CHAPTER X

 

 

THE EXHIBITION CATALOGUE

 

 

      The catalogue prepared for the exhibition bore the title: 'l775 Un Siècle d'Art populaire berrichon à La Borne (près d'Henrichemont Cher) l875' on its cover.  It can be taken as an indication of the significance Guillaume accorded to this particular venture that no such presentation which might have served for any other of his exhibitions has been discovered.  Consisting of twenty-four pages, those numbered 9 to 24 contained the exhibited items, and were accompanied by brief descriptions, owners names, details of signatures, when present, glaze characteristics and approximate dating.  In a very few instances, Guillaume has attempted to make attributions.  Two illustrations are included; one, the photograph of the head of a crucified Christ (Fig. ll4) from Massé's collection precedes the above details, and a second, a small figurine of a mounted horseman features on the frontispiece. (Fig. ll5)

 

      There are three accompanying texts: (i) 'Introduction' (pp. 3-4)    (ii) 'Notes Historiques', (pp. 5 - 6) and (iii) 'Notes Techniques'   (pp. 7 - 8)

.

      Reference has already been made to the information contained in the introduction where his most immediate aims are stated.

 

      The only reference which is directly made to the origin and development of the focus of his exhibition comes in a brief paragraph, following an equally brief general introduction to the utilitarian ware:

 

                       '...Spontanément nait au sein de cette

                       industrie, vers l775, un art populaire plein

                       de naïve fraicheur; observateur malicieux de

                       la vie, il s'est exprimé pendant environ un

                       siècle, puis l'oubli s'est fait autour de lui...' (l)

 

 

Notes Historiques

 

      In the compilation of the three texts prepared for inclusion in the catalogue - the 'Introduction', 'Notes Historiques' and 'Notes Techniques' - François Guillaume has shown that, without making direct reference to either Arcis de Caumont or Charles de Laugardière, he had obviously relied on their nineteenth century observations and exhortations.

 

      In researching the 'Notes Historiques' (2) it is obvious that he might have resorted to two principal areas of activity, namely, a review of related literature and direct personal contact with either those surviving members of the Talbot dynasty or others within the pottery centre who might have been rich sources of village lore.

      In making reference to the Talbot family, Guillaume places Marie-Louise Chameron and her daughter-in-law, Valentine, in an incorrect geneaological order.

 

 

                       '...Puis apparut Valentine Chameron qui

                       transmit à sa belle-fille, Marie Chameron,

                       un art déjà décadent, condamné à mort par

                       l'usage generalisé des moules ...'(3)

 

      His letter to l'Illustration had once again returned to this theme of a decline during the latter decades of the nineteenth century, and notes, 'le dernier représentant, une femme, Madame Chameron est morte depuis quelques années'. (4)  Though not indicating a fore-name, it is evident that, in this instance, he was referring to Marie-Louise Chameron (née Talbot) who had died in 1923.  Her daughter-in-law, Valentine Chameron (née Cordier) was, in l935, still living in La Borne.

 

                       '... sur la fin de sa vie, M-L Chameron fut

                       aidée par sa belle-fille Valentine Chameron

                       (l866-l954), épouse de Jean-Joseph Chameron.

                                   Elle continua après l923, à fabriquer encriers,

                       salières, sifflets, petits bénitiers, etc. ...' (5)

 

      By the time his catalogue would have gone to press, Valentine Chameron herself had made contact with Guillaume.  Signing herself Veuve Chameron, her husband had died in l9l7 (6), she wrote to him on 26 May, concerning an advertisement for the exhibition which she had read in the previous day's issues of the 'Journal de Sancerre':

 

                       '... Pour votre exposition de Dimanche prochaine,

                       de poteries anciennes de La Borne, je posséde

                       quelques pièces qui pourraient vous intéresser,

                       je crois.

                       Mon nom vous est d'ailleurs connu, je pense, et,

                       est lié à tous les petits objets de poteries qui

                       ont été fait et sont répandus dans le région

                       depuis un demi siècle ...' (7)

 

      There is nothing in the extract to suggest that they had ever met, and her final phrase - 'depuis un demi siècle' - could easily be taken as an indication that her perception of the decorative tradition may have been limited to only her own work and that of her mother-in-law.  In the circumstances then prevailing,,  this may not have been so unusual.  The principal activity of the village was, and remained, the fabrication of utilitarian ware and, other than the épi de faîtage signed by Marie Talbot - 'les Mariés', few other pieces made by the early generations of Talbot appear to have remained in La Borne.  Further, Marie-Louise was not a direct descendent of Jacques-Sébastien Talbot, being a grand-daughter of an elder brother, Jean-Pierre (l767-l822) (8), thus her knowledge of the extended family and their background might very well have been rudimentary.

 

      The direct decendents of Jacques-Sébastien, namely, Alexandre Talbot, still retained his enterprise in the village.  Like others, he had suffered as a result of the strikes when his sons, Edmond and Maurice, had moved to Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye where better working conditions prevailed.  Though they had acquired all the necessary potting skills and had continued to produce decorated objects, their dependence on moulds had contributed to the decline in the quality of their output. (9)

 

      One other possible reason for Guillaume's apparent lack of personal research among the inhabitants of the village could be that, as his letters to Beaux Arts and l'Illustration have shown, it was precisely the half-century that Valentine Chameron had noted in her letter which held little interest for him, and although pieces from this period were to be in the exhibition, his interest lay in the century, l775-l875.

 

      As will become clear, his misunderstanding of the Talbot genealogical tree was to adversely contribute to a small number of the attributions which he attempted to make for the purposes of his catalogue notes.

 

      As to a possible research of related literature, François Guillaume had very little choice.  Though some references had been made to La Borne in a number of volumes of the 'Mémoires de la Société du Antiquaires du Centre', these were almost exclusively devoted to the village as an industrial centre.  Charles de Laugardières, 'Document inédit' had only made passing reference to decorated ware, though the author had reproduced de Caumont's observations.  It has been seen that both his letters to the Parisian journals, as well as his introduction, had been infused with the spirit of that author's observations.  The only other printed material available to him had been Hippolyte Boyer's 'Histoire de la Principauté de Boisbelle-Henrichemont', and he acknowledged the receipt of 'un acte dont M. Gordon nous a obligeamment donné communication' (l0), namely, the document of l8 November, l685, in which both the name of the village is mentioned for the first time and also in which the Talbot surname is recorded.  This, together with Boyer's history leads him to draw the following conclusion:

 

                       '... Nous placerons donc la naissance du centre

                       de poterie qui nous intéresse entre le début du

                       XV1e Siècle et la fin du XVlle, en attendant

                       qu'un document incontestable vienne nous apporter

                       plus de précision ...'(ll)

 

      In addition, he records the three generations of the Talbot family noted by Boyer, namely, Jacques Talbot' artiste potier' en l750; Jacques-Sébastien Talbot', qui nous a laissé une oeuvre relativement considerable en nombre et en qualité.  Il naquit en l770 et mourut en l842" (l2), and his children, Marie and Jean, recorded by Boyer as having 'honorablement maintenu la tradition paternelle des l825 à l860, environ'.(l3)  It is at this point that he makes reference to Valentine and Marie Chameron.  Two other names are mentioned, those of François Panarioux and Louis Auchère.

 

      It is from these few paltry facts that François Guillaume's research on La Borne had relied, and the significance of the problem created for attribution of the unsigned pieces, is highlighted in a brief passage

 

                       '...Ce sont là les seuls noms qui nous soient

                       connus, nous les retrouverons à la signature de

                       quelques - unes des pieces presentées; nous

                       presumons que certains pots non signés doivent

                       leur être attribués mais un grand nombre d'oeuvres

                       restent anonymes ...'(14)

 

Notes Techniques

 

      The two pages devoted to this aspect of the production of ceramics at La Borne must be seen as the first attempt to, firstly describe, however briefly, the nature of the materials, equipment and procedures used in the village, and secondly,  to attempt to place some of these in a broad historical perspective.  Guillaume treats of four distinct areas; the local clay, the wheels, the 'grands fours' and, finally, the glazes of La Borne.

 

 

Clay

 

      Though it has been shown that the potters of the village used clays extracted from diverse clay pits in the region, Guillaume's extract in the 'Notes Techniques' concentrated exclusively on that obtained from the 'trous à terre'; 'une terre riche en colloides hydrogels qu'ils extraient à proximité du village'. (l5)  The chemical composition which he included was precisely that used by Favière, more than a quarter-century later when describing, in 'Le Travail du Potier', the composition of this favoured source of raw material. (l6)

                       Sable fin de quartz .......................             36.8

                       Partie plastique:Kaolinite ...............          39

                       Mica muscovite ............................               l9.5

                       Feldspath .................................                    4.80

                       Oxyde de fer et titane ....................              l.83 (l7)

      Since nothing related to the clay, nor the composition has been noted, nor referenced, in this personal notebook, one can only speculate at to his source.  Two possibilities can be considered.  His most immediate contact in the village was Armand Bedu, whose industrial experience, both in Lyons and at Villeur-Banne, allied to his technical education, would have equipped him with such scientific knowledge.  An alternative source might equally have been Guillaume's close friend, Marc Larchevêque, the director of the family porcelaine factory at Vierzon-Ville.

 

The Potter's Wheels

 

      Reference to the main traditional method of production is brief, since it is evident that the use of the 'tours à bâton' had been transmitted unquestioningly from generation to generation, and their origin lost in the mists of time:

 

                       '...Les poteries sont tournées sur des

                       tours horizontaux autrefois mus au bâton et,

                       depuis quelques années seulement, commandés

                       électriquement...' (l8)

 

 

The `Grands Fours`

 

      Though it is probable that Guillaume was familiar with most of kilns then in activity, the one of which he would have had most knowledge would have been that of Armand Bedu.  Only technical points were noted, for example, 'à axe de tirage oblique', 'une gamme de temperature allant du cone 2 au cone l3.'  The history of the development of such kilns had yet to be researched, thus Guillaume probably felt justified in communicating the popularly held belief that they had resulted from Chinese influence, (l9) though in his letter to Beaux-Arts he had displayed a little more caution, 'inspirés ou copiés des Chinois.' (20)

 

Glazes

 

     The traditional finishes, of which he would have had first-hand knowledge, have been perceived with the eye of one who was familiar with both the utilitarian and decorative pieces.  The basic characteristics of salt-glazing and the effects of 'flying-ash' are patently described to enable his audience, possibly conditioned by 'la palette chatoyante des faïences de la même époque' (21), to more knowledgeably interpret the surface qualities of the pieces on display.  Similarly his brief historical survey, from the first glaze used at La Borne - ' l'émail dit à la cendre ' (22), through the introduction of laitier - 'provenant sans doute des forges d'Ivoy-le-Pré' (23) -, to the use of minium would have provided for them, as it obviously had for him, a rudimentary yard stick for establishing a tentative dating of many of the wares.  His own perception of the 'art populaire' of La Borne is once more unequivocally stated.  The employment of laitier, the initial use of which he dates as about the end of the eighteenth century, had bestowed, in his opinion, 'le bel émail jaune foncé qui constitue une particularité des poteries de La Borne ... en outre l'emploi du minium en remplacement du laitier, pour les pièces de la période décadente, ne produit plus qu'un jaune pâle et fade sans aucun caractère.' (24)

 

      In l935, the foregoing information was all that was available for public consumption, and so it would remain for many years to come, since the nation was to be beset, during the remaining years of the decade, with economic and political problems, before being swept into the events of World War II.  Further to this, of François Guillaume's many commercial and artistic interests, one was to occupy a large proportion of his time and energy during the succeeding few years, namely, the 'Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la vie moderne'.  Without the discovery of his letters to Beaux-arts and l'Illustration, it would have been impossible to assess the totality of his understanding of his field of interest.  To his catalogue notes and these letters, one must add his initial entries in his personal notes on La Borne.  Whether all the thoughts that are now revealed to us were entirely the results of his own deliberations, or the distillation of the corporate knowledge of similarly enthusiastic amateurs, one will never know, but combined, all these documents offer us a relatively precise insight into his thinking at that time.  More specifically, they throw considerable light on the person of François Guillaume himself, and his capacity, even at this early stage, to bring to bear on his subject an educated and informed mind as well as the powers of perception of an acute observer.  Since a number of his conclusions and judgements will be discussed in some detail within their relevant sections, it might suffice here to examine one overarching concept from which most others derived.

 

      His notes show that, whether reliant on journals such as 'l'Art Populaire en France' or not, he had already become conversant with a sufficiency of the examples of the decorated output of La Borne to propose a tentative hypothesis which was in keeping with that which was currently exercising the minds of those engaged in the academic study of this artistic realm: 'on a fait de l'anonymat un des critères de l'art populaire et il est vrai qui beaucoup d'oeuvres n'en sont pas signées'. (25)  As was being discovered elsewhere in other areas, the availability of the names of the major executants, as well as the presence of signatures and dates on some of the pieces, not only disproved this thesis, but further questioned another commonly held belief:

 

                       '... On a dit de l'art populaire - c'est encore

                       le renvoyer à l'anonymat - qu'il était un art

                       collectif ...' (26)

 

      The concept of collectivity, which would attribute the execution of a particular piece to a series of artisans, one throwing, another decorating, and a further taking responsibility for the firing, was being perceived by many as not in any way being different to that which had obtained in the fine arts: 'ne parle-t-on pas, par exemple avec Rubens, de peintures d'atelier?'(27)  By the time the combined resources and expertise of the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires and the Musée du Berry had been brought to bear on the subject, Favière was to comment:

 

                        '... A l'oppose de ce qui a été souvent écrit,

                       nous avons là un exemple parfait d'un art ni

                       anonyme, ni collectif.  Nombre d'objets sont

                       signés.  Bien mieux la production de certains

                       artisans est si caractérisée que l'on peut,

                       par les méthodes ordinaires d'analyse du

                       style, reconstituer leur oeuvre et leur

                       attribuer, parfois du premier coup d'oeil tel

                       ou tel objet ...' (28)

 

      François Guillaume's 'Notes' already contained a rudimentary analysis of the glazes of the village (29) and, as his 'Notes Techniques' has shown, he was sufficiently aware of the history of the use of the different glaze materials in the village to identify the progressive employment of minium as having contributed to, or having been contemporaneous with, the decline of the quality of the 'art populaire' of La Borne. (30)  Another contributor to this decline is noted in the 'Notes Historiques', namely the use of moulded decorative elements which were then 'sprigged' on to hand thrown ware. (31)  This practice he had discerned as having been introduced at some period during the working lifetime of Marie-Louise Chameron, whom he has named in the catalogue as Marie Chameron only.  Though Guillaume does not, in any of his texts, discuss the nature of such moulds, a visual examination of the pieces in question shows that they were mostly either realistic faces or decorative floral-type motifs.  The original forms for the former could either have been carefully hand modelled before being cast, or reproductions in clay extracted from moulds achieved by taking impressions from objects either industrially produced, or originally made in a material other than clay.  In any event, the character and style of such moulded decorative additions mostly failed to produce that integration of form and decoration which was evident in the earlier pieces, while the sprigged decoration was conventional and patently derived from techniques alien to the procedures of the peasant potter, and foreign, as motifs, to their experience.

 

      The observation of such usages at least provided him with a few criteria with which to commence, not only an evaluation of the pieces available but also, a tentative dating and attribution of some of the unsigned and undated pieces.  As for the problems of 'collectivity' and 'anonymity', the signed pieces were sufficient evidence of the existence of at least some individual 'artist-potters', and his reading of Boyer has provided him with this confirmation.  Boyer had likewise recorded 'avec certitude Jacques Talbot comme artiste potier en l750' (32) and this fact, allied to the presence in the exhibition of a small liquor bottle in the form of a bonneted female figure - 'Datée de l783 (la plus ancienne pièce qui nous soit connue) (33) - had led him to the conclusion:

 

                       '... Vers le milieu de XVllle siècle apparut un

                       artisan qui, le premier a l'idée - originale ou

                       empruntée - de donner une allure humaine à quelques

                       pichets.  Nait alors une école d'art populaire

                       souvent gauche et naïve, s'élevant quelques fois par

                       la vérité des attendus, jusqu'à une expression fidele

                       de la vie, caricaturant les seigneurs ou les paysans

                       de l'époque ... reproduisant dans ses costumes, dans

                       ses métiers, la vie artisanale et paysanne de ce coin

                       du Berry au début du dernier siècle ...' (34)

 

      Though, at the time of the exhibition, examples of Jacques-Sébastien's purely utilitarian pieces had not yet been rediscovered, it could readily be taken for granted that his prowess on the tour à baton would have equalled that of the best throwers of La Borne.  The same could not, however, be claimed for either his daughter or for Marie-Louise Chameron, since traditionally, the female role in the production process was restricted to that of 'anseuse' - making and applying handles - thus it might readily have been presumed that they developed their decorated pieces from forms originally thrown by men.  Though this division of labour may have existed, it was nonetheless clear that those characteristics which elevated any one piece to the status of 'art populaire' - 'épis de faîtages, fontaines, calvaires, bouteilles à eau-de-vie, chandeliers, jouets d'enfants, brocs à vin de toutes formes (35) - were, in most cases sufficiently differentiated to suggest to Guillaume 'un prototype toujours variés dans ses détails.' (36)

 

      Finally, his examination of the forms as well as his analysis of the decorative elements, particularly those recorded in his 'Notes' have shown that, during the course of the century to which he had consecrated his energies, the artist - potters of La Borne had never felt constrained to work within parameters which were fixed and static:

 

                                   '... Pour les pièces qui ne sont pas ornées de

                       personnages ou d'animaux, les éléments décoratifs -

                       au nombre de quelques unités mais adroitement

                       variés - ont constitué un véritable style, assez

                       originale pour donner aux poteries de La Borne

                       une allure très personnelle dans les productions

                       similaires ...' (37)