Adrien Dalpayrat (pictured) began his career as a faïence painter, working at six manufactories between 1867 and 1888 before settling near Paris in 1889. There he devoted himself to stoneware, a material then held in high esteem by French art potters. Working alone and with collaborators, Dalpayrat produced a vast range of shapes and decorations. He was so well known for his oxblood flambé pottery that the term "Dalpayrat red" was coined to designate his distinctive glaze. Perfected in 1892, it is dappled or veined with greens, blues and yellows, and appears on pieces in the form of gourds, fruits, and shapes derived from Japanese bottles.
Dalpayrat unveiled his oxblood flambé glaze in 1892 at the prestigious Galerie Georges Petit in Paris, where he exhibited 50 stoneware pieces based on models by Alphonse Voisin-Delacroix. His success with stoneware was immediate, but he can hardly be considered an 'overnight success.' His moments of fame came after a long period of study, travel, labor, and experimentation.
Pierre-Adrien Dalpayrat (he dropped Pierre as an adult) was born in Limoges almost 50 years earlier, the eighth child of a father who was a typographer specializing in missals. As a youngster with an interest in painting and design, he attended a local art school and subsequently trained at the Limoges Municipal School of Porcelain Painting. He married Marie Tallerie in 1866. The couple produced four sons, Albert, Adolphe, Hippolyte, and Paul, who were later involved in the ceramics business in varying degrees, and a daughter Julie Marguerite.
In the first decades of his career, Dalpayrat was a faïence painter, working at six different manufactories between 1867 and 1888. The reasons for his apparent wanderlust likely included his desire to learn diverse techniques and his need to support a growing family. In 1870, he spent a brief period in London with his brother Louis, studying the art of enameling on copper at South Kensington.
In 1889, at the age of 45, he settled down near Paris in Bourg-la-Reine, a town with a long history of porcelain manufacture. At around this time, he dropped the designation of 'porcelain painter' and began to identify himself as a 'ceramist' or 'artist-ceramist.' From that time forward, he devoted his time mostly to stoneware, a material revered not only for its Japanese associations but also for its association with traditional French utensils. His sudden interest in the medium may well have been inspired by the well-publicized successes of Ernest Chaplet and Auguste Delaherche at the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition.
Dalpayrat soon found himself the proprietor of a booming atelier. In photographs from the period, he appears as a bewhiskered gentleman in a three-piece suit, among his younger, smock-clad workers. Dalpayrat's studio executed objects by Maurice Dufrêne, designer of furniture, textiles, glassware, silverware, and ceramics. Dufrêne was the director and manager of La Maison Moderne, an association of artists who worked together to create designs that could be produced in multiples. Prominent modelers in Dalpayrat's atelier included Jean Coulon, whose Symbolist pitcher La Nuit depicts an owl (an attribute of night), composed of recumbent female forms, Lucien Coudray, and Alphonse Voisin-Delacroix. By 1893, Dalpayrat had formed a partnership with Voisin-Delacroix. They received financial support from Adèle Lesbros, a member of Voisin-Delacroix's extended family.
Working alone and with a variety of collaborators, Dalpayrat produced a wide range of shapes and decorations. His vases appear in simple shapes, including bottles, gourds, double gourds, and squares. Others vessels are complex and sculptural, appearing as twisted leaves or warty vegetables. A third group incorporates faces or figures, as appliqués, reliefs, and three-dimensional sculptures. Not surprising in the ceramics of the era, the idealized female nude appears often. However the depiction of a partly devoured animal heart may be unique to Dalpayrat's oeuvre. As bizarre as it is, the subject would have been consistent with the contemporary interest in Symbolism and the occult. Dalpayrat's glazes were virtually endless variations on his 'Dalpayrat red,' at times streaked or speckled with blue or brown, at other times dripped over an ochre glaze. In some instances, Dalpayrat combined his stoneware clay with kaolin, the key ingredient in porcelain. Metal mounts appear on some of his vases and others have been converted to lamp bases.
When his partnership with Voisin-Delacroix ended, Dalpayrat partnered with Adele Lesbros, who invested 26,000 Francs in the venture. One of their joint undertakings was a monumental mantelpiece, purchased by the state for the Musée du Luxembourg. For Dalpayrat, designing the mantelpiece was an opportunity to apply to architectural ceramics the techniques that had built his reputation. Most important among them was his facility with sumptuous flambé glazes, created by transmuting copper oxides at the atomic level through successive firings in oxygen-depleted and oxygen-rich kiln atmospheres. Unlike other master potters of his period, he built no school of followers. After his death in 1910, his sons carried on in his tradition but this too ceased with the death of Adolphe Dalpayrat in 1934.