Christiaan Johannes (Chris) Lanooy was an exceptional Dutch ceramist, (and a painter as well as a glass artist) from Sint-Annaland, a tiny village with little over 3.000 inhabitants today. Local museum De Meestoof houses a fairly complete overview of his work, in which all periods and styles are represented. I have long wanted to visit this museum, yet in 2018 when the museum presented a large exhibition Gloeiende Glazuren about Lanooy, I didn’t make it to the museum. This summer I finally did…
Chris Lanooy – becoming a ceramist
Chris’ father was a blacksmith at Tholen who sympathized with socialist Domela Nieuwenhuis and seldom went to church. His convictions caused him to lose most of his business in this religious rural area and made him move his family to The Hague (in 1889). Little Chris was not very motivated to go to school, but he loved to draw and paint. In September 1896 (when he was only fifteen years old!) he managed to get a temporary internship as a decorative painter at the Rozenburg Pottery. During winter, like all Rozenburg interns, he followed obligatory courses at the Royal Academy of Art. But after a year he had enough of it and he quit Rozenburg.
Soon after leaving Rozenburg, Chris started working at Plateelbakkerij (Pottery) Zuid-Holland in Gouda, thanks to Leendert J. Muller (1879-1969) who was a designer at Zuid-Holland. Muller also helped Chris become a ceramist. Besides decorating at Zuid-Holland and firing his own pots, Chris now started experimenting with glazes. In 1903, he moved to Amsterdam and got a job at yet another pottery: Wed. Brantjes in Purmerend. When this firm threatened to go bankrupt in 1904, he moved to Scheveningen where he got a small atelier with his own kiln. This is where he first started to apply running glazes (blue from using titanium with kobalt).
During the period 1902-1905 Lanooy mostly produced ceramics with figurative decorations in rather unspectacular colours. As he used German chemical literature to create his glaze recipes, he has always denied having had a Japanese influence.
After Plateelbakkerij Wed. Brantjes merged with the sculpture factory of H.F. Antheunis in 1906 and became known as the HAGA pottery, Lanooy became their artistic leader. He focussed on transparent luster glazes though at the beginning, his glazes were often too dark; he was obviously experiencing some difficulties. One of his most extensive series at this pottery was one decorated with dragons. Another popular series comprised mostly sea creatures such as fish, crabs, jellyfish and sea urchins. But Chris also produced several abstract designs. When HAGA went bankrupt in 1907, Chris had already moved on, or should I say ‘moved back’, to Gouda.
Lanooy’s early years as an independent ceramist
Behind his house in Gouda, Chris built no less than 4 kilns, a glaze-laboratory / atelier and a plaster room. Even though he was still registered as a decorative painter at Plateelbakkerij Zuid-Holland, he could now become an independent ceramist. The first independent art potter in the Netherlands. In this period, he predominantly created underwater decorations and organic motifs with a luster glaze, as those were most popular with his customers.
But he also experimented extensively with firing techniques and brown, black and sometimes metallic dripping glazes that he developed himself, inspired by Japanese and Chinese decorating methods. After 1909 he no longer decorated; the decorations consisted almost exclusively of his glazes.
Also the next batch was for Bremmer. It would actually end up at an exhibition. The exhibition was a great success and Bremmer then asked Lanooy to work on some sculptures together with Jan Altorf (1876-1955). He started his preparations with a few white vases, according to an old (1662) Delft recipe from Adriaen de Meijer. And from 1911 onwards, under Bremmers direction, Lanooy and Altorf embarked on their journey together.
In the mean time, Chris’ star was rising. He exhibited here and there, and in 1910 he was asked to submit an object for a show at the Frederiks Brothers in New York. The show traveled around and Lanooy was described in the accompanying documentation as ‘a ceramist with no equal in the whole world’. His work was highly appreciated and thus a lot of his work ended up on the other side of the ocean. The same year, his work was exhibited at the Brussels World Fair where it was praised for it’s high quality.
From here on, lots of students and employees worked at his workshop in Gouda, which basically became a factory. It is assumed that one of the ovens at Plateelbakkerij Zuid-Holland was also utilized sometimes, possibly when his own ovens were full. Or maybe because this oven had specific properties. When Lanooy was asked to list all descriptions and glaze recipes in 1943 for Helene Kröller-Müller, this additional kiln was often mentioned.
The Ultimate Recognition
The ultimate recognition came in 1914 when Chris got a solo-exhibition at the city Museum in Amsterdam which was acclaimed by the art critics. The exhibition was a chronological overview of 12 years, divided into 5 periods, where the period 1912-1914 showed a clear peak in his application of special glazes combined with certain techniques.
Most of his objects were named after impressions or aspects of nature, like Hare Skin, Four Seasons, Blue Iris, Sun Set with Melting Snow or Dark Night with Breaking Moon. Lanooy stressed the fact that nothing had been left to chance. All glazes were carefully determined which was also evident from the fact that he described what would have happened, had he used a different temperature or a different chemical element.
World War I stopped shipments to the USA and that is how items with inscription ‘Holland’ got on the European market. It became more and more difficult for Lanooy to get raw materials and in 1915 he was about to close the factory and fire his staff. His wife was ill and he was not well himself either… But Bremmer helped him out. Bremmer also made sure wealthy families would buy the unique works. He remained in business, and many of his unique pieces from this period would end up in museums. This is when he started signing his work with the initials of his children Cees, Lotty, Betty and Ruud.
A New Start in Epe
When Lotty got malaria, the family doctor advised Chris to move to a drier area and that is how the Lanooy family ended up in Epe. In 1920 his newborn son Hedda died (hence the 5th letter ‘H’ in his 1919/1920 signature). And while he still produced some ceramics in Gouda, he could only start creating new ceramics in Epe from 1922, when his new stoneware kiln was ready. Wealthy families with second homes near Epe willingly paid a fortune for these products and also exports to America picked up again. Locally his figurative work (like majolica motifs and blue Delft decorations) was sought-after, while the Americans seemed to have a preference for his abstract Art Nouveau ceramics.
In 1925, to mark his 25th anniversary as a potter, Lanooy decided to produce 1.000 large plates with mushrooms. He made 3 series. The first series had a characteristic rim of slanted blue stripes and Oriental-looking ornaments in the center, in a fashion we know from Theo Colenbrander. Not very strange when you realise Colenbrander also worked at Zuid-Holland.
When he got bored with the design, he started to add running glazes to the center as well as the rim of the plates. Until he completely dropped the stripes and the mushrooms were no longer recognisable. The second series of mushroom-plates had a star shaped border; the Oriental ornamentation was now left out. And in the third group of anniversary plates, the mushrooms became organically distorted, or replaced by entilery different images. Like a Cubist village.
The press was rather critical about the mushroom plates though; they preferred his colourful abstract designs with running glazes. Lanooy took their complaints seriously and went back to his previous designs with craquelé, metallique and running glazes.
Not only Dutch, but particularly American collectors knew where to find Lanooy’s atelier in Epe. They should be considered his most important customers. All items destined for the USA bear the mark HOLLAND at the back. In 1928 Lanooy even participated in the International Exhibition of Ceramic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, an exhibition that afterwards traveled to seven more cities in The States.
During the economic crisis of the 1930s Lanooy had to fall back on his series of plates again. But instead of mushrooms, be painted birds. For these kind of large series, the patterns were applied on the single baked bisque earthenware with a ponsief, a piece of tracing paper in which the pattern was punched out with a needle. By rubbing the ponsief with a bag of charcoal powder, the image was transferred. Then the image could be filled in with paint, and branches and borders were added to the decoration. When the painting was ready, the earthenware was covered with a layer of transparent glaze, after which it was baked again. Colenbrander-style decorations were left out. But Colenbrander díd contribute one decoration: a kingfisher on a branch. Lanooy’s daughter Lotty painted that plate.
During these years, Lanooy also developed a new kind of blue, green and pink running glaze with irregular patterns of dots and needle dashes. The new glaze was received positively at home and abroad.
When Lanooy had to shut down his kilns due to shortages of fuel in 1943, he wrote down all technical details of his ceramics in the collection of Helene Kröller-Müller. These descriptions have turned out to be crucial for understanding his techniques today.
When in December 1944 the Germans discovered weapons that Chris had hidden, they sent him to prison in Apeldoorn. Shortly before his execution, Chris slipped into a coma as a result of his diabetes. As a result he was transferred to Camp Amersfoort, where he survived the war. After the war, Chris picked up his ceramics again, and in 1946 he received and invitation to exhibit at the Eriksmesse in Stockholm. His entries were highly appreciated and a government delegation even asked him to become a designer at the famous Gustavsberg factories. His health however, did not allow for him to accept the offer and Chris returned home to Epe. He remained working at Epe until he passed away in January 1968.
Lanooy’s techniques, including his firing of the kilns with natural materials like peat, were studied by ceramist Hans van Riessen. And Van Riessen’s findings were verified by internationally renowned Asian ceramics specialist and professor at i.a. Oxford University, Nigel Wood. Wood concluded that Lanooy’s glazes are related to Asian glazes, but contained fewer organic compounds. They consisted largely of inorganic compounds, in which precious metals often played a role. His techniques correspond most closely to those of French Art Nouveau ceramists like Ernest Chaplet, August Delaherche, Emile Decoeur and Clement Massier, who mainly worked at Sèvres.
Continue reading about French ceramics at: French Ceramics 1875-1945.
Besides designing ceramics, Chris Lanooy painted, designed glass for Royal Leerdam, wallpaper for Rath & Doodeheefver and damast for E.J.F. van Dissel in Eindhoven. He was an exceedingly versatile artist. And to be honest, I found the exhibit at Museum De Meestoof much too small for such a great artist. There was little of his work on display. And it was not very well documented. Luckily, I found a catalogue from the 2018 exhibition ‘Gloeiende Glazuren’ at the museum shop, which has been helpful interpreting the exhibited objects.
Lanooy deserves a much larger permanent exhibition. He was one of the pioneers in The Netherlands who created ground breaking ceramics with experimental glazes at the beginning of the 20th century. Internationally, he was not alone in the development from decorative painter to art potter. Lanooy connected with new developments in European ceramics that became visible around 1880. These developments mainly took place in France, where the term artiste céramiste, or art potter arose. The artistes céramistes no longer regarded themselves as craftsmen, but as artists. Potters Ernest Chaplet (1835-1909) and Auguste Delaherche (1857-1940) played an important role in these stylistic and technical developments. They also sought their inspiration mainly in Asian ceramics.
With their abstract patterns in running glazes and craquelé effects, pioneers like Chris Lanooy left the traditional hand painted decoration behind. And turned decorative ceramics into Art.
Note: as there was too little on display in the permanent exhibit at Museum the Meestoof to illustrate how exceptionally beautiful Lanooy’s work was, I have taken the liberty to borrow several photos from other museums and galleries in the Netherlands for this blog.
Here a few more pictures of his work, the 2 most spectacular ones are borrowed.
Exhibition ‘Gloeiende Glazuren’ in 2018 (Dutch)
Wikipage Chris Lanooy (Dutch)
Chris Lanooy Experimentele glazuren (Dutch)
Vind Magazine: Vaas met Craquelé (Dutch)
Chris Lanooy: Long live the Experiment (English)
A decorative delight: Dutch ceramics, 1880-1940 (English)
Chris Lanooy at Gallery ProportioDivina
Chris Lanooy at Centraal Museum Utrecht
Chris Lanooy at Purmerends Museum
Chris Lanooy at Museum Kröller-Müller
Chris Lanooy at Kunstcollectie Gemeente Epe