The French city of Limoges was made famous for its heritage of unrivaled enamel artistry. Objects crafted by the many firms based in the city were considered the finest painted enamelware produced anywhere in Europe for centuries. The workshop of Camille Fauré, which emerged in the early 20th century, changed not only the popular style of enamels in the very traditional city of Limoges, but also the methods of creating these pieces. More than any other Limoges artisan, Fauré embraced the modern, and he would play an important role in heralding a revolution in the decorative arts with his highly unique vases. Read on to learn more about Fauré‘s visionary contributions to the Limoges enamel legacy.
What is Enamel?
Enamel is glass that has been crushed into a fine powder and then fired to fuse the powder, forming a hard and glossy material. To create colored enamel, various oxides are added to the glass powder before firing. Different oxides result in different colors — tin for white, iron for black, cobalt and copper for blue or turquoise, and uranium and iron for yellow. Red and pink are particularly precious colors for their copper and gold content. These powdered mixtures are combined with purified water to form a paste and then applied to a metal form — usually copper — before being fired.
History of Limoges Enamels
Limoges has been one of Europe's largest centers of "fire arts" (porcelain, enamel and glass) since the end of the 12th century. In 1771, the same year that kaolin (the key ingredient in the making of porcelain) was discovered, Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Limoges’ financial officer, opened the Limoges Porcelain Manufactory to generate revenue in the region. This pivotal moment pushed the region to the forefront of the fire arts industry, a position it maintained into the 20th century.
Enameling was the oldest of the Limoges crafts. After enjoying immense popularity during the Renaissance age, Limoges enamels again achieved considerable popularity at the end of the 19th century, a reputation that lasted through the Art Deco movement largely thanks to Fauré‘s unique take on this centuries-old art form.
Camille Fauré‘s Enamel Workshop Beginnings
Camille Fauré was born in Périgeux, France, in 1872 or 1874 (accounts vary), and his father was a fine artist. He moved to Limoges during his teenage years and registered for his compulsory military service at age 20. After finishing his service, he returned to Limoges, where he began working as a sign painter. As his business expanded, he branched out into enamel signs, which were popular both for the material’s hardness and sturdiness, as well as its ability to achieve a rainbow of eye-catching color.
A born entrepreneur, Fauré realized that just as he could easily pivot from painted signs to enamel signs, he could pivot from signs to decorative arts. In 1919, he diversified his business by opening a decorative enamel shop and began producing vases. At the beginning of this venture, Fauré enlisted the help of Parisian enameler Raphaël Bétourné. However, Bétourné worked in more traditional styles, where Fauré wanted to break with tradition and produce works in a modern style. The partnership lasted only a year, and Fauré then met well-established Limoges artisans Alexandre Marty and his daughter, Henriette.
Enamel Innovations and the Fauré Technique
The Fauré-Marty partnership was much more fruitful, and it resulted in one of the workshop’s most important innovations — the ability to build up the surface of a vase with layers of enamel before firing it, creating a unique sculptural effect. The process took time — at least two weeks for a vase, and even up to two months for a large, complex vase. This three-dimensional surface was distinct from the more conventional techniques of the other established Limoges decorative enamel firms, and his vase’s tactile and visual beauty helped to set Fauré apart.
Fauré applied his enamels to copper vase forms, but he also applied silver leaf underneath the enamel paste, enhancing the inherent luster of the enamel. The copper base and silver leaf gave the enamel a luminous quality, making its colors all the more vibrant and eye-catching.
Marty was also a proponent of the emerging Art Deco style, and, coupled with Fauré‘s desire to embrace the modern, the workshop began to produce unconventional enamel designs in this new style with exceptional skill and artistry. While Fauré created many nature-inspired, Art Nouveau pieces, it was his bold, geometric Art Deco designs that would come to be the Fauré signature.
Art Deco is Born. Fauré‘s Successes
Energized by his breakthrough techniques and design vision, Fauré began to exhibit at the annual International Lyon Fair in 1920 to seek new commercial outlets. It proved a successful venture, and he received numerous new orders, exposing him to a wider clientele base. The firm would prepare between 250 and 300 pieces for this fair each year.
His most important exhibition, however, came in 1925 with the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, which famously gave name to the emerging Art Deco movement. Fauré and other exhibitors embraced art movements such as Cubism and Futurism with their vibrant colors and geometric forms. The exhibition, overall, was a true celebration of new styles, sleek lines and energetic colors, and his creations fit in seamlessly. The exhibition excited Fauré and built his confidence, as he could see his firm’s part in creating this exciting, modern decorative style. The firm would successfully continue in this vein for decades to come.
Camille Fauré was among the most innovative designers of his age, and he stands as one of the most celebrated enamelers of the Art Deco era. Today, his vases can be found in important decorative arts museum collections worldwide, including the Victoria and Albert Museum (London) and the Corning Museum of Glass (New York).
Marcheschi, Cork. Camille Fauré: Impossible Objects. Umbra Books, 2007.
Shayo, Alberto. Camille Fauré: LIMOGES Art DECO Enamels: The Geometry of Joy. Antique Collectors' Club, 2007.