technique was developed at Longwy in response to the popularity of cloisonne from Persia and Japan. In 1870, factory directors Fernand and Hippolyte d'Huart hired an Italian artist Amedee de Caranza to create a pottery that resembled cloisonne and would appeal to the general taste for orientalism in France. Caranza had worked in Japan and understood the traditional brass wire technique used in cloisonne. At Longwy he developed and perfected a method of printing black lines on the surface of fired earthenware to create a thin, bas-relief wall around each design segment. The individual cells were hand-painted in the studio with enamels -sometimes using as many as 25 different colours- and then the piece was re-fired. Burnt sienna or India ink was rubbed into the surface of the piece to pick up fine glaze cracks or crazing. Amedee de Caranza later moved to Bordeaux to work for a competitor, but his technique remained a signature style for Emaux de Longwy.
The Mark and Code
The bottom of my vase is marked with a holly bush and crown stamp, and the words "Decore a la main" "Emaux de Longwy" and "France." By comparing the mark with other versions, we can determine that the vase was made in the 1930s. The handwritten numbers above the mark are also significant - F.1085 is the number of the form and D.652 is the pattern number. The initials S.W. belong to the artist who painted the piece. These three fields of information are invaluable for the collector who wants to acquire Longwy objects with the same pattern or shape, or made by the same artist. A simple Google search for "Longwy D.652" located cups and saucers, a covered box and a platter with the same pattern, all available for purchase on line. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Longwy vase I bought in France at a flea market is now worth about four times the amount that I paid for it.
When visiting France, allow time for spontaneous side trips to villages hosting flea markets. Add the word "brocante" to your vocabulary. It translates as "second-hand" but also means "the fun of rummaging through a pile of odds and ends to find a trinket or treasure marked with an extraordinary history."
Links to Longwy
- Emaux de Longwy
- LIBERTY'S Antiques - Marks and signs from Longwy - Marques et signatures des faiences et emaux de Lo
LIBERTY'S offers a wide selection of French antiques, old clocks, paperweights, Quimper, Limoges, Longwy and Art-Deco items with over 5000 pieces presented for sale on line.
- About this site - Réseau des sites majeurs Vauban
Town of Longwy Hôtel de ville 4, avenue Grande Duchesse Charlotte 54 400 Longwy France Tél : +33 (0)3 82 44 54 00 www.mairie-longwy.fr A (...)