Design & Decoration S01 ep3: Michel Bernardaud, Limoge Porcelain, [Paris]
Interview with Michel Bernardaud
Pottery is one of the oldest industries created by man, so yes there is production everywhere. One of our main tasks is to keep ourselves different not only in terms of maintaining a very, very high quality but also of being capable of creating new shapes, new designs that are very modern. And one of the things we have done to be able to do that is to work very closely with designers or artists of our time and give them give them free hand more or less to do whatever they feel that should be done for Bernardaud and this is one of our good strengths.
KM: When you hear the word "Bernardaud" what does it mean?
Well that's my name, so it is a name that I am familiar with. We are the largest
and the oldest, family owned company in the porcelain world. We have been
established since 1863 so I am 137 years old although I probably look
The first company established in Limoge was a Manufacture Royale created by
the brother of the King, Louis the 16th in 1757.
For centuries Europeans have tried to manufacture porcelain and they were
importing it from Mainland China. It was a very precious material at that time.
The Kings were keeping them in closed cabinets, it was very expensive. And
suddenly during the course of the 18th century there was Kaolin which is the
basic clay very white that is used in the manufacturing process of porcelain
that was found in Limoge and in Micine. Together with the fact that in this
region, especially the Limoge one you had huge forests that was providing the
wood for the ovens.
Our trademark is Bernardaud. We also have a branch, which is the
Manufacture Royale which is the first company created in Limoge by the
brother of the King and we brought it.
KM: When did you buy that?
15 years ago.
KM: When did you become part of the history of Bernardaud?
20 years ago.
KM: Did you know you were going to be in the family business in the back of
No, not really. My father was would never talk of his business when he would
come home and to be honest I had hardly visited more than 2 or 3 times the
factory that belongs to my family before I joined it. I was in business school in
Paris, was very happy there as a student and I was afterwards I started
working in a company that was doing public construction and one day my
father made me something that you call in Sicilia a proposal that you can’t an
offer that you can’t refuse.
KM: And when was this?
It was 1979.
Pottery is one of the oldest industries created by man, so yes there is
production everywhere. One of our main tasks is to keep ourselves different
not only in terms of maintaining a very, very high quality but also of being
capable of creating new shapes, new designs that are very modern. And one
of the things we have done to be able to do that is to work very closely with
designers or artists of our time and give them give them free hand more or
less to do whatever they feel that should be done for Bernardaud and this is
one of our good strengths.
KM: Can you tell me some of the artists that work with you?
Fernand Leger. We have done some things with Roy Lichtenstein, with
Cesare, with George Segal. We are working a lot now with Olivier Garnier.
KM: How do you find these people, do they come to you or how does it
Well it is by word of mouth more or less, at the beginning and now a lot of
them come to us.
KM: How different is an artist when he works with ceramics or a plate or your
medium than when say Liechtenstein or one of these other artists is working
with a canvas? Are they actually doing the print first on a canvas and then you
are copying it onto the plate or do they actually work on the plate itself?
Well it could be both. In most cases we work from sketches on paper and then
we do first proof either in plaster or in porcelain and we work together with the
designer or the artist, and he say yes or no or we say yes/no because we
either say this is impossible to manufacture or difficult to manufacture and
maybe we should change it this way or that way - not too much. Or we can
have the case of an artist coming to Limoge and working in our studios and
with the moulders with the painters and doing the first piece himself.
KM: So these are the originals?
Absolutely and what we are doing also is we started a few years ago a big
programme to create a kind of Villa Medici of porcelain in our main factory in
Limoge - the factory where the company was founded in 1863. It is a big, big
buildings, some of them not any more in production and instead of doing some
real estate operation what we have decided to do is to renovate those
buildings, open them to the public, which we are doing step by step so we
have all the old workshops that people can visit and have a feeling of the
history of the Limoge porcelain. And we are going to be also rooms,
bedrooms, to those artists or students that come and spend some time with us
to work on this material.
If we were to send someone from Quality Control to the museum right now and
check all the porcelain pieces that are in it, I would say that about 90% of it
would be rejected.
All the white ware.
KM: But of course this was back then, they had rudimentary techniques.
Absolutely, absolutely and especially the firing was far less under control, the
glazing as well. On the other hand you were able in the past to get colours
that you cannot get or very hardly anymore now because of the environmental
laws. We cannot use lead any more or cadmium in the colours so the
spectrum of colours that you would use you have now is more limited to those
available in the past.
Working also with people that have their private airplanes. We found one day
somebody that was very concerned with the weight of the plane. A dinner set
of porcelain is not what is the most heavy on a plane, but still he wanted us to
work on something to make it very very as light as possible.
KM: How did you do that?
So we had to redo entirely specially for him all our mould to be able to produce
plates or cups that would be probably that are probably one third or one half of
KM: of the normal ones.
Of the normal ones. There was a very high level of rejects because we had to
eliminate a lot, but that was really a major task to achieve.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Michel Bernardaud, Limoge Porcelain, Paris