Jean-Joseph Carriès (1855-1894) was a French sculptor and ceramist, best remembered for the inventive and technically-advanced Japoniste stoneware that he produced in Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye in the 1880s and the early 1890s. Art critic Gabriel Mourey considered Carriès to be the man who was most instrumental in bringing about the elevation of pottery from a craft to an art form.
Both of Carriès’s parents died of tuberculosis when he was a child of six. He spent his formative years with his two brothers and a sister at a Lyon orphanage where he captured the attention of the Mother Superior who nurtured his artistic talent and arranged an apprenticeship under Lyon sculptor Pierre Vermare. After two years with Vermare, during which he often visited the Lyon Museum, Carriès enrolled in the sculpture program at the École des Beaux-Arts in Lyon. The young sculptor began working in Paris in 1874, creating portrait busts of religious gures, famous artists, mythological subjects, and grimacing masks. His work was accepted by the Salon and was acclaimed by critics for its perfect execution and realism. Carriès served in the military between 1877 and 1878, and even there practiced his art, filling official commissions for commemorative medallions and plaster busts of the commanding officers.
He returned to Paris in 1878, and continued his work as a sculptor. In 1879, the same year that he exhibited a plaster bust of Molière at the Salon, he attended the Exposition Universelle, where he was impressed by the Oriental exhibitions, and Japanese ceramics especially. Living in Montparnasse, his neighborhood friends included collector Paul Jeanneney, who owned a selection of Japanese ceramics. He and Carriès began to share ideas on creating their own Japonist stoneware. Carriès continued his career in sculpture, while beginning to devote more time to the study of stoneware.
Consequently, Carriès moved to Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye in 1888. Puisaye was home to several factories producing glazed and unglazed utilitarian pottery. This provided Carriès with a ready-made workforce and sources of time-honored information. Carriès exhibited his first stoneware pieces in Paris in 1889 and was immediately hailed for his inventive organic forms and sumptuous dripping glazes. The next year, he received his grandest sculptural commission: the Princess Scey-Montbéliard commissioned him to create a monumental Gothic revival stoneware portal for her new house on the Avenue Henri Martin. It was to be designed by Eugène Grasset to represent the story of Parsifal, as told in the opera of the same name by Richard Wagner. Following the spring of 1891, Carriès spent more time at his country house and studio, where he built a kiln, which he used for the rst time on September 23 of that same year.
In 1892, he exhibited a wide range of stoneware pieces at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, employing a seemingly endless variety of shapes, surface treatments, glazes, and techniques of application. Carriès personally sculpted all the forms that he later molded in stoneware. Shapes of Asian inspiration included the gourd and double gourd forms, pyriform bottles, and sake bottles. The Ministry of Public Instruction and Fine Arts bought a dozen pieces for the collections of the Musée du Luxembourg and the Musée de Sèvres, thereby giving Carriès work France’s seal of approval.
Sadly, Carriès died only two years after his great showing at the Salon and before he could complete the Parsifal portal. Gabriel Mourey remembered him as a man “of remarkable talent, endowed with a rare gift of imagination.” Although he lived only 39 years, he became a lasting influence. His ceramic legacy was carried on by members of the Ecole de Carriès: George Hoentschel, Paul Jeanneney, Émile Grittel, Henri de Vallombreuse, Théo Perrot, Jean Pointu, Nils de Barck, Eugène Lion, Willam Lee, and Pierre Pacton.