Imprimer

Museum

of table's art

Presentation

The Valfré collection

In 2010, the museum was enriched with the addition of the collection assembled by Mr Patrice Valfré since 1989; it includes hundreds of items relative to tea consumption, the main part manufactured in China for the domestic market and export, as well as items made in Japan and Europe.

Mr Vafré, who wished to see his collection kept in France and made accessible to the general public as an intact whole, sold it to the Table Arts Museum.

This purchase, partly paid for by the General Council itself, was made possible thanks to three convergent actions:

- the extremely generous patronage of the Crédit Agricole bank, through its national foundation "Pays de France"(Regions of France), its regional representative body in Nord-Midi-Pyrénées and the local office of "Pays de Cadillac", without whose support this cultural treasure would not have become public property,

- the final deposit granted by the Archaeological and Historical Society of Tarn-et-Garonne, the beneficiary of the patronage and always actively involved in promoting the development of public heritage,

- the additional donation made by Mr Valfré himself, which notably included a specialised library with 138 books, 3 jars from the Song and Ming periods, 4 large jars (for tea, water, and funerals) from the 18th century, 68 spouts, lids and handles from the Yixing dumps and the Ming palace in Nanking, as well as 203 prototypes or teapot samples in Yixing stoneware, Jingdezhen porcelain, earthenware, enamelled copper, clay, bamboo, bone, which were produced by the company Exotic Line founded and managed by Mr Valfré from 1997 to 2005.

An aesthetic, cultural treasure

The Valfré collection includes certain items dating from before the 16th century: bowl and cup made from mixed clays from the Tang period, ten tenmoku (teaware) bowls from the Song period, a silver alcohol jug from the 13th century, an alcohol jug and cup with dragon-shaped handles in glazed celadon from the Yuan period, porcelain or stoneware cups and bowls from the Ming period. The export porcelain from the 18th century called "Chine de commande" (China order) accounts for 28 pieces. There are also items from the 19th and 20th centuries covering a wide range of shapes and origins (China, Japan, France, United Kingdom, Germany...).

However, the Valfré collection is above all 246 stoneware pieces, mainly teapots from the city of Yixing. A ceramics city half way between Nanking and Shanghai, Yixing is the place where the teapot was invented at the beginning of the 16th century, when tea prepared by infusion finally replaced the decoction (pressing/mashing) process that had been used for centuries. Yixing teapots, with their many nuances of red, violet, purple, brown, yellow or black, have been appreciated and sought after in China for five centuries. Western Europe, after a long 250 year hiatus, is now rediscovering these teapots that kings in the 17th century and at the beginning of the 18th century would eagerly snatch up for the price of gold. What was once a collector's item and curiosity reserved for princes has once again become a daily object, and rightly so; Yixing stoneware is the perfect material for preparing tea in the best conditions to express the aromas and flavours.

Le grès de Yixing, matériau légendaire

Solide, sonore, sensuel aussi, le grès de Yixing est mis en œuvre depuis plus d'un millénaire. Il autorise, par sa légère porosité, un échange idéal entre terre, air, eau et feu. Il est particulièrement adapté aux thés semi-fermentés, les Oolong. Chaque théière de Yixing doit trouver son thé, et ne servir qu'à lui. Elle ne se lave jamais, elle se rince simplement, afin de conserver l'empreinte tannique du thé. Les grès de Yixing sont devenus des objets de collection dès la fin de l’époque Ming au début du XVIIe siècle. Ils se vendaient parfois à leur poids d’or fin, s’ils sortaient des mains d’un grand maître reconnu. Une théière de Yixing est traitée presque comme un être vivant, comme une flamme qu’il ne faut pas laisser s’éteindre. Un amateur sait deviner laquelle va convenir à tel thé, exactement comme un maître de chai connaît ses barriques, leur bois, et celle qui va convenir au vieillissement de tel ou tel vin…

Ces objets qui magnifient l’infusion furent les premiers à parvenir en Europe occidentale à la fin du  XVIe siècle. Une sorte de mythe des grès venus de l’Empire du Milieu s’est alors formé, et c'est avec eux que le thé commença à se répandre en Europe. Le coût prohibitif des théières importées, conjugué à la mode fulgurante de la boisson dans certains pays, stimula les céramistes anglais, allemands et néerlandais qui se lancèrent dans l’imitation des pièces chinoises. La collection Valfré renferme ainsi un rare exemple des productions d'Ary de Milde, célèbre entrepreneur néerlandais peu avant 1700. Cet épisode de la compétition économique entre Orient et Occident dura près d'un siècle, de 1675 à la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle, jusqu'à ce que le goût européen pour la riche et brillante porcelaine émaillée de couleurs vives et de scènes exotiques ne détrône les grès de Yixing sur les tables à thé... avant leur retour dans les années 2000.

The quantity and quality of the objects in the Valfré collection allow us to present almost all the types, styles and decorations of Yixing between the end of the 16th century and the end of the 19th century. This makes it the largest collection in the West for this type of production, now accessible to the public thanks to the action of the Crédit Agricole.