Though the Sevres factory dominated porcelain production in France in the 18th and 19th centuries, other factories, especially in Paris, worked hard to emulate its success.
In the quarter century between 1790 and 1815, France saw riots, revolution, regicide, the institution of a Republic, the Terror, the creation of a European Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte, military defeat and the restoration of the ousted monarchy by conquering powers.
Despite all this upheaval, something like normal life went on. People continued to work and create, and some industries actually thrived. Several new porcelain manufacturers, for instance, turned out richly decorated and elegant wares that belied the political and economic turmoil.
In Paris in particular, several factories opened in the 1770s, following the relaxation of laws giving Sevres a monopoly on porcelain manufacture. Sevres remained the dominant presence and the Paris factories were largely content to imitate its rather severe, rigid, neo-classical decorative styles; none developed a different, individual look of their own.
All used hard-paste porcelain and the majority made only tableware, leaving elaborate neo-classical vases, urns and other ornamental china to Sevres. The Paris factories continued to thrive after the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo; some of their best work was created in the 1820s and 1830s.
Economic factors and changes in popular taste meant that the porcelain industry in Paris died out in the second half of the 19th century.
The main porcelain centre outside Paris was at Limoges, close to the main sources of kaolin and other minerals used in the making of porcelain. A factory was established there in 1771 under the patronage of the king's brother and was bought by Louis XVI in 1784 to make wares for decoration at Sevres. Other factories moved or were established there in the 19th century. Today, it's the chief centre of porcelain production in France.
FRENCH PORCELAIN COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Those who enjoy the style of the decorative porcelain produced by the Sevres factory in the 18th and early 19th century, but find it well beyond their pockets, could do worse than pick up the similar, much cheaper pieces produced in Paris and Limoges, many of which may have been passed off as Sevres in the past. Single items from tea and dinner services can be found at reasonable prices.
Look for early French porcelain in dealers, at antiques fairs and markets, and at auctions. Specializing in the work of a particular factory is fraught with difficulty; the products of many of the Paris factories were much alike. The majority of pieces will probably not bear a mark, or will have had the crossed 'L' of Sevres added later!
The La Courtille factory is an exception to this. Its products, many of which were pirated from figures modelled for Sevres, carried a mark of crossed torches or crossed arrows painted in underglaze blue. Another important factory, set up in 1795 by the Darte brothers in the Rue de Charonne, made fine Sevres copies with the painted signature Darte Freres.
Fakes and reproductions are unheard-of; if anything genuine original pieces will have been altered to make them look more like Sevres. When buying, look for pieces in good condition, with no cracks or chips or visible flaws. The gilding should be clear and not faded. The main appeal of these wares today is decorative, so choose pieces that are painted in styles, colours and designs you actually like, rather than ones you think might be valuable.
Read articles and references:
Good standards are Warman's
English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (Susan and Al Bagdade), and Marks
& Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain (William Chaffers).