Clément Massier (1845-1917), born into a family of French potters, was destined to be a ceramicist. But it was he himself—while tapping the skills of a handful of brilliant colleagues—that redefined ceramics-making in the period before and after the Turn-of-the-Century. He is considered one of the pioneering artists who developed lustrous metallic glazes and his impact on the Art Nouveau movement is profound. His work is found in the collections of the world's most important museums, like the Musée d'Orsay and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His legacy also includes contributions to iconic Art Nouveau spaces like Maxim's de Paris.
Massier's family had been producing ceramics in Vallauris, in the South of France, since the early 1700's. Like most clay works, the initial product line was utilitarian: brick, cookware, and crockery. The workshop eventually began to produce more decorative objets as the company became successful.
Clément was born in 1845 and was involved in making ceramics by the age of 12. He was drawn especially to ancient ceramics—from Egypt, Greece and Rome—as well as works from the Italian Renaissance. In 1859, Clément's father hired an Italian ceramics master from Bologna, Gaetano Gandolfi, a wizard of inventive glazing techniques—and the young Clément quickly attached himself to this man whom he would forever consider his artistic master.
In time, Clément inherited leadership of the family business, along with his brother Delphin and cousin Jérome. But rivalries led to them going separate ways. In 1883, Clément, wisely, opened a workshop and gallery right on the coast, in the town of Golfe-Juan. The "French Riviera," along the beautiful Côte d'Azur, increasingly was becoming a recreational hot spot for wealthy aristocrats (and the bourgeois middle class) who would vacation in Monaco, Nice or Cannes. Clément Massier's gallery was soon being visited (and patronized) by Europe's elite: artists, celebrities, industrialists, financiers, and royalty from across the continent. Within two years, Massier was turning a profit and was employing 120 workers for his factory. As his reputation spread, smart shops in Paris (and around the world) began to sell the ceramics of Clément Massier.
Massier was never shy about attracting and hiring the most innovative ceramics masters of the day. Perhaps his most important hire was Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, an Algerian-born Jew, who aspired to study painting in Paris. Hired in 1887 as a ceramics decorator, Lévy-Dhurmer soon was appointed Artistic Director of the company and collaborated with Massier, inventing the lustrous metallic glazes which would make Massier famous. Lévy-Dhurmer collected "Hispano-Moresque" ceramics from the South of Spain and other Islamic art from the North of Africa, where he was born. His own work often had a Moorish Orientalist influence to it. In 1895, Lévy-Dhurmer left to study in Paris, where he became an important French Symbolist painter.
The Massier piece, shown above, was made in the 1880's or 1890's, in his workshop at Golfe-Juan. The timeless (Classically Ancient) shape of the vessel is dressed in one of the cutting-edge lustrous glazes which Massier and Lévy-Dhurmer had created. Note the hand-drawn scrollwork which floats delicately over the lustrous golden glaze. Click on the photo above to learn more about this piece.
More about Clément Massier tomorrow...
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