1.1. From cast iron to ceramics
During the Belgian revolution of 1830 and the period of mutiny afterwards (1830-1839) the family BOCH had already acquired a long tradition in the field of faience and a lot of strategic experience in anticipating politic and economic developments. The family build up this know-how since 1748, the year François BOCH decided to abandon his occupation of iron caster to make ceramics in Audun-le-Tiche (Lorraine), assisted by his son in law Pierre Valette and by his three sons. They decide to produce simple pieces, cheap and for the largest possible public, made from loam from Luxemburg. François Boch deceased in 1854 and the faience factory was taken over by his three youngest sons, Jean-François and Dominique, twins of 19, and Pierre-Joseph, the youngest of 17.
1.2. The birth of an international faience empire
Lorraine becomes French territory in 1765 and the three brothers obtain a double nationality, the French and the Luxemburg. Fearing the competition of the French faience factories, and with the help of the decentralisation politics of Maria Theresa of Austria, they obtain the permission, in 1766, to establish a faience factory near Luxemburg, under attractive tax conditions. The city of Luxemburg let them a plot of wasteland, but with 7 springs. The new factory is established there in 1767 under favourable workers conditions: indeed, most of the workers from Audun-le-Tiche have followed the family Boch. The factory is called « Jean-François Boch et frères » putting the name of the eldest of the three brothers in the spotlights, so he becomes the director. Dominique oversees the production techniques and Pierre-Joseph takes the lead of the production. Ten years later, in 1777, the factory occupies 100 workers, increasing to 300 in 1782.
In 1792 Pierre-Joseph becomes the only owner of Septfontaines (seven springs) since the twins don’t have any descendants. The French revolution and the occupation of Luxemburg by the French troupes transform the factory into a ruin, but Pierre-Joseph takes care of the restoration and the new start of the company, with the help of loans and of the workers who come back little by little.
Pierre-Joseph and his son Jean-François above all, were innovators. They install enormous kilns of great capacity consuming little fuel, introduce social innovations, are pioneers in using coal instead of wood, introduce printing faience… Besides, Jean-François, to stand up to the French blockade on English products, he studied chemistry and physics at the Central School in Paris, develops fabrication methods to make lead and cobalt oxides.
In 1806, Jean-François marries Anne Marie Rosalie Buschman, daughter of a rich Ardennes tanner. In 1809 he buys old constructions, besides in a bad condition, from the Benedictine abbey in Mettlach at the Saar to install a faience factory, but he has to wait till 1812 to obtain the necessary authorisations.
The Congress of Vienna grants the status of Grand Duchy to Luxemburg, as a personal gift to William, king of the Netherlands. Septfontaines looses the markets in the Netherlands and in France, due to the severe customs duties.
Pierre-Joseph Boch deceases in 1818. His son Jean-François and his brother-in-law Bonaventure Dutreux (deceased in 1829) share the property in Septfontaines. In 1829, Jean-François takes up his quarters in Septfontaines, and assigns the direction of Mettlach to his oldest son Eugène (Eugen).
Beside it, Nicolas Villeroy, at the age of 21, in 1791, had established an earthenware factory in Vaudrange on the river Saar (now called Wallerfangen) much as the one in Septfontaines, for serial production. The factories of Boch and Villeroy produce side by side till 1836, year of the conclusion of the treaty leading to the creation of the firm Villeroy and Boch.
Jean-François has reached the summit of his industrial strength. He is one of the most important shareholders of the business enterprise “Villeroy and Boch”, formed in 1836 after the merge of the faience factories in Vaudrevange, property of Nicolas Villeroy, and the enterprise Jean-François Boch and company. In consequence he becomes administrator of the faience factories in Mettlach and Vaudrevange on the Saar, he directs the factories in Eich, Echternach and Septfontaines and he remains the owner of Audun-le-Tiche in the Duchy of Lorraine. Two years later, this enterprise cooperates with the “Société d’Industrie Luxembourgeoise” (Luxemburg’s Industrial Society), important holding that will take over the faience factories of Eich and Echternach. Beside it, Jean-François Boch, Nicolas Villeroy and a third partner, Auguste Jaunez, are the lenders for the establishment of a new business enterprise “Paul Utzschneider & Cie”, in 1838. This permits the porcelain factory in Sarreguemines to continue its rise. Interesting detail, his son Eugène has married Octavie Villeroy and his daughter Wilhemina has married Jean-Baptiste Nothomb, born in Luxemburg, but one of the most active persons in the founding of the independent Belgium (JECK, 2009).
1.3. Birth of the Belgian branch of the faience empire
One negative point however: the Belgian revolution in 1830 and its consequences. In those days the future of the Luxemburg faience factory, directed by Jean-François Boch, seemed somehow jeopardized. The Belgian-Holland Treaty of XXIV articles that William, King of the Netherlands, finally accepted to sign, actually separated the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg from Belgium. With the acceptance of this Treaty of London (XXIV articles) in 1839 and the predictable adhesion of Luxemburg to the customs union (Zollverein) the Prussians had established in 1834, Septfontaines would probably loose the Belgian market (William II, his son, in his capacity of Grand Duke, did indeed join the Zollverein in 1842, the Prussian customs union).
So Jean-François BOCH searched a way to supply the Belgian market with faience plates and dishes in the best possible circumstances. On May 17th, 184l, his son Eugène acquires in a public sale a pottery situated in the territory of the town Saint-Vaast in Hainaut. Amongst others, his choice was influenced by the presence of ore deposits, mine shafts containing excellent coal, poor in fat, situated near the canal of Charleroi and a nearby railway. In March 1841 the surrounding lands were bought from the firm “Société des Charbonnages de Sars Longchamp et Bouvy”. The factory that was build under the direction of Victor Boch will be named « Keramis », maybe as a tribute to the Athens potters and for honouring the original potteries in Greece. In 1844 a general partnership is established with the name “BOCH Frères”. The three founders are Eugène BOCH, his younger brother Victor and their brother in law Jean-Baptiste NOTHOMB. The general partnership will supervise different entities: besides BOCH Frères also Septfontaines till 1855, rejected that year to become VILLEROY & BOCH, and from 1851 till 1891 the factory BOCH bought in Tournai.
However, it is only on September 30th in 1844 that the general partnership « Boch Frères » is established before a Brussels notary, but with retrospective effect since August 1st 1841.
BOCH Frères starts the production in August 1844 under the direction of Victor BOCH who stays in charge until 1881. Charles TOCK, engineer, former student of the “Ecole centrale de Paris” (Central School of Paris), replaces him till 1904 and then Marcel TOCK takes over.
The advantageous geographic situation we explained before leads to a successful start for the faience factory: a solid reputation is created thanks to royal visits and numerous medals in international exhibitions (we only mention those from the first period 1844-1870: Brussels 1847, Paris 1855, London 1862, Porto 1865, Paris 1867 and Amsterdam 1869). The factory employs 250 workers in 1893, almost a thousand in 1900 and 1350 in 1936 (catalogue from 1936). Based on the model of the paternalism and corporatism, the factory hires skilled foreign workers and local workers to train, and creates close relationships with them through social services and the creation of institutes and patronages (small workers houses, a school, a pension fund,…). The industrial development of the municipality results in the independence of the part of St. Vaast where the factory is established, named La Louvière in 1869, the other part of the municipality preserves the original name St. Vaast.
In the course of its history the factory changes the brand name, among others in 1948, year of the change into a public limited company to anticipate the evolutions in the market and becomes “Boch Frères S.A.” (Boch brothers plc). In 1949 a sanitary division is created. After a period of growth from 1955 until 1965 and with the development of the sanitary division, the board of directors decides in 1970 to build a new factory, but the new factory is only finished in 1972, and that is too late to get one’s share of the flourishing market in the sixties. In 1974 the result of the division “plates and dishes” is negative, and the company knows a slow descending trend, in despite of the reorganisations and the financial interventions of the public services. In 1985 Boch Frères S.A. is liquidated and the activities are split up.
1.4. Birth of Royal Boch
The “Manufacture Royale La Louvière Boch”, abbreviated M.R.L.Boch, which takes over the production of tableware from Boch Frères, goes bankrupt in 1988. The group Le Hodey takes over the company in 1989 under the name Royal Boch Manufacture S.A. Due to cumulated losses, the group sells her shares and the tandem de Mevius-de Spoelberch acquires the direction of the company.
Besides M.R.L.Boch the Walloon Region establishes a second company that takes over the sanitary production, activity that passes to the Netherland group Koninklijke Sphinx (Royal Sphinx) in 1991, and merges afterwards, in 1998, into the group Sphinx-Gustavberg.
On Thursday February 26th 2009 the commercial court of Mons gives judgment on the bankruptcy of the “Manufacture Royal Boch de La Louvière”. But the 47 workers decide to occupy the factory. The last hope is a meeting of the designated curator with a candidate transferee.
1.5. Rebirth of Royal Boch
Today, many hopes are set on Patrick DE MAEYER, the transferee who became the new managing director of the faience factory Royal Boch, and hopefully he can maintain the last Belgian faience stronghold.
In general, four distinct different periods are considered in the evolution of the faience production in La Louvière.
Victor BOCH, an experienced financial businessman, takes the direction of the SNC Boch Frères. He gets assistance from the faience factories of the family (Septfontaines, Mettlach and Wallerfangen) who sell him ready-to-use copperplates, so he can start the production immediately. Amongst the plates they sold to Keramis between 1844 and 1846 we mention Bayern landscapes and views of the Rhine, genre scenes, decors inspired by the Orient, the decor “Theetrinker” (sic) (Fery, 2000, page 39-42). The engravings on these plates, mostly applied by chisel and stamp (150 years, page 49), were used for reproduction through impression.
The very first decors were monochrome, mostly in bleu or black impression, and have a factory stamp with large banner in general, and are sometimes produced in sister factories. Sometimes they are bicolour, black for the centre decoration and another colour for the border decoration. Examples are:
- decor in black: genre scenes, hunting scenes
- decor in bleu: Laurier B.F., Orient, Orient II, Grand bouquet, Ronda, GG
- decor in black or in bleu: Theetrinker, Wild rose, Clyde Scenery
- decor in bleu or in manganese: Althea, Althea on order, Jardinière, Hollyhock.
Some of these decors are printed in a slightly blurred way for the English and American customers who love this kind of illustrations.
Around 1860 the production of polychrome pieces starts with accents above or underneath the glazing, sometimes the same decors are produced in monochrome and in polychrome:
- decors inspired by the Orient and/or antique decors: Pompeia and Pompei, Japonica, Canton with green dominant colour and later Canton with other dominant colours, Nanking, Yedo, Dames chinoises (Chinese ladies), Timor, …
- other types of polychrome decors: Perdrix, Pérou, Charlotte II, romantic and family scenes with children.
The production of decors inspired by the Orient continues during the next period.
Romantic scenes, city views, saints or saints with their attributes, Napoleons battles, humoristic scenes and “combles” (the height of), travelling by railway, mostly edited in series of 12, are favourite subjects for faience decors. Messrs. MOUZIN (Henri-Joseph, Henry and Charles or Carl) are the most important engravers (Fery, 2000).
Since that period, Boch Frères has distributed tons of white faience products all over the world, without a decor, sometimes enhanced with a relief poured in the mass (150 year, 322, page 173), (Cosyns and Bragard, page 207).
During this period, Victor BOCH completes the production of faience with the fabrication of fine pottery with a decor of slip and with gilded accents. Those pieces of fine pottery, in the manner of Palissy, are mostly marked in relief with a yellow dot. Besides, the decors for pieces for daily use are influenced by Luxemburg and England, but also by decors from Strasbourg and the decors of the “Manufacture de Tournai” (Tournai factory) they were allowed to use after the purchase in 1851. In this way, the Tournai decor named “à la mouche” (by MOUZIN at the BOCH factory) is now called “Grand Bouquet” or “Ronda”.
The production included tableware, coffee and tea-sets, toilet-sets (water-basin, bidet, chamber pot,…), various objects in fine faience and some religious objects.
Around 1874, due to the passionate interest of collectors of old faience pieces, Victor BOCH hires Dutchman from Maastricht, some already experienced after years of work in Delft. These Dutch faience painters brought their knowledge, experience and skills. Thanks to their collaboration the old working methods were applied on different clay than the potters in Delft. A period of reproduction of decors is followed by a period of innovation, among others with the polychrome decors on white background, or bleu, green or black, and afterwards new decors. For further information on these objects in Delft style, we refer to the work “150 years”, pages157-160.
Luxury faience is decorated with Delft decors, and becomes a speciality of the “Manufacture” in a division named “la Chambre des peintres hollandais” (the Holland painter’s chamber), with a hand painted signature of the interlaced letters “B, F, K“ (Boch frères Keramis) on the bottom of the pieces. These artistic products in Delft style are hand painted, instead of being decorated with a usual printed decor. Hundreds of thousand pieces are sold worldwide through a fully illustrated catalogue. The catalogue/pricelist of 1887, mainly attended to Delft pieces, contains 16 pages with illustrations of Delft pieces and some pages with illustrations of “Kioto et fonds divers” (Kioto and various backgrounds), of “Fond bleu Sèvres doré” (background gilded bleu Sèvres), “Barbotine” (ceramic slip) and “Rhodes” and as much pages with the prices! In 1887, even an addendum is at the catalogue. The production of these Delft style pieces doesn’t stop in 1892 while the catalogue/pricelist of 1899 still contains 26 pages of Delft illustrations and 3 pages representations of artistic paintings on glazing and as much pages with prices ! Besides, Persian and Chinese decors, Rouen decors, decors from Saint-Amand-les-Eaux and from Sèvres are produced.
Besides, the faience factory continues to produce tableware with old printed decors, as illustrated in the 1877 pricelist, among others the decors Ronda, Saxe, Grand Bouquet, Glands, Willow, Clyde Scenery, Althea blurred, Jardinière blurred, Charlotte, Ronce and Canton with green background.
The same catalogue of 1877 shows also new decors like the “Vieux Rouen” and new forms like embellished or shiny dessert ware. Lenglez (page 63) and other authors do affirm that the painters, during this delft period, were asked to imitate also Rouen and Persian patterns.
Some people think this period is less interesting, and call it the “post MOUZIN” period, but this is unfair. Anyhow, this period is the time art nouveau explodes and innovations close to tradition are created. The decors Jasmin in green, Jasmin in bluish grey, Capucines, Lucien, Rosa and Prunelle are some examples of this art nouveau trend.
The romantic landscapes are applied in decorative panels in small tiles (imposing landscapes with trees, influenced by the Italian Renaissance…). The ceramic for the panels is still under the influence of the Holland style from the XVII century, inspired by Frans HALS or by the Persian style (Iznik). Appearance of the art nouveau (see further) with the pointillism of amongst others FINCH, who manages, during his short stay in La Louvière (1890-93), to introduce this technique in the Delft tableware. Starting from classic leaf strings, and by simplifying them, QUENNOY surpasses the art nouveau to evolve quickly to decors that pay deference to the art deco. Styles in relief are the speciality for tableware from that period, the Strasbourg flowers are still in demand, Meissen decors (Copenhague) are applied, Emile DIFFLOTH introduces bleu and guilt decors in the Sevres style.
Finally, we have to mention that the brothers BOCH, in 1906, engaged Charles CATTEAU, an extraordinarily personality with a reputation soon to be known outside the BOCH walls, throughout his teaching, his membership of artistic circles, his collaboration with other factories.
Tableware reproduces once again various decors and series from previous periods. The catalogue from 1936 shows the diversity of the products of the Boch brothers, both in terms of reeditions of decors as in terms of creating new art deco decors. Here are some examples from this catalogue:
This period is mainly characterised by the production of ornamental items and art deco dinner sets created in the fantasy workshop of Charles CATTEAU. He carries of a first prize at the Paris international exhibition of modern ornamental and industrial arts 1925 with a vase in earthenware, various objects in earthenware, including an overpowering huge vase with deer’s and roes. With his team of employees he will produce thousands of vases and ornamental objects in fine faience and earthenware, developing different enamel techniques (shiny glazing, crackle finish or matt cloisonné in Longwy style), in typical stylised art deco decors inspired by geometric forms or forms from the fauna and flora, sometimes reminding Japanese influences. That production of ornamental objects also ends up with the creation of art deco decors on tableware. With the departing of Charles CATTEAU in 1950, Raymond CHEVALLIER succeeded him.
The faience producers are looking for a future in two different directions, on the one hand through innovation with modern and original decors, and on the other hand in concentrating on very high quality and luxury products, although with few workers.
BOUCQ Annie, and others, “Matière et beauté – De la faïence aux néocéramiques”, Faculté Polytechnique de Mons, 2002.
Collectivity (directed by LEFEBVRE Jacques and THOMAS Thérèse), 150 ans de création et de tradition faïencières. Boch-Keramis, La Louvière, 1841-1991, La Louvière, 1991.
Collectivity (directed by ALLARD Dominique), Catteau, donation Claire De Pauw - Marcel Stal, King Baudouin Fondation, 20001.
COSYNS Etienne and BRAGARD Léopold, “BOCH Frères Keramis. Décors imprimés 1844-1870“, Ed. Antiquities Cosyns S.A., 2008.
FERY Joël, Les décors imprimés et peints sous les Mouzin, Le Roeulx 2000.
JECK Marc, Jean-Baptiste Nothomb : une gloire nationale, Dossier Luxembourg, www.tribunedebruxelles.be (TBX n° 133, published 20/7/2005).
LENGLEZ Michelle and others, Décors imprimés de Boch-Keramis, 1844-1975, CEREDORE, La Louvière 1998.
LIESNARD Christian, Les faïences et porcelaines belges et luxembourgeoises. Aperçu historique. Marques et cachets, Ed. Collections livres, 2001.
Catalogues and/or tariffs:
- tariff of the products from 1877
- catalogue/tariff from 1887 (Delft and other objects)
- catalogue/tariff from 1887, 1st addendum (Delft and other objects)
- catalogue/tariff from 1899, Delft
- history, 1894
- catalogue/tariff from 1903, fantasy objects
- general catalogue from 1916
- catalogue from 1936.