Creil service

Dining à la Francaise

The Princessehof regularly receives gifts from private individuals. This is often a single object, but sometimes a complete collection. We cannot always accept the gifts we are offered, either because they don’t fit our collection profile or because we already have similar objects at our disposal. However, this French dinner service from the early nineteenth century filled an important hiatus in the collection. Moreover, this service is not only interesting from an art-historical point of view, but it also tells a personal story. So we accepted it with open arms!
What makes this service so special is that it had remained in the same family for almost 200 years and also that so many of its individual components have survived (almost 300!). It was once bought by Gerrit Vermeulen, who was born in 1798 as the son of a successful hay merchant in Waspik. Gerrit followed in his father’s footsteps at an early age and was equally astute at business. When Belgium’s struggle for independence erupted in 1830, the Ministry of War awarded him the lucrative contract to supply the horses’ fodder, reaping him a tidy profit. In 1832 he was able to buy the Eethen and Meeuwen estate in the Land of Heusden and Altena for more than 30,000 guilders. He, his wife and his children moved into the centuries-old castle surrounded by vast farmlands. But Gerrit couldn’t cope with the good life, becoming so corpulent that he had to have his own carriages parked in places where he conducted business, because he could no longer pass through an ordinary doorway. His mental state had also declined. He died in 1840, at the age of 41. His wife, Catharina Johanna van Heusden, daughter of a minister in Hilvarenbeek, survived him by more than 50 years.

Gerrit and Catharina were married in March 1817: he was 18, she 21. Was the groom already so wealthy at that time that he could buy such an extensive – and expensive – French dinner service? Or was it a wedding present from his affluent parents? We will never know, but it is clear that the service dates from the same period as Gerrit and Catharina’s wedding. Two factory marks on the bases of the objects confirm this. The first is from the Manufacture de Creil, located north of Paris, where the service was produced. The second is from the company Stone, Coquerel & Legros d’Anizy, which was responsible for the printed black decorations. These companies worked together from 1808 to 1818.

Dinner service decorated with landscapes and historical scenes, ca. 1808-1818, Manufacture de Creil and Stone, Coquerel & Legros d’Anizy in Creil, France
Dinner service decorated with landscapes and historical scenes, ca. 1808-1818, Manufacture de Creil and Stone, Coquerel & Legros d’Anizy in Creil, France

Dinner service decorated with landscapes and historical scenes, ca. 1808-1818, Manufacture de Creil and Stone, Coquerel & Legros d’Anizy in Creil, France. Click on the image for an enlargement.

Incidentally, there is also a family story that ‘a large, beautiful French Empire dinner service’, which he had bought for another woman, suddenly appeared after Gerrit Vermeulen passed away. It was said to have blue decorations, but it could very well have been the Creil tableware. At any rate, the entire family dined off this immense service every year on widow Catherine’s birthday.
The composition of the service reveals that it dates back to the time when service à la Francaise was still de rigeur. This way of setting a table and serving food means that all the starters and main courses – both cold and hot – are placed on the table at the same time. Large terrines with broths and soups, small terrines for ragouts, oval dishes of various sizes with meat, game and poultry, special dishes with a trivet for fish, round and square dishes with vegetables, salads and compotes: everything was lined up and displayed in strict symmetry on the table linen. It looked impressive, but the disadvantage was that the hot dishes usually ended up being eaten cold.
Little wonder then, that from the middle of the nineteenth century, people increasingly opted for a new way of serving, service à la Russe. The starters and main dishes are served one after another in separate courses, just as we still do today. Less tableware is required with this method. Much of the Creil service has been broken over time, but with 40 deep plates, more than 140 flat plates and dozens of dishes and bowls, it could still serve well for a princely dinner à la Francaise!

The Delftware factories

Around 1817, it was impossible to buy a dinner service at factories in the Netherlands. The Delftware factories hardly ever made complete services and the Dutch porcelain factories had gone bankrupt. Maastricht earthenware did not yet exist: it was not until 1836 that the first factory was established. For a fashionable service one had to look to creamware from England or faience fine from France. Gerrit Vermeulen opted for the French product. Faience fine is also known as faience anglais, a name that betrays its English origins.  Kaolin clay found in England at the beginning of the eighteenth century was used to develop a cream-coloured and hard type of earthenware known as creamware. Josiah Wedgwood improved on the technical and artistic aspects of the product, also taking the important step from handmade to industrially manufactured earthenware. Creamware not only conquered England but also mainland Europe. New factories were set up in France where the popular product was replicated, often with the help of English experts. Even the factory in Creil where our service was made was founded by an Englishman. Various components, such as the terrines, sauce bowls and openwork baskets, are the spitting image of models Wedgwood had already designed around 1790. The technique of applying printed decorations to the service is also an English invention from the mid-eighteenth century, which was later adopted by the factories in France and Maastricht.

Karin Gaillard, curator of European ceramics at the Princessehof National Museum of Ceramics

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