Vieillard: Bordeaux earthenware

Although it closed in 1895, the Jules Vieillard factory maintains a special relationship with the people of Bordeaux. Old Bordeaux families are fond of the widely-varied faience produced by this company, which employed several hundred people. I am no exception.

I have known Vieillard for as far back as I can remember. As a little girl, I amused myself at meals by deciphering the rebuses on Vieillard dessert plates. Later, I learned that production at the Chartrons-based factory was not limited to just these plates. In Bordeaux second-hand shops and at the now-defunct Mériadeck flea market, I witnessed the infinite variety of pieces from the Vieillard factory.

There are many Vieillard dinnerware sets. The simpler ones were made as series and the faience is printed with monochrome motifs. Others are rarer with enamel in relief. There are commissions, like that of the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce and Industry, with its arms and the impressive centerpiece decorated with dolphins.

Dinnerware sets must not overshadow everything else: bath sets, large decorative plates, clocks, enormous bowls, vases, urns, planters, window boxes, fountains and even aquariums! There are also statues and figurines: the most well-known ones include cherubs, dolphins, Venus on a shell and umbrella stands with herons.How can you recognize a Vieillard? It’s incredibly easy, even for novices. Just turn the piece over to see the signature on the back. Certain techniques are also unique to Vieillard, such as cloisonné enamel. In fact, Amédée de Caranza introduced it at Vieillard. This man was a true enigma. We knew that he worked in Bordeaux but not where he was born or what career he had before and after. Intrigued by this virtually unknown talented character, I launched myself into research. I eventually discovered that Amédée de Caranza was born in Constantinople in 1843, then came to Paris with his family and worked there before coming to Bordeaux. He left for the United States around 1890 and worked in glass, then came back to France before dying in Suresnes in 1914.

To continue soaking up the spirit of Vieillard, I’ll visit the musée des Arts décoratifs in Bordeaux, which has Vieillard pieces. I also visit the antique dealers on rue Notre-Dame, and on Sunday mornings I go the Saint-Michel flea market or the seasonal Quinconces second-hand fair. I also like to take a peek inside the restaurant La Belle Epoque to admire the floor-to-ceiling Vieillard panels in its dining room. And when I take rue David Johnston, I think of this former Bordeaux mayor who was a wine merchant and the predecessor of Jules Vieillard, who purchased his faience factory in 1845.

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