The Gien Faïencerie is first established in 1821 in Gien in the Loire Valley, at the heart of France. Its history goes back two hundred years. Its founder is Thomas Hall, an Englishman eager to promote and expand fine English faïence in France.
Before Gien was founded, Thomas Hall was involved with the Montereau faïencerie. He handed over his interest in the company, to go on to a project to revive the Pont aux Choux faïencerie in Paris. At the time it is the only faïencerie in the Paris area. It produces sophisticated pieces of faïence with a close resemblance to silverware, inspired by English know-how.
He finally settles on the choosing to locate in Gien which had all the assets necessary to make faïence : sand and water from the royal river to make clay paste, and wood from the nearby Sologne forest to stoke the kilns. In addition, the Loire river was the main means of transporting goods, up until the mid 19th century.
Gien’s history can be divided into 6 major periods, up until the 2014 takeover :
First steps (1821 – 1850)
Products were designed to suit the tastes and culture of the times : pure white Faïence on an elaborate form inspired by silverware, or with a pattern in shades of one single color (black, sepia..) based on romantic topics or antiquity themes (scenes from Atala by Chateaubriand, for example), the first theme collections…
The factory had a rough ride in the beginning due to both financial difficulties and quality drawbacks in production - the making process requires considerable fine-tuning.
Golden Age (1850 – 1914)
By the 1840s, the Faïencerie de Gien has mastered making techniques and is turning out fine quality products which are constantly being perfected with new developments.
These improvements are acknowledged by the industry with a string of awards presented at various different exhibitions, not only in France but also further afield (United States, Australia). The track record is particularly impressive in Paris at a number of successive Universal Exhibitions.
In creative terms, just as in the beginning, Gien follows the trends and tastes of the time. During the second French Empire period, Gien is in pursuit of excellence and produces a wide-ranging style of products, drawing inspiration from different fashions that marked the history of faïence, and sometimes porcelain, over previous centuries : Italian faïence, Rouen, Marseille, Far East designs, etc.
This line of approach only follows suit with current trends in decorative arts. Similarly these trends can be seen in cabinet making (Napoléon III/Louis XIV styles (Boulle), Louis XV, Loui XVI, néo-medieval, etc.), or in the field of architecture (Viollet-Le-Duc).
Interlude (1918 – 1984)
After the First World War
After the Great War Gien focuses on growth of its activity with a mainly industrial logic. Two decades pass during which the factory is modernized and “tunnel” kilns, with a 5-day firing cycle, are installed.
After the Second World War
Post second world war Gien in a paradoxical situation : the surge – this is undoubtedly the case but was also coupled with a lack of daring – in creativity and marketing - is not sufficently powerful to compensate for having over diversified and lost in competitiveness. The company files for bankruptcy in 1984.
At this time, on the impetus of Jean Bertholle followed by Pierre Maitre – Gien’s creations draw inspiration from it’s heritage in an approach concentrating on re-issuing or reinterpreting patterns (often with great success - take Pont-Aux-Choux for example or the new themed collections). At the same time new territory is also being explored, consistent with the Brand, such as the hunting theme creation with the ”Rambouillet” dinner service purchased by Vincent Auriol for the château of the same name, or “romantic” exotism, with the “Caraïbes” pattern.
Revival or Pierre Jeufroy era (1984 – 2003)
After taking over the Faïencerie in 1984, Pierre Jeufroyimplements a radical restructuring plan and sets his sights on the high end of the market.
While continuing to draw inspiration from the brand’s DNA, he starts the Museum in 1985 and calls upon prominent artists and designers to breathe new life into the company and boost brand awareness and image. This is how artists such as Garouste et Bonetti, Paco Rabanne, Jean-Michel Willemotte ou Jean Cortot came to work with the Faïencerie
Continuation (2003 – 2014)
The rebound (2014 - today)
May 2014 marks the takeover of the Faïencerie de Gien by Yves de Talhouët and Pascal d’Halluin.
Two men, driven by a keen interest in the Faïencerie and convinced of the outstanding quality of its products and international renown, decide both to keep to tradition and to explore new avenues, spotlighting contemporary talent and implementing new distribution guidelines in export.
Now, 200 years since the Company was founded, the Faïencerie de Gien is a jewel in the crown of decorative arts, recognised the world over, and a member of the prestigious Colbert Committee, a group bringing together the major names in Luxury and French Art de Vivre.
The Collections … an array of stunning colors and shapes, with 50 different patterns and over 3000 item references, ranging from plates to unique hand-painted pieces. Patterns and shapes are created both from archive material and by promiment contemporary artists. Gien collections bring elegance to your table and are the ultimate gift. Gien, for many a happy moment spent together.
Savoir-faire- Europe’s leading faience manufacturer, a symbol of elegance and french art de vivre.
Two centuries of craftsmanship go into the making of this premium quality Faïence. Traditional crafting techniques are still in practice and are inherent to an outstanding level of excellence.
The Gien Faïencerie still controls, to this day, the entire making process of its goods, from sourcing raw materials to making clay paste and slip, to turning out the finished product. The transition from heap of earth to pieces of stunning beauty - it all happens in Gien.
Faience, a vibrant substance- Each piece passes through the hands of 30 different master craftsmen and women. Each pair of hands applies the skill of roughly 20 years of practice. So each single item is treated with 600 years of know-how ! 600 years resulting in faïence bearing the stamp of Genuineness, Warmth and Creativity.
Biscuit Production- Clay paste, plaster casts and glazes are all designed and created at the Faïencerie using traditional undisclosed recipes. It takes no fewer than 14 different types of earth to forge a piece of Faïence, and the specifications of the mixture are still today one of Gien’s closely kept secrets.
Hollow shapes are then fitted with additional features such as handles, spouts… and glued on with a specially formulated type of slip. After drying and firing at 1 160°C, the piece then becomes “biscuit”.
Pieces are hand crafted, using the pouring method for casting hollow shapes such as teapots, and pressure casting for flat pieces such as plates.
Chromo Decoration- Chromolithography : the pattern on a chromo is applied by hand to a white glazed piece. After firing, the pattern becomes fast.
Hand painting- This requires a high level of expertise and is reserved exclusively for prestige pieces. The outline of the pattern is printed by hand using 18th century techniques with engraved copper plates. The piece is then painted by hand. It takes at least 3 years to acquire the skills necessary for this method.
Softening- When dry, pieces are smoothened and evened off with a sponge to give them a faultless “finish”. They are then kiln-fired at a temperature of 1160°C.
Glazing- Last but not least comes glazing. This is what brings such radiance and shine to the finish, enhancing the beauty of the pattern’s colors. It plays a defining role in the choice of a design. During firing at 1060°C, the glaze vitrifies, thereby sealing and intensifying the brightness of color.
Firing- During firing at 1060°C, the glaze vitrifies, thereby sealing and intensifying the brightness of color.