Saturday, November 16, 2019

Andrew Planche: A Huguenot Porcelain Visionary

In all the fiction I've written so far, the main character is a product of my imagination, as are many of the secondary characters. But I also weave into my stories real people from history. Some are quite famous, such as Henry VIII and Catherine Howard in my Tudor trilogy, and Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour in The Blue. But some "real" people who populate my books, while far from well known to the general public, are important to me and to my story.

Such is certainly the case with Andrew Planche, a character in The Blue.


When I was first sketching out my ideas for this historical thriller, I knew I wanted to write an espionage story set in the porcelain world of the 18th century, but I hadn't developed the main character beyond  "female spy." I had a true "A ha!" moment when, in my research, I discovered that Huguenot artists played a pivotal role in the early days of many English porcelain factories. I had long been wanting to write about the French Huguenots. I myself am descended from a Huguenot settler who came to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in 1661.

But before I go any further on the Huguenots, it's important to explain the state of porcelain-making in England in the 1700s. For centuries, porcelain was the provenance of China, with hard-paste porcelain produced there beginning in the 13th century. When Western markets opened up, it was exported to those who could pay. In Europe, porcelain found an eager market, with the royal families of several Western European countries spending a fortune on their collections.  King Philip of Spain, who tried, and failed, to invade England, was a porcelain enthusiast; King Louis XIV of France a porcelain fanatic.

Not surprisingly, in Europe there were many efforts to create porcelain without needing to import it at such tremendous cost, but no one could figure out the correct formula for turning clay into fragile objects of ravishing, sparkling beauty. Then came two breakthroughs--one of them thanks to a mission of espionage in China--and by the early 18th century the competition was on. 

Porcelain workshops sprang up in Germany, France, and England to try to snatch up this luxury market. One museum curator described it to me as "the space race of its time." Ironically, these same three countries became embroiled in the Seven Years War in the mid-18th century, known as the French and Indian War in America. They were vying for dominance in many spheres. One was colonial exploitation, yes. Another was manufacturing the most beautiful porcelain.

As for the Huguenots, they were French Protestants who, faced with hostility from the Catholic powers-that-be in France, immigrated in waves.  They formed a sizable community in England--in fact, the word refugee was coined to describe these Protestants seeking refuge in another country. Many Huguenots  were highly skilled artisans such as silk weavers, potters, and silversmiths, and it is now acknowledged that France erred in driving out these valuable citizens. The destruction of this burgeoning middle class played a part in the outbreak of the French Revolution.

Andrew Planche is in many ways a classic Huguenot of his time. However, there are gaps and contradictions in his story. 

He was born in either 1727 or 1728 to Paul Planche, a French refugee, and his wife, Marie Ann Fournier, and baptized in Soho. Some accounts say that his father was a coffee merchant whose name was actually Blanchet, others that the father was a ceramicist trained at Meissen, one of the leading porcelain workshops in Europe, who taught Andrew what he knew. It seems that either the father died while Andrew was a teenager or he remarried and Andrew and his brothers had to "shift for themselves."

By the 1750s, Andrew Planche seems to have found a home in Derby, one source said "in reduced circumstances." According to various documents and papers, he was there in 1756 at the formation of Derby Porcelain Works. William Duesbury, who had London experience in "enameling," and a banker named John Heath set up this business. Planche is thought by some to have been the creative force. 

One book published in 1878 described the situation:

"There has always been a tradition that the first maker of China [porcelain] in Derby was a Frenchman, who lived in a small house in Lodge Lane, who modelled and made small articles in China, principally animals--birds, cats, dogs, lambs, etc., which he fired in a pipe-maker's oven in the neighborhood belonging to a man named Woodward....He was evidently a very clever man and ... had the secret to making China body, Duesbury the energy and other requirements and Heath the money to start out and carry out the famous Derby China Works."

"Chinaman and Boy," attributed to Andrew Planche

Above is a photograph of one of the very few porcelain objects attributed to Andrew Planche. As you can see, it is far from a simple cat or dog but a sophisticated figure of an Asian man, swirling in motion. The art and fashion of the Far East fascinated the aristocrats and wealthy merchants of England  during this time.

Despite its promising launch as a business, Andrew Planche extricated himself from Derby Porcelain Works just as it was gaining its first acclaim. I could never find an explanation as to why.

Catherine Beth, Lippert, the author of Eighteenth Century English Porcelain in the Collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, said Planche's work displayed "a vitality and crispness of modeling that the later pieces lack." After Planche's exit, Lippert wrote that Derby's style of the porcelain was strongly influenced by Sevres, the French manufactory sponsored by Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV.

By the 1760s Andrew had changed his name and was actively pursuing a career as an actor. He toured the north of England and by 1768 worked as a prompter at the Old Orchard Street Theatre in Bath where he supposedly "stayed for thirty-one years." Andrew Planche died in January 1805.

As for Derby Porcelain Works, it did not suffer long from Planche's departure. By 1770, Duesbury, described by all as an astute and assertive businessman, acquired some of his competition in the respected Chelsea China Works and the Bow moulds, and brought a number of their craftsmen from London to Derby. He opened a large London showroom in 1773.

A figure created in Derby after Planche's departure

According to the website for the factory, "A Royal Warrant from King George III, dated 28th March 1775, appointing William Duesbury and John Heath 'Derby China Manufacturers to His Majesty', and in recognition the factory adopted a new mark with a crown surmounting the script Duesbury ‘D’ used earlier."

Royal Crown Derby "is one of the few original fine bone china manufacturers that still remains in Britain today, 100 percent producing in Britain," states its website. "Ours is a history with an illustrious heritage in British society."

Royal Crown Derby porcelain made in 1770s, showing influence of Sevres.
From the Victoria and Albert Museum Collection.

Royal Crown Derby today

To circle back to The Blue, I was so intrigued by the mysteries of Andrew Planche, described by one 19th century writer dismissively as "an apocryphal French refugee," that I decided to make him the cousin of my main character, a Huguenot artist who I named Genvieve Planche. In the novel Andrew plays a small but pivotal role, yet he's as much of a fundamental mystery to Genevieve as he is to history. :)

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