Tureen found at a vide-grenier

Vide-Grenier: Treasure Hunting in Provence

One of our favorite things to do while in France is to visit a vide-grenier. A vide-grenier is literally translated as “empty your attic” and rather than just being a flea market or village-wide yard sale, it can be an event filled with treasures. Yes, you will see people just selling their children’s old toys and outgrown baby clothes, but you’ll also find vendors with antique embroidered linens, fabulous furniture oozing with French appeal, and a surprising amount of Limoges porcelain. One time there was a collection of art and sketchbooks from the beginning of the 20th century. What a treat!

A Vide-grenier
© MMFE – CC 4.0

Soup Tureens or Chamber Pots?

Some of the most intriguing things I have seen are the French chamber pots. Yes, you read that correctly! At first, I thought they were soup tureens, as they were highly decorated, and often painted with flowers and curlicues, but then I began to notice that there were some subtle and not so subtle differences. My confusion was compounded by the prevalence of actual soup tureens to be found. Large, imposing beasts worthy of the best soupe à l’oignon or bisque, usually with a lip in the rim to hold a ladle and sometimes with both the lid and the accompanying porcelain base. Ah, life goals…

But why would you paint an eye at the bottom of a soup tureen, or a chamber pot for that matter? The more I looked, the more of these strangely painted things I found. Even more strangely I found some with cupids and hearts on them. I can’t imagine many things less romantic than a chamber pot, so I knew there had to be a reason for this. Yes, the French sense of humor can be quirky, but the plot thickens.
French chamber pot
French chamber pot
French chamber pot with eye

French Tradition

I discovered that there is an old French wedding tradition where the leftover alcohol and food from the wedding celebration was collected in a (hopefully new) chamber pot and presented to the newly-weds for them to consume,  giving them the necessary energy to survive the night! There are variations to the theme, sometimes there would just be alcohol in there, sometimes there would be everything, including meat, and other times there would be a hunt through the celebrations to find the couple, who having retired earlier would be awoken and made to drain the contents of this pot de chambre. Mon Dieu, quelle horreur! Thankfully, the tradition has changed over the years, so now it’s usually just a mixture of Champagne and chocolate. Hey, I could live with that!

So, although that explains the cupids and hearts it does nothing to explain the eyes painted on the inside of the chamber pot! Here’s looking at you, kid?

We try to include a visit to a vide-grenier during every workshop and retreat, weather and time permitting, so when you come with us, you’ll never know what you might find!

Beautiful Chamber pot

French Tradition

I discovered that there is an old French wedding tradition where the leftover alcohol and food from the wedding celebration was collected in a (hopefully new) chamber pot and presented to the newly-weds for them to consume,  giving them the necessary energy to survive the night! There are variations to the theme, sometimes there would just be alcohol in there, sometimes there would be everything, including meat, and other times there would be a hunt through the celebrations to find the couple, who having retired earlier would be awoken and made to drain the contents of this pot de chambre. Mon Dieu, quelle horreur! Thankfully, the tradition has changed over the years, so now it’s usually just a mixture of Champagne and chocolate. Hey, I could live with that!

French chamber pot
So, although that explains the cupids and hearts it does nothing to explain the eyes painted on the inside of the chamber pot! Here’s looking at you, kid?
French chamber pot with eye

We try to include a visit to a vide-grenier during every workshop and retreat, weather and time permitting, so when you come with us, you’ll never know what you might find!

Beautiful Chamber pot

Want to go treasure hunting in Provence?

We plan for a visit to a Vide-Grenier on each of our workshops in France, take a look at our available dates in Provence here. If you find you’re experiencing the urge to go treasure-hunting in Provence, send us a note, we can help you with that.

A Vide-Grenier in Provence
© Paris Tourist Office – Photographer : Marc Bertrand

Blogger: Shirley Hambrick

Shirley Hambrick is an award-winning stained-glass artist and painter. She has lived in Scotland, Spain and the USA. Shirley is part of the Workshops in France team and attended over 20 of these trips. She writes about her adventures.

Being Scottish, she was trained at Edinburgh College of Art and Design. Shirley teaches in the West Virginia area and you can some of her beautiful work here.

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