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At the moment, there are 3 exceptional exhibitions at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. The first one, Des Céramiques Sublimes, French Ceramics 1875-1945has been on my wish list since November last year. Five months later, I finally got to see it. If you want to see it too, you need to hurry though; the exhibition ends April 3rd 2016.

Des Céramiques Sublimes

I have to be honest with you. This blog turned out to be one heck of a tough nut to crack! I could not paint a clear picture from the museum’s woolly texts due to the poor use of pronouns, excessive use of adjectives and a mixed chronology. I first had to dissect every sentence, and read a lot of other literature. But now I think I’m ready to give it a try…

Des Céramiques Sublimes, French Ceramics 1875-1945

During the late 19th and the early 20th century, French ceramics experienced their ‘Golden Age’. France provided the world’s wealthy and privileged with the finest quality ceramics. The exhibition rightfully starts with a few outstanding examples of the French porcelain industry of that time. Lovely to see some objects from L’Art Nouveau Bing, as I happen to be a big fan of Siegfried Bing!

During that same era, somewhere between 1860 and 1890, French designers and ceramicists started to move away from the conventional aesthetics though. They were influenced by Japanese art, it’s asymmetry and it’s fascination with nature. Below plate designs by Félix Bracquemond (whose name I already mentioned in my story about Siegfried Bing) are regarded as the earliest example of Japonism in applied arts.

Independent potters went even further and started creating completely different stoneware as a reaction to the prevailing style and working methods of the ceramics industry. They were artists, they worked independently. And they were not in the least interested in making practical household articles.

One of the ateliers that had a significant influence on later development of French stoneware was the Haviland Atelier in Paris. It’s designers Ernest Chaplet, Auguste Delaherche and Jean-Joseph Carriès played a pioneering role at a time when decorative arts were gaining a status equal to that of fine art. Chaplet, Delaherche and Carriès laid the foundation of modern Western ceramic art.

Once the first superficial phase of Japonism had passed (the decorating of European ceramics with Japanese designs), these three potters aiming to measure up to Eastern ceramics reached the essence of ceramic art: forms covered with glazes.

Auguste Delaherche 1894 (Bowl 1912)

Auguste Delaherche 1894 (Bowl 1912)

Japanese art, inspired by nature, now led French artists to sculpt forms inspired by flowers, plants and fruits. And Symbolism, a fascination of the fin de siècle, was often present in masks, tiles and reliefs. (Unfortunately the exhibition did not include my favorite 1892 Carriès mask: The Sleeping Faune)

The fin de siècle was a period when ceramic objets d’art were exhibited at all 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.

As French art potters managed to achieve timeless masterpieces they arrived at an apparent simplicity, characterised by purity of form, new textures and unusual glazes.

The status of decorative arts had become equal to that of (traditional) fine arts. And French ceramics led the way.

Current exhibition is the result of a doctoral research conducted by Marc Lambrechts at the University of Leiden. According to the museum, exhibitions on this subject are rare, even in France. In the Netherlands, the last major show was held at the Stedelijk Museum more than a century ago, in 1913!

In the context of my Journey into understanding Art Nouveau, this particular exhibition should not be omitted. It illustrates what was happening in Europe during the fin de siècle. While Art Academies (and specifically the French Académie des Beaux-Arts) had for centuries dictated what fine art should look like, what defined fine art, artists all over Europe started to criticize that. And Art Nouveau was born…

Exhibition French Ceramics 1875-1945
21 Nov 2015 – 3 Apr 2016
Gemeentemuseum The Hague

Marc Lambrechts’ book L’Objet Sublime, Franse Ceramiek 1875-1945 is available in Dutch. Like to read English? I also recommend the book French Art Nouveau Ceramics, An Illustrated Dictionary by Paul Arthur.

l'objet sublime by Marc Lambrechts French_Art_Nouveau_Ceramics_Paul_Arthur

Update 28 April 2018: the dissertation (with a summary in French) of Marc Lambrechts was released on the website of the University of Leiden and can be downloaded here: https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/35969

Antique Ceramics: The Origin of Porcelain
Ceramics by Jean-Joseph Carriès at the Petit Palais
French Sculpture Census – Jean Carriès
Haviland Workshop
Limoges Porcelain