Born into a family of ceramists, Clément Massier took an interest in the business from an early age. In 1884, after years of work, study, and travel, he relocated his share of the family firm to Golfe-Juan, France and began producing Hispano-Moresque-influenced ceramics, with silver and copper oxide glazes that produced rich iridescence. Following the arrival of Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer in 1887, Massier introduced fiery luster glazes enriched with etching and painting. He was soon in command of a busy factory and a showroom that boasted an elite international clientele.
Clément Massier's history begins with his great-grandfather Pierre Massier (1707-1748), who established the family's ceramics tradition in the years before the French Revolution when he opened a pottery factory in Vallauris, a Mediterranean town located approximately one mile from the seaside harbor of Golfe-Juan. Producing a wide range of ceramic cookware, garden wares, and bricks, the business expanded under the guidance of Pierre's grandson Jacques (1806-1871). Jacques's sons Delphin (1836-1907) and Clément (1844-1917) began to work for their father as young apprentices. In 1859 Gaetano Gandolfi, an Italian master ceramist and artist, joined the Massier staff. Clément, then 15 years of age, revealed in his personal notes that he regarded Gandolfi as his master. Under Gandolfi's tutelage, both brothers excelled and became accomplished ceramists.
Jacques Massier died in 1871 and his sons continued to maintain the business in Vallauris. When a rivalry developed, the family established a second factory in the same town. In 1883 Clément closed his Vallauris operation and reopened in nearby Golfe-Juan. This proved to be an extremely fortuitous decision. Within a year Clément Massier's staff numbered 120. His factory-gallery complex, which included an elaborately tiled tea house, exhibition hall, and gallery, became a destination in its own right. The factory succeeded in producing a ruby-red and golden-amber luster on a cream ground on pieces that closely resembled Hispano-Moresque prototypes. In 1886, Massier presented these pieces at the National Industrial and Fine Arts Exposition in Marseille.
The next year, Lucien Lévy (1865-1953), later known as Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, was hired as Massier's primary artistic director. A nascent Symbolist painter and a collector of antique and ethnic ceramics and decorative arts, Lévy-Dhurmer encouraged Massier's experimentation with luster glazes adding metallic qualities and intricate surface effects through painting, etching, and stamping. In 1889 Massier exhibited his new metallic luster-glazed ceramics at the Exposition Universelle de Paris. At that time, the patterns were generally applied to forms inspired by a great variety of Asian inspirations, including Turkey, Persia, and Japan.
Lévy-Dhurmer's influence on the decorative style of Massier's production became dominant during the 1890s. In the first half of the decade, simple forms, many of which had been designed earlier, were decorated with elements based on a festive version of nature. Insects crawled, prawns cavorted, and butterflies danced, while spiders, starfish, and eels played in underwater fields of seaweed and algae. Fluid, organic shapes were employed more often in the second half of the decade. Lévy-Dhurmer worked almost exclusively with the metallic luster glaze. His pieces are signed "L. Lévy" along with the Massier mark. Lévy-Dhurmer left the Massier factory in 1895 to pursue his painting career in Paris. By then, Clément Massier's lustrous creations were offered in at least five Paris galleries and other venues across France.
The catalogue of the Massier factory offered a price list for seven categories of decoration on standard form patterns, "jaspe" (green), "rouge"(red), "turquoise-céladon-jaune-orange" (turquoise-celadon-yellow-orange), "poudre d'or" (gold), "décor" (decorated), "décor riche" (richly decorated), and "degrades" (graduated color). Massier's metallic luster glaze was not listed among the options in his catalogue since it was used only for one-of-a-kind pieces.
In 1895 Siegfried Bing, a French dealer of Japanese decorative arts, planned a Paris gallery that would focus exclusively on a new style in European decorative arts. To test the market, Bing held an exhibition in London showing glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany and rich iridescent ceramics by Clément Massier. Although the exhibition was not well received by critics, it was a sensation with the public audience. In October 1895 Bing opened Galerie l'Art Nouveau in Paris, furnished with rooms decorated with Henry van der Velde furniture and Massier vases.
Massier spent the remainder of his life perfecting the iridescent metallic luster glaze. He emerges as one of the major creative forces of his time, on par with contemporary Symbolist and Impressionist painters. As Dr. Martin Eidelberg observed, "his art is personal and individualistic, yet also part of larger cultural movements. Exoticism, Aestheticism, the Cult of Nature, Symbolism… these are the components," but their magical combination belongs to Clément Massier alone.