Exposition prolongée jusqu'au 16 décembre 2012 au Musée Archéologique de Lattes



    histoire siffre Tin-glazed pottery, or faience, is a type of earthenware which spread into France from Italy. Workshops flourished after the Renaissance and diversified into a large number of local styles, such as the famous Moustiers faience.

    Faience earthenware became fashionable in French bourgeois households since it was fine enough to reproduce the shapes and styles of silver plates and dishes which only aristocrats could afford, while offering a wide and subtle range of decorative styles and colours.

    histoire siffre Faience was superseded by industrial production from the 19th century, but stayed on as an artistic form of pottery production which collectors and art lovers have never ceased to appreciate.

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    Montpellier was a special case in that it had one of the oldest and largest medical faculties in Europe—Rabelais was a student there. This is why the town had many apothecaries, who ordered quantities of special vessels from local potters. The town's walls were belted round with pottery workshops where craftsmen used locally-dug clay to satisfy the demand, in the golden age of Montpellier faience. Montpellier was then the most famous centre for apothecary earthenware production in France.

    The Musée des Arts Décoratifs de Montpellier (Musée Sabatier d'Espeyran; see also the Musée de la Miséricorde, the museum of Miséricorde convent in Montpellier) exhibits some spectacular pieces of pharmacy pots, which could be very large and lavishly decorated.


    histoire siffre 3 By the 20th century, industrial ceramics replaced these workshops, which disappeared completely for over a century, but the craft of the past was revived by a young decorator on his return from the war in 1945. Paul Artus (1914 - 2007) researched archives and studied the tools, molds and implements left over by generations of Montpellier potters, gradually rediscovering the lost recipes of glazing mixtures by trial and error and perfecting his art until he became a veritable repository of earthenware lore and expert know-how.

    Paul Artus was joined in his workshop by his son Pierre and his son-in-law Henri Siffre, and generations of Montpellier inhabitants remember the relaxed and industrious atmosphere of the workshop in Rue de la Taillade, where Paul's career culminated in the 50s, 60s and 70s, leaving testimonies of his art, not only in exquisitely-wrought tableware, but in pieces such as a series of outdoor Calvary pieces and innumerable commemorative plaques or decorative house plaques which can still be seen in the streets of Montpellier.

    histoire siffre This was how the Faience de Montpellier style of tin-glazed pottery came to be revived, thanks to the hard work and commitment of a family who, to this day, have remained the sole inheritors of an age-old craft.


    histoire siffre François Siffre, Paul Artus' grandson, has played with clay since before he could walk, and he has taken up with passion the pursuit of his grandfather. He inherited Paul Artus' stock of material and tools, and proudly protects a collection of objects (such as original molds for tableware) passed down since the 18th century, and still in use.

    François was a young apprentice in his early teens, in 1980, and became an expert potter. He was recently commissioned by the Musée des Arts décoratifs de Montpellier and the Faculté de Pharmacie de Montpellier to reproduce some of the finest pieces in the collection of apothecary pots kept by the Montpellier medical school, and has been agreed to handle original museum pieces in order to make copies of historical pottery pieces with the French National Museums.

    François' wife, Virginie, is an expert in decoration ("grand feu" technique), and together they produce pieces which seem to emerge directly out of the 1780s—but are as handy and strong as they are pretty, and go unharmed in a dishwasher and microwave oven. François has also developed a more modern line of objects adapted to a variety of tastes, and he is pleased to give quotes and work to order so as to satisfy customers in search of a commemorative piece, a special present for a wedding or a birth, or any particular occasion or business occasions. histoire siffre


    In 2011, the pottery workshop moved from the area of Montpellier to the historical town of Pézenas in the Languedoc. Pézenas is famous for being where Molière's career was launched, when his patron the Prince de Conti stayed there and entertained his aristocratic friends with performances given by Molière's troupe in the 1650s. Pézenas plays a particular role in the Languedoc; once a brilliant and influent town where the aristocratic members of the Etats de Languedoc sat in sessions, it was punished by the King for its rebelliousness.

    Deprived of the privileges which its neighbour Montpellier benefited from, it lost its importance, thus preserving the original scale of its historical centre, which contains many jewels of 17th and 18th-century architecture. The town has capitalized on this exceptional inheritance by promoting the arts and crafts, and the little streets and sunny places of Pézenas are lined with workshops where artisans demonstrate their skills and offer their wares.

    This is where François and Virginie work and welcome visitors in the old town centre, at 25 rue de la Foire, Pézenas. No pottery lover should miss a visit to their workshop ! The workshop is open every day throughout Spring and Summer, and on weekends and holiday periods in Autumn and Winter.

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