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» » The history of Porcelain Bisque

The history of Porcelain Bisque

October 2021 | Galerie Atena


Bisque bust,

Bisque bust, "Allegory of Spring", by Charles-Auguste Arnaud and Henri Ardant

Biscuit Statuette

Detail of a bisque statuette "Young woman with a broken jug"--19th Century Period

Paul Duboy, Bisque Statue

Paul Duboy, Bisque Statue "Young Girl in a Ball Gown"

Fan of seafood ? Well that's not the kind of bisque we are going to talk about. Bust, peasant, queen of the ball or centerpiece, they are of an immaculate whiteness to decorate the interiors. Their production began in the 18th century in a French factory that quickly distributed them throughout Europe. But what is the bisque ? What is its history?


Bisque creation, an economic issue


In the 18th century, aristocrats loved exotic objects: lacquers, cotton from India and especially porcelain. The latter, born in China in the 7th-8th century, fascinated by its whiteness and translucence. Europeans brought it from the East to satisfy their curiosity. They also tried to find the secret of this production as soon as the seventeenth century, but without success. They lacked the essential component for its manufacture: kaolin.


Pair of Ormolu-Mounted Porcelain Horses by the Samson Factory

Pair of Porcelain Horses by the Samson Factory imitating the Saxe manufacture

At the very beginning of the 18th century, a source of porcelain was discovered in Germany in Saxony. In 1708, the Meissen manufacture began the first production of porcelain in Europe. The collectors woulld then turn to this new place of production to satisfy their taste, to the great despair of Colbert, the French Minister of Finance. He held the french economy with an iron hand and promoted French manufactures in all fields: textiles, furniture, mirrors... But the spending on porcelain escaped him and represented a capital outflow to foreign countries.


It was decided to create a factory in France to compete with Saxon porcelain. In 1745, the king granted to a factory installed in the Vincennes' castle, the exclusive privilege to make porcelain "in the way of Saxony, painted and gilded with human figure". Unfortunately, it was not very successful at first. Most of it was porcelain flowers produced to decorate artificial bouquets in vases coming from the neighboring country.


Late 19th Century Small Chandelier with porcelain flowers in Meissen taste.

Small chandelier decorated with porcelain flowers in Meissen taste.


Not in possession of hard porcelain secrets, the manufacture of Vincennes develops a technique using frit, a paste of glass and crystal which remains white and opaque. At first, it imitated German shapes, but the craftsmen noticed that the glaze, a transparent or colored glaze that coats the pieces, was detrimental to the finesse of their work. Indeed, it accumulates in the folds and in the details of the French sculptures, which reduced the quality. In 1753, Jean-Jacques Bachelier had figurines made that were deliberately left without enamel and without decoration. Thus was born the bisque.


It was the beginning of a huge success. Louis XV, who bought the factory on the advice of Madame de Pompadour, moved it to Sevres in 1756. It kept the name of Sèvres manufacture to this day. The king made large orders for his own decoration, but also to make diplomatic gifts. Sèvres porcelain is found in all European courts. By receiving these delicate works, foreign sovereigns discovered the taste for bisque. A large number of orders for the Sèvres manufacture arrived, sometimes abandoning the productions of Meissen. France took over the European market.




Biscuit "Diana Holding the Lioness" after Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887)

Biscuit of a young girl knitting

Biscuit "Young girl knitting" from the Scheibe-Alsbach

French Porcelain Biscuit

French Porcelain Biscuit "Les travaux des amours" in the style of Falconet


The revolution in French porcelain took place in 1770 with the discovery of kaolin in the country. The hard paste, real porcelain, arrived. Louis XV bought the land of Saint Yrieux where the precious clay was located. However, it was not until 1774 that its use was established in Sèvres. The manufacturing process became less time-consuming and less expensive, but it needed to generate fires four times more powerful. At first, it was reserved for bisque, because the glazes and enamels were not yet mastered. These small sculptures have a more pronounced whiteness, a soft polish and an almost crystalline sound. This technique also makes it possible to produce large statues. This matte white imitates statuary marble and makes the porcelain bisque a true work of art, no longer a simple decoration.


Sevres bisque or copy ?

But the Sèvres manufacture was not the only one to produce porcelain bisque. Because of their great success, copies of the Sèvres soft paste porcelain were soon produced. Even if it was forbidden, some competing manufactures did not hesitate to recruit the craftsmen directly at the royal manufacture offering them much higher wages. Indeed, being satisfied only to copy the existing models, they did not need to recruit a renowned sculptor to make some.


Porcelain bisque are even easier to copy because they do not have a mark. Marks are generally used to determine if a piece is authentic or not. The Sèvres manufacture of the XVIIIth century presents the royal monogram, two L's facing each other as well as a figure indicating the date of creation all under the glaze. However, when the decision was made to create pieces without enamel, a problem arises. What prevented other factories from buying pieces without any decoration with the Sèvres mark and making "over decoration" to them to pass them off as originals? It was decided not to put the mark on the bisque.


Sèvres' mark under a tea service of our collection

Sèvres' mark under a tea service of our collection, 19th century

One cannot trust the word Sèvres under one of these statuettes either. It is not a guarantee of its origin since several factories settled in the city to benefit from the fame of the royal manufacture. To distinguish a Sèvres porcelain bisque, one must therefore study the quality of the work, the quality of the material and the detailed rendering of the sculpture, which only experts are able to recognize.


Finally, France is not the only country to produce porcelain biscuit. All the European courts tried to create factories capable of producing these precious ornaments. The Meissen manufacture itself started to produce objects without glaze to compete with its great competitor Sèvres.


Meissen Bisque Centerpiece:

Meissen Bisque Centerpiece: "The Four Seasons", 18th century



Bisques are still produced today in many European factories, but Sèvres remains the reference for this technique. Every year, contemporary artists are invited to discover this skill and innovate with it. In spite of its long history, the porcelain bisque remains a technique well anchored in the contemporary world.


Want to know more about the techniques of porcelain bisque making? Next week, discover the steps in a new article.