Clement Massier Ceramics



2015-06-26 11:23:40

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 and began producing Hispano-Moresque-influenced pottery, with silver and copper oxide glazes made iridescence in a smoky kiln. Following the arrival Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer in 1887, Massier introduced fiery luster glazes enriched with etching and painting, applying them to forms ranging from hand-built individuality to slip-cast uniformity. He was soon in command of a busy factory and a showroom that boasted an elite international clientele.

Potted history

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 cooking wares, 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 the Italian's tutelage, both brothers excelled, becoming accomplished ceramists with great potential.

Jacques Massier died in 1871. For a time his sons worked together, operating the business in Vallauris. When a rivalry developed, the family established a second factory in the same town. But in 1883, Clément closed his Vallauris operation and reopened in nearby Golfe-Juan. The new location was on the route linking the elite holiday destinations of Monaco, Nice, and Cannes. This proved to be an extremely fortuitous decision. Within a year Clément Massier's staff numbered 120, he built an exhibition hall and a gallery, and he claimed a profit. His factory-gallery complex, which included an elaborately tiled tea house, became a destination in its own right.

Beginning in 1884, Massier began developing his own luster glaze assisted by Italian ceramist Dominique Zumbo an employee of Massier's since 1879). They 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, hired on as Massier's primary artistic director. An Algerian by birth, the nascent Symbolist painter and a collector of antique and ethnic ceramics and decorative arts, encouraged Massier's continued experimentation with the luster glazes adding metallic qualities and intricate surface effects through painting, etching, and stamping. The first known instance of Clément Massier's metallic luster glaze dates from the year of Lévy-Dhurmer's arrival. In 1889, Massier exhibited his new metallic luster-glazed pottery in the Exposition Universelle de Paris. At this time, the patterns were generally applied to forms inspired by a great variety of exotic cultures: Iznik (Turkish), Persian, Moorish, Japanese, Greek, and Neoclassical.

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. Lucien 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. Today his works are collected by museums worldwide and he is considered one of the important artists of the Symbolist movement. By then, Clément Massier's lustrous creations were offered in at least five Paris galleries and an unknown number of other venues across France.

The catalogue of the Massier factory offered seven categories of decoration on standard form patterns, with a price for each. The categories were: "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 early 1895, the year Lévy-Dhurmer left Massier's employ, 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 popular sensation. In October 1895, Bing's Paris gallery, Galerie L'Art Nouveau, opened. There, in rooms decorated with Henry van de Velde furniture, vases by Massier filled vitrines and shelves.

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 observes, "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.

Price guide

A large and fine Clement Massier vase, French, c. 1930 sold for $7,500 at Treadway Gallery in September 2008.

A Clement Massier majolica planter sold for $7,500 at Antiques Supermarket in april 2012.

A Clement Massier mother and child plaque sold for $4,250 at Humler & Nolan in June 2008.

A Clement Massier rooster figural sold for $3,100 at Majolica Auctions in March 2006.

A Clement Massier glazed red-ware garden urn sold for $2,500 at Skinner in October 2011.

An iridescent Clement Massier vase sold for $1,200 at Treadway Gallery in May 2012.

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