The History of Porcelain Bisque

The History of Porcelain Bisque

Beware, sea-food lovers! The Bisque that we are going to talk about will make your teeth hurt. Bust, peasant, ball queen or centrepiece, they are immaculately white to decorate interiors. Their production began in the 18th century in a French manufacture that soon distributed them throughout Europe. But what is the Bisque ? What is its history? What is it made of, and how?


In the 18th century, aristocrats loved exotic objects: lacquers, cotton from India and above all Porcelain. The latter, born in China in the 7th-8th century, fascinated by its whiteness and translucence. Europeans brought it from the East to satisfy their curiosity. They also tried to find the secret of this production from the 17th century, but without success. They lacked the essential component for its manufacture: kaolin.

porcelain hair from the house of Samson imitation SaxonyPair of horses from the Samson manufacture imitating Saxon pieces

At the very beginning of the 18th century, a deposit was discovered in Germany in Saxony. The manufacturing process was discovered in 1708 and the Meissen manufacture began the first production of Porcelain in Europe. Collectors turned to this new production site to satisfy their tastes, much to the despair of Colbert, Minister of Finance. He had an strong grip on the French economy and promoted French factories in all fields: textiles, furniture, mirrors, etc. But the expenses in porcelain escape him and they represent a loss of capital abroad.

It was then decided to create a factory in France to compete with Saxony Porcelain. In 1745, the king granted a manufacture in the Château de Vincennes the exclusive privilege of making Porcelain "Saxon style with human figure, painted and gilded ". Unfortunately, this was not very successful at first. They mainly produced porcelain flowers to decorate artificial bouquets in vases from the neighbouring country.

PAIR OF SMALL ROCAILLE CONSOLES IN THE STYLE OF THE MEISSEN FACTORYPair of small rocaille consoles in the style of the Meissen manufacture

Not possessing the secret of the Porcelain The Vincennes factory developed a technique using frit, a glass and crystalpaste that remained white and opaque. At first it imitated German shapes, but the craftsmen noticed that the glaze, transparent or coloured coats on the pieces, was detrimental to the finesse of their work. Indeed, it accumulates in the folds and in the elaborate details of French sculptures, which diminishes their quality. In 1753, Jean-Jacques Bachelier had figurines made that were deliberately left without enamel and without decoration. Thus was born the Bisque.

Group in Bisque from Porcelain representing "Les travaux des amours" in Falconet style.

This was the beginning of a huge success. Louis XV, who bought the factory on the advice of Madame de Pompadour, moved it to Sèvres in 1756. It kept the name of manufacture of Sèvres until today. The king placed large orders for his own decoration, but also for diplomatic gifts. Sèvres porcelain is found in all the European courts. When receiving these delicate works, foreign sovereigns discovered the taste of Bisque. A large number of orders were placed for the Sèvres manufactory, sometimes abandoning the productions of Meissen. France regained the upper hand in the European market.

Porcelain Bisque of Diana holding a lioness on a leash after Carrière Belleuse, 19th century

The revolution of the french Porcelain took place in 1770 with the discovery of kaolin in the country. Then came the hard paste, a real Porcelain. Louis XV bought the land of Saint Yrieux where the quarry exploiting the precious clay was located. However, it was not until 1774 that its use was established in Sèvres. Production became less time-consuming and less expensive, but it was necessary to succeed in generating fires four times as powerful. At first, it was reserved for biscuits, as the glazes and enamels had not yet been mastered. The small sculptures have a more pronounced whiteness, a soft polish and an almost crystalline sound. This technique also makes it possible to produce large sculptures. This matt white imitates the grain of the Marble statuary and makes the Bisque of Porcelain a real work of art, no longer a mere decoration.

Sèvres Bisque or copy?

But the Sèvres manufacture was not the only one to produce bisques. Due to their great success, copies of the Sèvres Porcelain bisque were soon available. . Even though it was forbidden, some competing manufactures did not hesitate to recruit craftsmen directly from the royal manufactory, offering them much higher wages. Indeed, being content with copying existing models, they did not need to recruit a renowned sculptor to make them.

Bisques are even easier to copy because they do not have a mark. Marks are generally used to determine whether a piece is authentic or not. The 18th century Sèvres manufacture shows the royal monogram, two L's facing each other and a number indicating the date of creation under the cover. However, when the decision is made to create pieces without enamel, a problem arises. What is stopping other factories from buying unglazed pieces with the Sèvres mark and applying an "over-decoration" to them to pass them off as originals? It was decided not to apply the mark to the biscuits.

Tea service Sèvres and Tuileries marksMarks of the Sèvres manufacture under a 19th century tea service

One cannot trust the word Sèvres affixed under one of these statuettes either. It is not a guarantee of its origin since several factories settled in the city to benefit from the fame of the royal factory. To distinguish a biscuit of Sèvres porcelain, one must therefore study the quality of the work, the quality of the material and the detailed rendering of the sculpture, which only experts are able to recognize.

Finally, France was not the only country to produce porcelain bisques. All the European courts tried to set up factories capable of producing these precious ornaments. The Meissen manufacture itself began to produce objects without glaze in order to compete with Sèvres, its great rival.

Why the name " biscuit "?

Originally, to produce this type of piece, the soft paste, without kaolin, was fired twice, hence the term "bis - cuit". With the discovery of kaolin in France, unglazed figurines only needed to be fired once, but figurines that remained white kept this name.

Today, the definition of Bisque of Porcelain is: figure or group in unglazed Porcelain


Bisques are still produced today in many European factories, but Sèvres remains the reference for this expertise. Every year, contemporary artists are invited to discover this technique and innovate it. Despite its history, the bisques remains a technique that is well established in the contemporary world.

Would you like to know how the porcelain pieces in our collections are made? Go to this article. Want to add a bisque to your interior? Discover all our bisques.