Art On the Table in 'Paradis'

Rosenthal/Verace table
One of many table-setting displays, with bill already made out.

Low-Key Centre for Fancy Tableware

Paris:- Wednesday, 14. May 1997:- A couple of times before, I have been on the lookout for the rue de Paradis, when I have been in the area of the Gares Nord or Est. Each time I missed it by going down the boulevard de Strasbourg, instead of rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis.

Today when I felt I went down Strasbourg again, too far, I figured it out and went back. The dilapidated passage du Désir let me through to Saint-Denis, and back a bit towards the stations, the rue de Paradis starts.

My old guidebooks say the rue de Paradis is where to find all the tableware, cutlery and glassware. Why this particular street should have this specialty; being as it is sort of nowhere in the middle of the 10th arrondissement, I don't know. In any case, it is not quite as true as it once was.

First, the 'Paradis.' One-way, heading west, two lanes or 13 metres wide, 528 metres long - age: 354 years. 'Paradis,' since it was in the area of the Prés-des-Filles-Dieu; from 1659 it was Paradis- Poissonnière - although in 1740 it was still merely a path across a field. It has had its present name since 1881. Corot had an atelier at number 50 when he lived around the corner in the rue du Faubourg-Poissonnière, until 1875. In sum, no great history.

In France, the products of cutlery, glass and tableware, are grouped under the term 'Arts de la Table.' This supposes you care with what you eat, off what you eat and out of what you drink. Table coverings under all this and small cloths to wipe off misdirected food items, are included in this category; as are table decors, candleholders and various other arcane brick-a-brack such as salt-and-pepper containers.

Sooner or later everybody gets tired of eating sandwiches with their bare hands and drinking plastic 'soft-drinks' out of plastic cups made of coated paper.

Before there is a morsel of food in sight, before there is a drop to drink, you can sit down at table, laid with Art. If you have been spending a lot of time around formica, sitting down with Art can be a pleasant change. Try it if you don't believe me.

A Short History of Tableware

Once France's kings and lesser royals found they no longer had blood on their hands and quit using the same knives for diplomacy as they used for table tools - they ordered vast factories to be built to manufacture tableware. The idea of eating off porcelain instead of bare wood gradually slid down the social scale, especially after ordinary citizens broadened their diets beyond cereals.

You take earth, water, fire and air, to make a pot. The jump from simple pots to faience and porcelain has taken a very long time - say 2,700 years, and as I have said above, a major push was given to development and elaboration by royal patronage. The same is true of cutlery and glassware.

Faience comes from the 14th century Italian town of Faenza, while porcelain comes from the Chinese province 18. rue de Paradis of Jangxi, also a long time ago. Marco Polo is supposed to have brought it to Europe; but Europeans only figured out how to make it themselves in 1709, at Meissen in Saxony. Madame Pompadour had 500 pieces of it.

At number 18, the 'House of Ceramic' is well worth a look.

Around Paris, factories were set up at Saint-Cloud, Mennecy, Vincennes, and finally, at Sévres in 1756. The first centre of goldsmithing was at Saint-Denis early on; guilds were formed and then corporations, and the goldsmiths marched at the head of the trades' parades.

At the end of the 12th century, gold and silversmithing passed from the strict control of the guilds; evolved through the Renaissance, and received a important source of raw materials imported by the Spanish from the new world. The name of Benvenuto Cellini was heard, wooden bowls were replaced with metal, and the metal became decorative.

Nothing was too good for Louis XIV, and the industry took off in France. Individual knifes and forks were gradually introduced, started by Catherine de Médicis. But in 1689, during the Spanish War of Succession, Louis needed cash so he had 25 tons of fancy stuff melted down and that handwork was lost forever. Spain, although involved in the war, did not take such radical measures and their pieces from this time were conserved. Sweden and Russia also have some left.

Fashions changed rapidly. The 'French' service was replaced by a 'Russian' style; plates began to be changed for each course - which allowed even more decor to encumber the table. New forms were invented: serving dishes for asparagus for example.

Silver plating was invented in 1840, Napoléon III ordered a set for the Tuleries, and Christoffe bought the Marquis de Ruolz' patents for the process. With plate, the bourgeoisie could have fancy tables too. The last great change was the introduction of stainless steel and its industrial production; with the best of it being carefully designed.

Until 100 BC, glass was cast in clay molds; but blown glass came on quickly after that. Remains of it have been found at Pompeii, which was covered in ash in the year 79. At the beginning of the Renaissance, Venetian glass was supreme and set the standards of the market. If Italian glassworks reached their height in the 16th century, then those of Bohemia reached theirs in the 18th century.

The English, probably by accidental muddle, discovered that a bit of lead oxide added to the formula produced an exceptionally clear glass and it was called crystal. In 1780 the Cristallerie de Saint-Louis les Bitche recorded its first patent and was shortly followed by Baccarat.

Everybody therefore had to have theirs sets of glasses to match their sets of tableware. Art Nouveau was followed by Art Deco, and glass designers today are searching for the next 'Art.'

Back to Paradis

At various times I have sought glass, plates and cutlery. In France, glasses are always getting broken, so the search for them is more or less continuous - and the hardest task is to find plain and yet elegant, drinking glasses. Since glasses seem to be, by nature, expendable - any set you wind up with is not one you have to live with forever.

The same can't be said of plates and cutlery. At one time I combed all the shops in a town for weeks wonderful objects for the table on end, looking for both. You might live with them a long time, so you want to find something that you can look at for a long time. The plates I found, I was happy with; but I always thought the cutlery I settled on, wasn't quite what I wanted; no catalogue had exactly what I was looking for.

Is it extravagant table decor, or is it merely a window display?

The rue de Paradis in Paris has the advantage of having a lot of shops in a relatively small area. Most of the shops handle several manufacturer's lines, and all the shops probably cover all the lines available. What you don't see here - a lot! - is in their catalogues.

The 'Centre International des Arts de la Table,' which regroups 140 manufacturers over five floors, is at number 30. rue de Paradis. This is reserved for professionals, but the receptionist at the entry may be able to arrange an introduction - to at least tour the building; it has many window displays.

Over the years, many of the major manufacturers who had outlets in the rue de Paradis have moved their operations to 'flagship' locations in and around the Madeleine or in the rue Royal. Besides a somewhat stiffer ambiance, these 'flagships' carry only their own house lines.

I'm not paying too much attention to which shops I go into here; the thing I notice in all of them, is instant service with an invitation to look as long as I want. Considering that there are not many other browsers around, it is a sort of 'Paradis.'


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