The appearance of earthenware pottery in Auvillar succeeds an ancient pottery activity and dates back to 1739.
Louis XIV, who engaged in ruinous wars and lavish expenses, was forced to order the melting of the dishes of gold, silver and vermillion, possessed by the nobility, the high clergy and the great bourgeoise.
At the same time, these same social classes were invited to promote, wherever possible, the financing of earthenware factories similar to those already existing in Nevers and Rouen. Thus, the first earthenware factory of Auvillar, that of Du Gout de Lassaigne, was created in 1739 (24 years after the death of Louis XIV).
Stanneferous earthenware is a clay terracotta covered with opaque white enamel made from tin and lead, making it waterproof.
The soil used is collected in and around Auvillar, in the limestone and calcareous clay quarries. This extracted soil is purified, kneaded and enriched, degreasing with sand mainly from Auvillar, to facilitate drying. After washing and sieving, the soil will be stored for several months (5 or 6 months minimum). To be used, it must be homogenised by being trodden underfoot to eliminate air bubbles and hard elements. The earth is then shaped by turning and casting.
After shaping, the clay object is set to dry, before undergoing a first firing, from 1180 to 1380° Celsius. You will then get a “biscuit” or a “bright”. The enamelling of this “biscuit” takes place after cooling. It is immersed in a watery solution based on lead oxide and tin oxide.
The pieces then eventually receive a colourful decoration (but most earthenware sold was white). The operation was very delicate because the earth is still porous and soaks up the dye oxides, the enamel is not yet hard because it is uncooked and behaves like a white powder. The painter must therefore be very skilful.
The metal oxides known to give the colours are few. So we only have cobalt blue, copper green, purple, manganese brown, antimony yellow and iron red, the only colours to resist firing over great heat. Cobalt blue is the most used colour because it is the one that best supports firing at high temperatures.
After a brush-up of the traces of pliers and also the lack of enamel that occurs in some delicate places, the piece is taken by the decorator who can finish it, after a few hours of drying. This work requires great dexterity because the decoration sets very quickly and there is no possibility of retouching because the metal oxides that form the coloured enamels are instantly absorbed by this powdery layer.
At Auvillar, the décor is executed in three ways:
- Using punctured guides.
The freehand decor: Gives the artist complete freedom of inspiration and execution.
Punctured guides: The punctured guide is used for identical repetition of sets. The puncture, placed on the piece, is stamped with a small canvas bag with charcoal powder. The powder penetrates the holes of the puncture and shows the pattern on the piece to be decorated. This faint line serves as a guide for the painter to execute his decoration. This print is only a guide for the decorator, who can then modify and create the decoration by using brushes coated with enamels coloured by metal oxides.
The stencil: Consists of painting with a brush the inside of a pattern drawn on a hollowed-out brass sheet. A polychrome decoration requires as many stencils as there are colours.
When the decoration is completed, the pieces are baked. The earthenware itself is called “high-fire” with a firing of 1050 to 1180° Celsius. To avoid any bonding to the fusion of the enamel, the series of plates are separated from each other and stacked in “gazettes” in refractory earth and separated by 3 triangular-pointed, small movable spacers , called “pearls”, also in heat-resistant re-usable soil. Firing is done in wood-burning ovens.
The oven, closed carefully, is heated for 30 to 36 hours. After a 24-hour cooling, the earthenware can be unpacked. This is where the decorator sees the success or failure of his work, because no going back is possible.
Around 1840, white earthenware was abandoned in favour of glazed pieces (see the ‘bouquetiere’ opposite), mainly brown in colour, because tin and lead oxides became too expensive and competition became stronger with the existence of large industrial factories such as in Limoges.
But the Auvillar manufacturers have adapted well and have delivered a colossal amount of varnished pieces to Bordeaux and the Gers.
Thousands of dishes, plates and objects were made in the 20 small artisanal businesses, called factories, continually from 1739 to 1909. They made Auvillar famous throughout the region and farther afield.