Palissy Pottery Article

In a nutshell

Palissy pottery is an ultra-naturalistic type of majolica named after Bernard Palissy, the father of French ceramics, who's statue stands outside the Louvre museum in Paris.

The pieces are characterized by three-dimensional modelled snakes

fish

lizards

frogs

snails, etc

.

arranged on grassy or aquatic backgrounds.

Bernard Palissy worked in the mid 16th century. Three hundred years later the genre was reborn around 1843 in France, with centers in Paris and Tours; and around 1880 in Portugal where production was centered on the town of Caldas da Rainha.

Bernard Palissy (1510-1590)

A gifted, obsessive naturalist, author, and potter, first produced the style circa 1548. For the first time in history molds were taken from actual specimens. Colored lead glazes were formulated to fuse onto an earthenware body

The story according to W.P.Jervis, a historian, penned a couple of centuries later, goes like this:

Bernard Palissy’s friends and neighbours looked upon him as a madman. In vain his wife pleaded. The kiln swallowed up everything and direst poverty stared them in the face. For sixteen years he struggled on, enduring the reproaches of his wife, the death of his children, the pathetic look of hunger in the faces of those spared to him, and the reviling of his neighbours. Undaunted by failure he sacrificed his furniture for fuel, his wife and remaining children, hungry and ragged, in vain imploring him to desist

If this failed it was of necessity his last experiment. The very last stick of furniture had been thrust in the kiln, and the house stripped of every vestige of woodwork, and who shall attempt to portray with what emotions Palissy awaited the result... With trembling hands he drew the few pieces from the kiln - for a moment he dared not trust his senses - he looked again - THE GLAZE HAD FUSED. This changed everything and he lived happily ever after.

Marks

Palissy majolica was made mostly in France and Portugal, each in their own distinctive style. The wares of the Portuguese makers were usually marked.

French makers were less helpful, marking few pieces, and many makers producing pieces of similar style and glazes, making attributions difficult.

Why is it so appealing?

It makes amazing decor! Most pieces are potted as wall plates so there is always a space can be found. A seemingly infinite number of quirky combinations set the imagination on fire. Just when you think you've seen it all, a previously unknown piece surfaces and delights. Its enduring popularity, though not for everyone, now seems guaranteed.

Palissy in the 21st century home vividly demonstrates an appreciation of the potters art in connection with natural history subjects expressed often in high drama and realism.

Marks and Makers

Palissy majolica was made mostly in France and Portugal, each in their own distinctive style. The wares of the Portuguese makers were usually marked.

French makers were less helpful, marking few pieces, and many makers producing pieces of similar style and glazes, making attributions difficult.

Makers include:

Joseph Landais, France

Maurice, France

Barbizet, France

Thomas Sergent, France

Geoffery Luff, France – MODERN


José Francisco de Sousa (fl.1860-1893), Portugal

Jose A. Cunha, Portugal


Mafra, Portugal


Herculano Elias, Portugal


Cezar, Portugal


Augusto Baptista de Carvalho, Portugal

Restoration

Some restoration is generally acceptable. Pristine unrestored pieces are extremely rare.

Many sellers do not draw attention to repairs and restoration in as much detail as we do so when buying don't forget to ask “Is there any damage or restoration?”
Depending on how well the work is done, and the rarity of the item, damage and restoration will affect value. For example, plainly visible badly matched color will knock the value. But an invisible repair with perfectly matched color will not affect value.

Spotting restoration:
If your eyesight is not great, use a lens and bright light.

Check the most vulnerable areas carefully: antennae, legs of insects near the rim, the tips of the shredded clay nearest to the rim. Look for slight changes in color. Feel for a change in texture. Feel for a change in hardness - tapping lightly with a sharp steel implement works well - the softer acrylic of the repair can be distinguished by feel from unrestored glaze which is as hard as glass.

Real or repro?

Learn to distinguish between genuine 19th century Palissy ware at the good end of the scale, late 20th century reproductions from the far East which abound at the bad end of the scale, and early 20th century Portuguese pieces in the middle, worth perhaps half the value of 19th century pieces. Some Portuguese factories continued production in the style of the early pieces well into the 20th century.