CHAPTER VIII

 

 

THE GUILLAUME EXHIBITION OF JUNE, l935

 

 

      The exhibition which François Guillaume and his wife, Elisabeth, mounted in their premises in 23, rue des Arènes, Bourges, and which Jean Favière has described as 'la premier bilan méthodique de l'oeuvre de l'art populaire de La Borne' (l), was opened to the public and the press on Sunday, 2 June, l935.  Though his 'Notes' give  some indication as to the extent of his knowledge of the village at that time, there is little in it to indicate his precise aims in organising an exhibition of work devoted to 'l775 - Un Siècle d'Art populaire berrichon à La Borne (pres Henrichemont Cher) - l875'.  These are broadly stated in the small but comprehensive catalogue which he compiled, and had printed, for the occasion:

 

                       '...En organisant la rétrospective dont nous nous

                       présentons le catalogue, nous nous sommes fixé

                       plusieurs buts: d'abord faire connaître une forme

                       d'art populaire berrichon, et, partant, éviter que

                       soient dédaignées et détruites les oeuvres si

                       originales de La Borne, encore réleguées dans

                       certains greniers.

                       Nous avons voulu aussi contribuer, dans notre modeste

                       mesure, à l'histoire des poteries régionales et

                       rendre juste hommage à la mémoire des artisans, qui.

                       ... ont patiemment enrichi le patrimoine artistique

                       de nôtre Berry ...'(2)

 

 

      Fortuitously, carbon copies of two letters have been preserved, both to major national art journals.  One is handwritten to 'l'Illustration', a magazine to which his father had been a subscriber for a number of years, and a second is typed to 'Beaux-Arts' which, in its issue of 3, July l934, had published the article on Joseph Massé which appeared under François Guillaume's name.  Together with the catalogue texts, these letters provide a more comprehensive insight into a series of themes which, in addition to his declared aims, were evidently exercising his mind at that time.  Though present in embryonic form, and not as yet fully articulated as a precise programme of action, they do help to establish indicators which one can observe being developed with more purpose as the succeeding decades unfolded.  Presumably because he had not had a prior contact with 'l'Illustration', and was writing to it without an introduction from any influential source, he felt constrained to argue a closely reasoned case when seeking its assistance in giving national coverage to his project.  It is thus in this letter that his concern for La Borne, its history and its products are more completely articulated.  Writing to the editor, Monsieur Jacques Baschet, on l5 March, l935, he reaffirms what he had indicated to 'Beaux-Arts', two days previously:

 

                       '... De mon coté je me propose d'organiser ê

                       Bourges dans mon magasin une exposition

                       rétrospective de poteries de La Borne au mois

                       de Mai...' (3)

 

      Since his regular mid-year exhibitions normally took place in the month of June, coinciding with the Foire du Printemps in Bourges, his declared intention of mounting this particular manifestation in May, suggests that he may have been viewing it as an independent event.  The time scale which he was then projecting and, as will be seen, the dates of most of his correspondence concerning the event, suggest that he had been galvanised into action in a rather spontaneous and hurried way.

 

      No other supporting documentation has come to light to indicate with any precision the moment at which François Guillaume took the decision, though there is more than a suspicion that the intention was formulated, or an already gestating idea was given concrete form, during the visit of Georges Lechevalier-Chevignard to Bourges, in December l934, for the Sèvres exhibition in the Maison Guillaume.  Lechevalier-Chevignard's interest was such that he eventually travelled to Bourges from Sèvres with the express purpose of visiting the exhibition, and it was he who was responsible for providing Guillaume with the occasion of bringing his project to the attention of 'Beaux-Arts'.  On his express recommendation, M. Simon Lissim of that journal wrote to François Guillaume, on l8 February, l935, seeking his assistance in compiling a special issue devoted to ceramics and glass.

 

                       '...Connaissant votre compétence en ce qui

                       concerne ces sujets, nous serions heureux que

                       vous nous indiquiez les personnes et les

                       manufactures qui pourraient s'intéresser à un

                       numero de ce genre...'(4)

 

      Following an initial response of l9 February in which he promised 'un aperçu sur la Céramique et la Vererrie en Berry' (5) Guillaume compiled a further letter, dated l3 March, l935, in which he provided a succinct but authoritative description of 'les gens qui touchent de près ou de loin au sujet qui nous occupe, les artisans et les petits industriels ..., ceux qui intéresseront le plus vos lecteurs'.(6)  Featuring at the head of his list was his colleague from Soye-en-Septaine:

 

                       '... Monsieur Joseph Massé  que vous connaissez

                       déjà est actuellement la personnalité la plus

                       originale du monde céramique berrichon.  Sa valeur

                       dépasse mème le cadre local et permet de le

                       comparer aux meilleurs céramistes français ...' (7)

 

      Reference to the production of his own ceramic undertakings is restricted to a surprisingly brief comment:

 

                       '...La Maison Guillaume édite quelques sculptures de

                       l'Ecole Berryère du XVe siècle:

                                   l'Angelôt de Bourges

                                   l'ange en prière

                                   le Roi Mag.

                       Elle crée pour une importante clientèle hôtelière des

                       décors origineaux ...'(8)

 

      By contrast, more fully developed and more revealing of his intention was his passage devoted to the work of La Borne, 'Centre de potiers produisant des grès cuits, comme ceux de Verneuil, au grand feu dans des fours à axe de tirage oblique inspirés ou copiés des Chinois.'(9)  His description of the utilitarian ware is cursory, as it would be in the introduction to the exhibition catalogue:

 

                       '... depuis toujours, ils font des "pots": pots à

                       lait, pots à saler, et autres récipients d'usage

                       domestique aux forme d'une beauté simple ...'(l0)

 

      In his letter to` l'Illustration`, the extent of his interest in such ware is more fully developed:

 

                       '... les origines de cette industrie sont encore

                       obscures et rien sans doute, ne serait venu jusqu'à

                       nos jours marqués d'histoire de La Borne, monotone

                       dans la fabrication, indéfinement repétée de poteries

                       humbles aux belles formes sobres consacrées et fixées

                       par un usage seculaire ...' (ll)

 

      It is only in his response to 'Beaux-Arts' that his personal interest in the total production of the village is unequivocally revealed.  Reference to the utilitarian ware is confined to two short sentences, to be immediately followed by a personal evaluation of their aesthetic merit:

 

                       '...Du point de vue artistique, toutes ces poteries

                       n'ont pas un intéràt considerable; elles sont de

                       belles formes, les couvertes ont quelquefois de

                       belles couleurs, mais c'est tout.  L'intérêt de

                       La Borne réside surtout dans une production qui

                       s'est developpée entre le milieu du l8e siècle et

                       la fin du l9e ...'(l2)

 

      It is at this juncture that the content of the main body of the exhibition becomes clear.  'l775-l875; Un Siècle d'Art populaire à La Borne (près d'Henrichemont, Cher)' was more than an exhibition title as far as François Guillaume was concerned.  It is also indicative of his continuing interest in one specific aspect of the production of La Borne, namely, the 'poterie de fantaisie', consolidated primarily by Jacques-Sébastien Talbot, and continued by the succeeding generations of the Talbot dynasty

 

      More specifically, in so far as his proposed exhibition is concerned, it clarifies his selection of the century, l775-l875, as the focus of that exhibition.  François Guillaume's own small collection, in addition to close observation of pieces available locally, had apparently led him to the conclusion that it had been sometime around l875 that the art of the village had started to decline, 'condamné à mort par l'usage généralisé des moules.' (l3)

 

      His earlier date, l775, while assisting in establishing a convenient starting point, can only have been determined by the dated and signed - (Talbot cc juillet l777 à La Borne) - section of the épi de faîtage, then in the collection of the Musée du Berry and loaned to Guillaume for the exhibition.  In addition, Hippolyte Boyer, in his 'Histoire de la Principauté de Boisbelle' had noted a Jacques Talbot as a potter in La borne in l750.  It was from this perspective of the work produced in the village that François Guillaume had derived, and was to continue to derive, most of the conclusions which were to inform the other themes developed both in the letters and subsequently in his catalogue.

 

      The question must then be asked: why did François Guillaume designate this ware as 'Art Populaire', and so use it as a focus for his exhibition?  Though no documentary evidence pertinent to this branch of art historical study has been discovered in his remaining papers, one can feel sufficiently secure in proposing that he was aware of the regional, national, and international efforts which were then being made to record and conserve examples of such art.  In addition to his own wide, and informed, interests in the arts in general, it is possible that knowledge of this movement may have come from sources such as the fortnightly, 'L'Art Vivant'.  That magazine had published, between l5 June, l928 and l5 February, l929, a series of articles by Ernest Tisserand,  devoted to  'La Céramique Française.' (l4)   In  its issue of l January, l929, a study of Massé's work had been included.  Massé himself, and Guillaume, had acquired those copies covering the complete series.  Volume No. 90 of 'L'Art Vivant' discussed some of the broad issues involved in the study of 'art populaire' and announced the first international meeting of specialists of the subject at the forthcoming 'Congrès Des Arts Populaires', to be held in Prague during the month of October.(l5)

 

      In late l929, the annual, 'L'Art Populaire en France' was first published and on 28 June, l930, at the Musée d'Ethnographie, the nation witnessed the foundation of a 'Commission des Arts Populaires de La France et des Colonies'   (C.N.A.P.).(l6)  With Henri Clouzot as General Secretary and Pierre-Louis Duchartre as Assistant Secretary it set about rationalising, at national level, the study of the 'arts populaires' in France, from its head quarters in l5, rue Ernest-Cresson, in Paris.(l7)  Coincidently one of the contributors to the Guillaume exhibition, a Monsieur Golden, resided at No. l3.  From its beginning, the Commission Nationale des Arts Populaires set out to establish a repertory of all those engaged in the study and to constitute film and photographic archives of works conserved in public and private collections.(l8)  To this end, it announced that it would be grateful to all who could furnish details of the following:

 

                                   (i)    the region studied

                                   (ii)   questions which are of greatest interest

                                   (iii)  books, articles and studies already published

                                   (iv)   the actual object of research. (l9)

          

In l947, Duchartre, in an article devoted to the 'Musée du Berry à Bourges' described research which 'nôtre regretté collaborateur Henri Clouzot et nous-même avons poursuivies ensemble sur les potiers de terre, notamment ceux de La Borne.'(20)  Only an approximate date is given for these studies - 'I'l y a une vingtaine d'années que nous avons noué amitié avec l'un des maîtres potiers de La Borne, M. Bedu-Talbot, descendant de nôtre Jean (!) -Sébastien Talbot et Marie Chameron de la famille Talbot également,' - thus, given Guillaume's close collaboration with Armand Bedu, one is led to conclude that he was aware of the interest that had been shown in the village by these two researchers.

 

      During his lifetime, Duchartre's writings concentrated primarily on Ethnography, the Theatre, popular engravings and the history of Hunting.  An extensive search of authoritative bibliographies have revealed nothing, either by he or Henri Cluzot, devoted exclusively to ceramics.  On the occasion of the exhibition, 'Trésors d'Art Populaire dans les Pays de France', held in the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires, in l956, the catalogue contained the following:

 

                       '... Aucune monographie n'a paru à ce jour sur

                       l'ensemble de la céramique populaire en France.

                       La regretté Henri Clouzot en avait entrepris le

                       lourd travail en collaboration avec P.L. Duchartre,

                       ce dernier le poursuit...' (22)

 

           Nothing else has been unearthed to reveal continuing, systematic, research in the village at the time, and it is possible that this apparent lack of interest eventually stimulated François Guillaume to initiate his own study.  Most certainly it was such a concern which he strongly expressed to both 'l'Illustration' and 'Beaux-Arts'.  Writing to the former, he advised them of one of his aims; 'Attiré à La Borne, ou j'ai, moi même travaillé, je me suis attaché à sauver ce que j'ai pu de ces petits chefs d'oeuvres' (23), and, noting the existence of other pieces in the immediate region, he adds:

 

                       '... Quelques amateurs Berrichons ont conservé

                       les pièces transmises de leurs parents et les

                       poteries de La Borne, aussi dignes d'intérêt

                       qu'ignorées totalement des milieux officials de

                       la céramique, tombent dans l'oubli ...'(24)

 

      His language, in describing the gradual destruction and dissappearance of the 'art populaire' of the village, evokes that of Arcis de Caumont, written almost seventy years previously.  Guillaume's concerns are the same in l935:

 

                       '...La production qui n'avait jamais été très

                       nombreuse, a eu fort à souffrir du temps et de

                       la sottise des hommes.  Les épis de faîtage ont

                       été cassés ou détruits par la gelée, les calvaires

                       ont servi de cible aux gamins, les pichets n'ont

                       pas mieux resisté, si bien que les "La Borne" sont

                       de plus en plus rares ...' (25)

 

      de Caumont's passage in the 'Bulletin Monumentale' of l869 had been equally pessimistic, though his comments had been restricted to those pieces he had recorded, principally the ceramic headstones in the cemetery of Henrichemont and 'croix de carrefour' of the region: 'Nous ne croyons guère qu'il soit possible de lutter avec chance de succès contre le courant aveugle qui les emporte.  Mais, en prévision de leur disparition, nous avons voulu, en consignant ici l'impression qu'ils nous ont laissée, conserver leur souvenir à l'adresse des ràveurs et des archéologues de l'avenir' (26)  As his 'Notes' show Guillaume was familiar with both de Caumont's comments as well as those of Charles de Laugardière who, since he himself had not been able to undertake any research, had expressed the aspiration that 'd'autres seront peut-être un jour tenté de l'entreprendre.'(27)  There is every reason to suppose that François Guillaume perceived himself as having to undertake that task, particularly since his own small collection and those of de la Nézière and Massé, in augmenting the pieces that had been preserved by some local families, provided him with a more varied range of wares than would have come to the attention of either of the nineteenth century writers.  But seemingly more challenging was the fact that, in the nineteen-thirties, these pieces still suffered from official neglect:

 

                       '...Il n'y avait pas de poteries de La Borne à la

                       rétrospective des Poteries Françaises au Pavilion

                       de Marsan, bien que ces poteries remontent au

                       l8e Siècle et qu' ainsi elles rentraient dans le

                       cadre prevu.  Il n'y a pas non plus de poteries

                       de La Borne au Musée de Sèvres, Seul possédent,

                       à ma connaissance, quelques exemplaires les

                       Musées de Bourges, Nevers, Issoudun ...'(28)

 

      To 'Beaux Arts' he had written, 'cette exposition constituera une révélation' and, patently with a view to soliciting more professional assistance from 'l'Illustration', his letter had been pointed:

 

                       '...Ce sera l'occasion peut être unique, de

                       juger, d'un coup d'oeil sur un centaine de

                       pièces, un siècle de production, et de

                       conserver pour l'avenir de precieux documents

                       photographiques ...' (29)

 

      The response from Jacques Baschet was not to be encouraging.  Writing from Paris on l April, (30) he acknowledged that, though conversant with the province of Berry as a centre of ceramics, he was not fully documented on all its history.  However, noting that many major artistic manifestations would be taking place in Paris during the month of May, he explained that it would probably be most difficult to absent himself from the capital to visit Bourges.  Despite this set-back, François Guillaume continued with his project, marshalling the interest of both local amateurs of La Borne as well as that of his Parisian-based friend, Joseph de la Nézière.