Similar to Limoges, which is a region in France rather than a specific brand or a single porcelain factory, Quimper (pronounced “kem-pair”) doesn’t refer to one particular factory or pottery, but rather to the French city where pottery has been produced by a number of different firms since 1708.
Throughout their long and colorful history, many different styles and types of ceramics were produced by the potteries of Quimper, but they are perhaps best known for pieces hand-decorated with traditionally-dressed peasants and other motifs inspired by the customs and culture of Brittany, the region in northwestern France where Quimper is located.
The Breton peasant designs were first produced in the 1860s and continue to be produced today. Other popular themes feature floral and geometric designs embellishing everything from cheese dishes to mustard pots and everyday serving dishes. These pieces of folk art pottery are often used in the French country style of decorating.
Collectors have specific terms for some of the more prevalent motifs. Designs inspired by the embroidered costumes of the region are called Breton Broderie. The term Sujet Ordinaire is given to the more naïve decorations, while Décor Riche refers to the more elaborately detailed pieces.
Pottery has been made in this area of France for thousands of years; the modern-day history begins with the founding of a pottery by Pierre Bousquet in 1708. Bousquet’s initial production was utilitarian in nature–clay pipes for smoking tobacco and undecorated culinary necessities.
Pierre Bousquet was a native of Marseille in the south of France and any decoration applied to pieces reflected the styles of that region. Subsequent factory directors came from different areas–specifically the pottery-making centers of Nevers and Rouen–thus bringing the techniques and motifs from other regions to Quimper.
The blending of these different techniques and designs resulted in the unique qualities that are indicative of colorful Quimper pottery collectors seek today.
In the last quarter of the 19th century there were three primary pottery factories in Quimper: the original pottery, now known as HB (Hubaudière-Bousquet), a factory named Faïencerie d’Art Breton, better known as Henriot after Jules Henriot (its director at the time), and the Porquier factory, celebrated for its production of more elaborate and intricately-painted art pottery. In the 20th century, the Fouillen and Kéraluc factories were formed and a number of individual studio artists added to the production of Quimper pottery as well.
Today there is one commercially-active pottery factory in Quimper tracing its roots back to 1708 and Pierre Bousquet. Since 2011, the firm has been run by Jean-Pierre Le Goff and signs the production “Henriot-Quimper.”
More on Quimper Marks
Systematic marking of Quimper pottery was not a practice prior to the later half of the 19th century. Some marks were officially registered only after being in use for decades and others were used by competing firms long after the original pottery went out of business.
Some pieces were commissioned for specific retailers such as Macy’s, Carson Pirie Scott or Tiffany, and feature their marks with or without the mention of Quimper.
When it comes to values, keep in mind that "Quimper is a hand-painted art pottery and therefore there are individual characteristics that affect the value of each piece. For example, just because one piece of Quimper pottery is older than another does not automatically guarantee a higher value for the older example. There are newer pieces that are artistically superior to earlier examples and thus a newer piece may have a higher value," according to author Adela Meadows, of "Quimper Pottery: A Guide to Origins, Styles, and Values."
With such a long history and coupled with the marks being hand-painted, there are many incarnations of the marks for each Quimper pottery factory.