The late 19th and early 20th century was a veritable Golden Age for French ceramics. In the 1890s, the position of France was unique: the country produced the finest and most forward-looking ceramics in the world. The forthcoming exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Des Céramiques sublimes – French ceramics 1875-1945, offers a marvellous overview of French art ceramics from the early days right through to the period immediately after the Second World War. The show will be a visual delight for all lovers of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, but also of interest to everyone who knows about ceramics.
Des céramiques sublimes – French ceramics 1875 – 1945 focuses on a number of independent artists who made few if any objects for everyday use, preferring to specialise in the creation of art objects of truly outstanding quality. These artists, including early trailblazers like Chaplet, Delaherche and Carriès, played a pioneering role at a time when the decorative arts were gaining a status equal to that of fine art. It was a period when ceramic objets d’art were exhibited at a host of world’s fairs, at the Paris salons and in exclusive art galleries, and when they were being purchased by the greatest museums in France and elsewhere.
Oriental influences – initially mainly Japanese, later predominantly Chinese – played a key role in the discovery of a new formal vocabulary. The French ceramicists were in constant search of innovation and originality. Indeed, it was in the work of a number of ceramic artists in Paris that Art Deco made its first appearance, as ceramicists abandoned the inspiration from nature that had typified Art Nouveau. During both periods, however, French art potters managed to achieve timeless masterpieces. They arrived at an apparent simplicity, characterised by purity of form, new textures and unusual glazes. In 1921 Dutch ceramic artist Bert Nienhuis used the felicitous phrase ‘wondrous beauties of glaze and form’ to describe the work of his French colleague Emile Decoeur, one of the greatest French ceramicists of the 20th century.
Exhibitions on this subject are rare, even in France. Here in the Netherlands, the last major show was held at the Stedelijk Museum as long ago as 1913. More than a century on, it is high time to exhibit these art ceramics once again, particularly in view of the doctoral research recently conducted by Marc Lambrechts at the University of Leiden. The show will feature more than 170 objects, sourced from the collection of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, private collections, and the collections of the Rijksmuseum, the Design Museum Ghent and the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels.
A comprehensive Dutch-language work of reference will be on sale in the museum shop. L’Objet Sublime. Franse Ceramiek 1875 – 1945 is authored by M. Lambrechts and issued by Pandora Publishers in Antwerp.