Inventory Number LAE051
Size 12" H x 10" W
Period Art Nouveau
Country of Origin France
Year Made c. 1899
Reviewing ceramics shown at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900, a critic observed that "the stoneware of M. Lachenal is as always of an abundant variety: Its forms and glazes are quite felicitous." During the early 1900's, Lachenal exhibited relatively simple stoneware vases such as this one along with elaborately modeled and glazed vessels. The sculptural decoration on the present piece is confined to abstractly rendered tendrils that appear along the rim and shoulder. The glaze is almost monochromatic, except for pale green streaks and brown accents.
Marks: Lachenal; 6. 153 [painted]
Edmond Lachenal participated in the revival of ceramics in France, and also initiated a dynasty of celebrated potters through his sons, Jean-Jacques and Raoul, and his pupil, Emile Decoeur, who all had rich careers as ceramists.[i] Born in Paris in 1855 to a poor family, Lachenal was sent by his mother at the age of twelve, after his father’s death, to a ceramics workshop to learn the trade. He advanced quickly and three years later was hired by Theodore Deck, then the most accomplished ceramist in Paris. Lachenal worked for Deck between 1870 and 1880 and advanced from apprentice to the head of the decorative workshop, even obtaining the rare privilege of signing his pieces. At the 1873 Universal Exposition in Vienna, the jury recognized his contribution to Deck’s atelier awarded him an Honorable Mention.
In 1881 Lachenal acquired his own atelier at 121, rue Blomet, near the Deck brothers and only a few steps from Ernest Chaplet’s workshop. Although he had worked under Deck for a decade, he had attained enough critical recognition to exhibit in that year’s Salon of the Société des Artistes Français. The following year, Lachenal moved to Malakoff, a small suburban town south of Paris, where he opened what was likely a larger atelier. Supported by his wife, he continued to produce earthenware in the style he had learned from Deck. Less than a year later he moved again, to Châtillon-sous-Bagneux, where remained for more than thirty years. There, surrounded by nature, Lachenal perfected his own designs, working with watercolors and stencils, before laying the enamels on the ceramic body. In 1884, he exhibited his first successes at the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs and was awarded a silver medal. His participation was commended by the Revue des Arts Décoratifs: “Mr. Lachenal, a very researcher kind of artist, whose enamels are employed with a remarkable intelligence from a decorative point of view, and who has certainly not yet accomplished all we can expect from him. He usually works in collaboration with his wife. Very refined taste, harmonious and well-composed presentation.”[ii]
Throughout the late 1880s, Lachenal continued to exhibit his work and received numerous awards and accolades. In 1885, he received a silver medal at the International Exposition held in Antwerp and was awarded a gold medal at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle. As The Decorator and Furnisher noted: “Amongst those who have produced the most artistic pottery, we may mention the name of M. Lachenal, who has obtained several unique results in his many and varied works. He has discovered a paste which while transparent is yet infusible. Thus he has a large vase ornamented with ivy leaves in low relief, which show the veins, either white, blue or greenish, transparent under the glaze.”[iii] Although Deck’s influence is evident throughout this period--especially in the Iznik and Japanese-inspired wares, as well as portrait plates--Lachenal gradually found his voice. He began drawing from nature for new shapes, switched from earthenware to stoneware, and sought out thick and unusual glazes.
Lachenal’s fame grew outside of France in the 1890s, especially in England. His exhibition at the Galerie Georges Petit in 1896 was celebrated in a five-page article in The Artist, which described him as the head of a group of French ceramists including Alexandre Bigot, Auguste Delaherche and Dalpayrat. The article remarked, “M. Lachenal designs and executes most of his work almost entirely alone, only when he is compelled, so to speak, by the exigencies of the firing does he accept any help.”[iv] In Brussels, where the Art Nouveau movement was producing some of its most famous examples, Lachenal’s ceramics were shown alongside Alfred Stevens’ and Alfred Verhaeren’s paintings and Paul Dubois’ sculptures, as noted in the New York Times.[v] In London, the Hanover Gallery devoted an entire exhibition to his work in January 1898, which was lauded in The Magazine of Art. “It was full of objects which showed how wide is the range possible to the potter who can combine a real decorative sense with a thorough knowledge of the devices of his craft. Beauty of form, charm of colour, and delightful ingenuity in the treatment of detail were to be discovered throughout the collection, which was large and representative”.[vi] The Art Journal also covered the exhibition, putting the ceramist at the forefront of his generation.[vii]
Lachenal’s efforts to create a line of artistic ceramics was rewarded with a gold medal at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. He showed his capacity to broaden the use of ceramics as a material by applying it to furniture in a new way—not in plaques, but as low-relief decoration with small pieces assembled to create elegant japanesque flower decoration.[viii] He transformed his stand into a symbolist statement by using the material to create a bench and chimney adorned with the shapes of ethereal women, a cave man, and a walking bear. Visitors could also admire the Tendrils Vase, which was exhibited a year earlier at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. The vase’s matte glaze and nuanced texture creates a subdued yet mysterious surface, as if a living, organic substance were suspended in the milky layer of glaze. The shape of the handles echoes that of the long hair of the female figures supporting the upper part of the chimney. The vase’s simple and conventional shape is disrupted by subtle low-relief ripples, which are abstract yet very vivid.
The following years until his retirement marked his international recognition with a major exhibition of over three hundred of his ceramics at the Vienna Museum of Decorative Arts (Museum für angewandte Kunst) held in 1901 and another in Munich in 1903. From 1901, Lachenal’s ceramics were available in the United States at the luxury goods store Theodore B. Starr at 206 Fifth Avenue in New York.[ix] In 1904, he participated in the Saint Louis Exposition and the magazine Brush and Pencil devoted an entire, lavishly illustrated article to his work. One should not underestimate the role played by his assistant Emile Decoeur, from the beginning of the 1890s, in this success. Already in 1901, he had started adding his initials to those of his master on the bottom of the pieces, as a statement of their collaboration. The organic and vegetal shapes designed by the two potters must have certainly influenced Louis C. Tiffany while he was designing a line of ceramics, named favrile pottery, launched in 1905. Ivy leaves, bulbous and artichoke-like shapes are recurrent motifs found in both productions.
While Lachenal participated less and less frequently in the various Parisian salons opened to decorative arts, his main assistant left him to establish his own workshop and rapidly became one of the leaders of French artistic ceramics of the time.[x] Then in his fifties, Lachenal continued working in his studio with and without his sons, Raoul and Jean-Jacques, at least until the mid-1910s. After the war, his son Jean-Jacques, although badly wounded, put the kilns back into operation, but it seems that Edmond ceased all his activities related to the art of ceramics.[xi]
[i] Martin Eidelberg, “A Dynasty of French ceramists,” Edmond Lachenal & His Legacy (New York: Jason Jacques Gallery Press, 2007), 10-51.
[ii] Paul Arène, “Rapport du 3e groupe: La céramique,” Revue des Arts Décoratifs 5 (1884): 177: “M. Lachenal, artiste très chercheur, dont les émaux sont employés avec une remarquable intelligence au point de vue décoratif, et qui certainement n’a pas encore donné tout ce qu’on peut attendre de lui. M. Lachenal travaille ordinairement avec la collaboration de sa femme. Goût très fin, exposition harmonieuse et bien composée.”
[iii] Maude Haywood, “Pottery at the Paris Exhibition,” The Decorator and Furnisher 16 (September 1890): 204.
[iv] Ernest Boissière, “A French Ceramist,” The Artist 19 (February 1897): 67.
[v] “In the world of art: the exhibitions of the week and general art gossip,” New York Times, February 16, 1896.
[vi] “The Chronicle of Art,” The Magazine of Art 22 (January 1898): 398.
[vii] W. T. Whitley, “The arts and industries of to-day,” The Art Journal 60 (May 1898): 156.
[viii] Anna B. Leonard, “Pottery and Porcelain at the Paris Exposition,” Keramic Studio 2 (August 1900): 74.
[ix] “Notes on Art Matters,” New York Times, January 9, 1901: “One of the French potters whose work is little seen in America is Lachenal, a man who is well known to the amateurs of Paris.”
[x] Eidelberg, “A dynasty of French ceramists,” 35.
[xi] J. Valmy-Baysse, “L’Atelier Lachenal,” L’Art et les Artistes (November 1929): 58-63.