Inventory Number C0100
Size 13.25" H x 10.5" W
Period Art Nouveau
Country of Origin France
Year Made 1901
A beautiful stoneware vase bearing Edmond Lachenal's mark but more likely the work of his pupil Émile Decoeur. Lachenal producing simply glazed stonewares beginning around 1900, whereas Decoeur seems to have concentrated on earthenware during most of his time at Lachenal's atelier. However, like many other ceramicists, Decoeur seems to have fallen under the spell of Jean Carriès mat-glazed stoneware, which was coming to be seen as an aesthetic alternative to porcelain and earthenware. Almost certainly, Decoeur created the stoneware pieces that bear both Lachenal's mark and his own monogram beneath. These are works distinguished by harmonious proportions, restrained linear rhythms, and arresting glazes. Although the present vase, which is one of a kind, lacks Decoeur's monogram, it possesses all these same qualities. Its stately, balanced form is graced with finely modeled handles, and a flowing reduction glaze offsets the rotund body with a vertical emphasis.
-Description by Claire Cass
Although marked only by Edmond Lachenal, the aesthetic of the vase Harmony (1901) is much more in keeping with that of his talented protege Émile Decouer.[i] Its rounded body and the undulating contours of its mouth create a harmonious effect, which contrasts with the dramatic white tin glazes overlaying its dark, tortoiseshell-like background. The vase’s striking aesthetic is a potent example of what Decour was producing under Lachenal at the turn of the twentieth century. This same year, Decoeur exhibited under his own name for the first time at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français, where he was awarded a mention honorable for the five flambés stoneware pieces that he showed. Reporting on the exhibition, the critic Charles Saunier spotlighted the potter, remarking, “Lachenal’s workshops were the training ground for an artist of great distinction, whose stoneware deserves attention. We are referring, of course, to M. Decoeur. The forms of his pieces are accentuated by ribbing which emphasizes their elongated shape.”[ii]
Born in Paris on April 27, 1876 and orphaned in 1889, Emile Decoeur was apprenticed in 1890 to Edmond Lachenal. The already-famous potter, who had been himself trained in the workshop of a celebrated figure in ceramics, Theodore Deck, was based in Châtillon-sous-Bagneux, a small suburban town south of the French capital. Decoeur joined Lachenal’s enterprise at a decisive moment. In the 1890s, many French potters were forgoing traditional earthenware and and applied ornament, finding instead freedom in an Asian aesthetic and inspiration from nature. Lachenal controlled every stage of production from the preparation of the clays and glazes to the design, glazing and firing of the pieces. The young apprentice also supplemented his training with courses at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in Paris and evening drawing classes at the Bibliothèque Forney. In the mid-1890s, following the paths of Dalpayrat and Delaherche before him, Lachenal’s growing interest in stoneware opened a new range of artistic possibilities and opportunities that Decoeur enthusiastically seized upon with skill and talent.
Recognition of Decoeur’s contributions finally came at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, where he was awarded a bronze medal for his role as Lachenal’s assistant. After ten years, and having gradually been entrusted with increasing responsibility, Decoeur was allowed to sign his pieces alongside Lachenal’s mark. He continued to assist Lachenal at least until 1904 and resided at rue Charles Divry in the 14th arrondissement; in 1903 he relocated to 14-16 rue Gudin in Auteuil and established his own atelier. There, he was joined by a promising young ceramist named Fernand Rumèbe, who worked alongside him for three years. In 1904 they opened their own workshop and gallery, L’Art céramique. Sharing a space, shop and kiln allowed them to reduce the considerable costs associated with the production of ceramics. During this period, Decoeur created richly carved vases adorned with dramatic curves and foliage extending from the vessles’ necks or shoulders. Described in the press as an “unrelenting researcher, a vibrant colorist who looks to nature for the curve of a fruit or branch, the secret of its simple and erupting lines,” Decoeur won the admiration of amateurs and professionals alike.[iii] In 1904 the commission of the city of Paris acquired one of his gourd-shaped vases at the Salon of the Société nationale des beaux-arts, to be displayed in the Musée Galliera.[iv] The following year, the French state acquired two pieces for the Musée du Luxembourg.
Benefitting from the many Parisian venues showing decorative arts at the time, Decoeur attracted the attention of critics and decorators, such as François Monod, who described at length in the journal Art et Décoration what he saw and felt while looking at his ceramics. “The most beautiful of Mr. Decoeur’s recent pieces have simple and pure shapes; their glazes are dense and hard, like primitive rocks, heavy but not thick, incorporated and incrusted by the power of fire into the vibrant stoneware, comparable in their intimate structure, their veins and crystalline flecks, to mica schists and porphyries.”[v] At L’Art céramique, Decoeur produced objects in stoneware and porcelain and experimented with grès porcelainique. He also continued Lachenal’s work, casting and editing stoneware sculptures. The potter collaborated with some of the main sculptors of the time, who were working in either symbolist or naturalist veins, such as Paul Moreau-Vauthier, Théodore Rivière, and Pierre Roche. The distribution of Decoeur’s production by Adèle Lesbros, owner of La maison d’arts décoratifs on the rue de Paradis, which specialized in Art Nouveau ceramics, also contributed to the commercial success of the potter’s enterprise.
Around the same time Decoeur moved his atelier, only a few kilometers from Lachenal’s workshop, to Fontenay-aux-Roses where his beloved Victorine Augustine Testart, whom he just married, owned a house and large garden. There, he built his last and final kilns and established his atelier and continued to garner praise for his work. In October 1908 Le Courrier français applauded the master potter, stating, “Emile Decoeur is one of the rare ceramists who, in the last few years, has won a place of honor in a delicate and noble art.”[vi] The journalist continues, “one feels a soul vibrating in the flanks of [Decoeur’s] elegant and robust vases.”[vii] The move of his workshop also signaled a new stylistic and technical direction for Decoeur, who, like many of his peers started to turn away from Art Nouveau towards a more subdued and symmetrical aesthetic. By the end of this decade, the balance of sober forms and use of Oriental motifs became Decoeur’s trademark. By 1910, he had mastered the use of an incredible range of metallic oxides, yielding intense colors from yellow to pink.
His style became restrained and even austere in the following decades, and he concentrated his research on the creation of pure shapes and incredible glazes. His rich and celebrated career eventually led him to the most prestigious position in the realm of French ceramics: artistic advisor at the National manufactory of Sèvres in 1942, a position he held until 1948. Decoeur’s aesthetic again changed and he used the opacity and thickness of the glaze to create pieces that looked more like gems than ceramics. Although he achieved much acclaim and recognition for his works, he ceased his personal production and devoted himself to the manufactory. Interestingly, while at Sèvres, Decoeur used the shapes he had perfected in his own workshop in the 1910s and 20s. At the end of World War II in 1945 Decoeur restarted his kilns and continued to produce wares until his death in 1953.
[i] Michel Giraud and Fabien Fravalo, Emile Decoeur 1876-1953 (Paris: Galerie Michel Giraud, 2008).
[ii] Charles Saunier, “Céramique, verrerie, émail,” L’Art décoratif 6 (July 1901), 151 quoted in Michel Giraud and Fabien Fravalo, Emile Decoeur 1876-1953 (Paris: Galerie Michel Giraud, 2008), 58.
[iii] Gaston Derys, “L’Amour s’amuse chez un céramiste,“ Le Courrier Français, August 30, 1906, 3: “Emile Decoeur, chercheur opiniâtre, vibrant coloriste, qui demande à la nature, à la courbe d’un fruit, d’une branche, le secret de ses lignes simples et jaillissantes.“
[iv] Paris, Petit Palais, Inv. OGAL104.
[v] François Monod, “Chronique,” Art et Décoration 22 (April 1907): 2-3: “Les plus belles des dernières pièces de M. Decoeur ont des formes simples et pures ; leurs couvertes sont denses et dures comme les roches primitives du globe, lourdes sans épaisseur, incorporées et incrustées par la puissance du feu dans le grès sonore, pareilles par leur structure intime, par leurs veines et leurs mouchetures cristallines aux micaschistes et aux porphyres...“
[vi] Gaston Derys, “Emile Decoeur,” Le Courrier Français, October 22, 1908, 11: “Emile Decoeur est un des rares céramistes qui ont conquis, depuis quelques années, une place d’honneur dans un art délicat et noble entre tous.”
[vii] Derys, “Emile Decoeur,” 11: “On sent une âme vibrer aux flancs de ces vases élégants et robustes…”