Inventory Number: CHE061
Size: 14.50h in
Material: Glazed Stoneware
Year Made: 1895
This elongated vase remains a particularly representative example of Ernest Chaplet’s use of color and treatment of ceramic space. On top of an off-white glaze, the ceramist applied a heavy layer of dark red glaze, which dripped from top to bottom. The dripping glaze creates a marvelous visual effect, enhanced by occasional cracks and textural effects. The motifs on the vase remain abstract and often result from the ceramist’s creative use of clay and glaze. Three circular handles adorn the upper part of the object. The overall elegance of the piece is a result of its slender shape and combination of delicate colors.
Ernest Chaplet’s career is perhaps the most representative example of the evolution of artistic ceramics at the turn of the twentieth century. His passion for ceramics and its history encouraged him to try everything that the material could offer and his affinity for Non-Western art and vernacular techniques contributed to his success. His endless and unprecedented research led him to what many consider the greatest achievements of the period in France. Roger Marx’s 1910 appraisal of Chaplet in Art et décoration is a fitting tribute to the potter and the relentless enthusiasm with which he pursued his craft: “The man was as rare as his work.”[i]
Born on July 8, 1835 in Sèvres, Ernest Chaplet was destined to devote his life to the modeling, decoration and firing of clay. He grew up surrounded by independent ceramists and workers of the National Porcelain Manufactory, who liked to spend their free time in his father’s cabaret. His apprenticeship at the Sèvres manufactory starting in 1848 came as a logical next step. He soon settled in Paris where he first worked as a porcelain painter.
Chaplet soon abandoned porcelain and focused on earthenware, just as the material was gaining favor with a growing number of ceramists, especially in Paris. He met the painter Emile Lessore, with whom he began decorating tin-glazed earthenware. After his brief military service (1856-57), he was hired by the potter François Laurin, based in Bourg-la-Reine, where he produced they produced decorative earthenware for the next decade.[ii] In 1871, Chaplet perfected the process of barbotine decoration--using colored slips to create pictorial effects--achieving an effect very similar to oil painting. Sold at the famous shop L’Escalier de Cristal starting in 1872, this new technique was met, for a short period of time, with great success in France.
The Haviland brothers soon seized the opportunity not only to acquire the process for their workshop in Auteuil in 1874, but to hire its inventor, Ernest Chaplet, as chief of the workshop, which was led by his friend Félix Bracquemond.[iii] Haviland’s first Barbotine pieces garnered enthusiastic praise when they were shown in Philadelphia at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876. The subsequent dissemination of this technique had a significant impact on the development of artistic ceramics in the United States in subsequent years.
After the firing of Bracquemond in 1881, Chaplet fell sick and recovered in Normandy, where he visited a number of workshops producing stoneware jars and pots. When he returned, he presented a selection of these objects to Charles and Theodore Haviland.[iv] Impressed by what they saw they gave him a new workshop located at 153 rue Blomet, to produce his first brown stoneware pieces in May 1882. Vases, pitchers, and flower pots soon carried his mark, a graphic representation similar to a rosary, which referred to his name. This new line was first shown at the Foreign Art Exhibition held in Boston in 1883 and at the Art Loan Exhibition held the same year at the National Academy of Design in New York.[v] Presented the following year for the exhibition of the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs, the brown stoneware vases met the approval of the art critic Paul Arène, who wrote in the Revue des Arts Décoratifs, “Mr. Haviland alone managed to conquer and submit the rebellious stoneware to art.”[vi]
The simplicity of the shapes and the soberness of the decoration characterized the line of almost 200 pieces conceived by Chaplet. The wares were decorated by number of artists constituting what would become the Nabis group: the brothers Dammouse, Hexamer, Kalt, Lebrun de Rabot and Ringel d’Illzach. The success of this production, however, did not last. While the firm was facing a severe recession and the brothers were thinking of giving up their Paris workshop, Chaplet conceived a new line of shapes that he covered with a shiny lead glaze that contrasted with the stoneware pieces.
During this time, Chaplet turned his attention back to porcelain and in 1884 dedicated himself to recreating the elusive Chinese oxblood glaze. After multiple trials, he obtained satisfying results in March 1885 but the Haviland firm’s financial woes prevented new product development. Undeterred, the following year Chaplet decided to acquire the rue Blomet workshop with Felix Bracquemond. Although he sold the workshop to Auguste Delaherche within a year, he retained the recipes related to the production of porcelain and was free to continue this production elsewhere.
Chaplet moved to Choisy-le-Roi late in 1887 and dedicated all of his time to the production of porcelains, which he exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889. Amazed by Chaplet’s display, critic Roger Marx wrote, “...for conveying to lovers of flambés ware the most unsettling emotions and delightful surprises, the display of Mr. Chaplet triumphs without contest. The eye is fascinated by these metamorphoses of porcelain into a precious material, by the contrasting effects due to the magic of firing, currents of oxygen which turn red copper oxide into violet, blue, green, lilac, into shimmering and fluttering nuances.”[vii] Throughout the 1890s, Chaplet perfected shapes that were described by the critic Jacques Copeau as “simple and sturdy” and devoid of ornament or “weirdness.”[viii] His regular participation in the Salons of the Société nationale des beaux-arts from 1891 to 1897 reinforced the recognition of his expertise by his peers and connoisseurs.
Even the potter’s tragic blindness in March 1899 did not stop him from continuing to experiment with new glazes and forms. Critic Arsène Alexandre visited him after his operation and described the face of a man robbed of his sight: “Those eyes, that so often met mine, those eyes, so clear, brilliant, accurately playful, so clearly enthusiastic, were now dimmed, the inexorable curtain of his eyelids pulled before them.”[ix] His muscle memory, however, remained untouched and remarkably up until his death in 1909, Chaplet never stopped his relentless pursuit of new glazes. As L’Art et les Artistes informed readers in 1906: “The colors are borrowed from the animal world: mule lung, oxblood; or the vegetal world: eggplant, red beans, green apple. Minerals or some metals seem to have inspired tiger-like effects, pigmented, eggshell celadon, opaque and plain gray white, and these beautiful blacks of the last firing, and these silvery grey blues, the most delicate nuance the master has achieved.”[x]
At the end of his life, Chaplet shared his knowledge with his grandson-in-law, Emile Lenoble (1875-1940), and entrusted him with exhibiting his ceramics in 1906 at the Galerie Georges Petit. The exhibition represented another opportunity to publicly acknowledge the great ceramist’s technical and artistic legacy which had been bestowed on his heir. A year after the death of Chaplet, the Musée des arts décoratifs in Paris dedicated an exhibition to his work, based on pieces that he had given to French museums and others from private collectors, including the art critic Roger Marx, who, in his salon adorned with paintings by Renoir, Degas, Redon, Toulouse-Lautrec and Vuillard, could admire some of Chaplet’s finest porcelains.[xi]
[i] Roger Marx, ”Souvenirs sur Ernest Chaplet,” Art et décoration 27 (March 1910): 90: “L’homme était rare comme l’œuvre.”
[ii] Robert de La Sizeranne, “Chaplet et la Renaissance de la Céramique,” Revue des deux mondes (May-June 1910): 164.
[iii] Audrey Gay-Mazuel, Emaux atmosphériques. La Céramique “Impressionniste” (Rouen: Nicolas Chaudun, 2010).
[iv] Ernest Chaplet to Roger Marx, Choisy-le-Roi, 7 May 1901, see: Jean d’Albis, Ernest Chaplet (Paris: Presse de la connaissance, 1976), 81.
[v] Catalogue of the Pedestal Fund Art Loan Exhibition, at the National Academy of Design (New York, Theo. L. de Vinne & Co, 1883).
[vi] Paul Arène, “Rapport du 3e groupe: la céramique,” Revue des arts décoratifs 5 (1884), 175: “Seul, M. Haviland a su chez nous conquérir et soumettre à l’art le grès rebelle.”
[vii] Roger Marx, La Décoration et l’Art Industriel à l’Exposition Universelle de 1889 (Paris: Ancien maison Quantin, 1890), 49-50.
[viii] Copeau, Jacques, “Une visite à Chaplet,” Supplément illustré de l’Art et les Artistes 17 (August 1906), II.
[ix] Arsène Alexandre, “Le Potier aveugle,” Le Figaro, March 14, 1899.
[x] Copeau, “Une visite à Chaplet,” II.
[xi] Paris, INHA Library, Roger Marx Papers.