A challenge for the weekend. Can you solve the French rebus on the Sévres porcelain?

Postcard of Cup and Saucer with Rebus, Sévres, 1788, Soft-paste porcelain, ©Hillwood Museum

After writing yesterday's post about Sévres - Cité de la Céramique, I spied a postcard taped to the side of the refrigerator that Sara sent to us after visiting Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens. Thinking that the unique dishes may have been produced in Sévres, I pulled the card off the fridge and sure enough, the description says, "Cup and Saucer with Rebus, Sévres, 1788, soft-paste porcelain".

So, what's so special about these dishes? Here's what Sara wrote:

Hey Mook and Papy [aka Mary Kay and Stéphane]

Yana & I went to the Hillwood Museum today in D.C. The house used to belong to Marjorie Post who collected many French and Russian objects. Maybe Dad can solve the riddle on these plates....

Never being one to shy away from a challenge, especially not from one of his children, Stéphane attempted to solve the rebus, an illusional device that uses pictures to represent words or parts of words.

He figured out the one on the cup, as did most of our French speaking family members, but not the ones on the saucer. Can you solve the mystery? Please let me know if you do! You can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Answers: After posting this challenge on the Trip Advisor Paris forum, Mrs. French Mystique Tours was lightening quick to respond. Here are her answers. On the cup: Elle est ravissante (She is lovely). On the saucer at 12 o'clock: Elle a su m'enflammer (She knew how to excite me). On the saucer at 4 o'clock: Vous soupirez pour elle. (You are in love with her) . On the saucer at 8 o'clock: J'ai découvert ses attraits (I have discovered her charms). Click here to read the thread on TA with Mrs. FMT's explanations.

How did you do?

If you would like to make your own French rebus, that's what Mrs. FMT did at this website using "Sojoh", my name on Trip Advisor.

Postcard ©Hillwood Museum
Postcard ©Hillwood Museum


  1. You have a clever husband and clever readers. That's way beyond my abilities. Good for your daughter for making it to Hillwood, a bit off the beaten path for most Washington sightseers but well worth the visit.

  2. Anne, Not to belittle Stephane and Mrs. FMT's achievements, but they do have a certain advantage over us since they're both native French speakers. Having said that, I'm not sure that I would have figured out the rebus if it had been in English. I'm just not very good at riddles. My husband loves them, especially "la contrepèterie" or word games in French.

    As for Hillwood, my daughter really enjoyed her visit, especially because she went with a friend who is getting her master's degree in decorative arts.

  3. I could figure out "elle" when I realized it wasn't the mark for Sevres, but pretty much lost from there. I thought the cup animal was a cat and something about "six" "cent". Not very good.

    I bought a rebus large card in Nice many moons ago, I wonder where that is now. Maybe I sold it in the yard sale before my big move to Chicago.

  4. You're right, the "L" does look like the mark for Sevres. The animal is a rat, although I also didn't recognize it as one at first. It's probably too complicated for me to explain here, but the next picture is a hedge (haie FR)

    Elle (L) est (haie pronounced "est") ra [from rat] vi [the two letters] cent (100) te.
    Elle est ravissante.

    It's one of those things that is so obvious once someone else figures it out. Before that, it's a complete mystery. At least to me.

    On the Trip Advisor thread, Mrs. FMT recommends watching the movie Ridicule because it is set in the 18th century and is about the importance of intellectual wit at the French court.

  5. I thought it was a weasel on the cup! I see ravissante now - 'rat vi cent'. Ingenious, and a couple of quite risqué pieces of tableware.
    I must do another post about the rebus puzzles in the old magazines we found here. It sounds like Stéphane would crack them easily. There's one here he can have a go at: http://www.bloginfrance.com/2011/getting-organised-and-a-135-year-old-puzzle

  6. Steph, The first time I saw the cup, I didn't recognize the animal as a rat either. But that's where native speakers have an advantage because they only glance at the picture to determine what fits with the following clues.

    Yes, please do another post about the puzzles that you found. I'll challenge Stephane with the one on your blog when he returns home later this evening. I like asking him these kind of things when his brain is tired so that he doesn't make me feel stupid! ;-)

    I'm going to put the link for this website in the body of the post, but you can make your own French rebus here.


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