Art Nouveau Ceramics

In pottery, as in other areas, Art Nouveau was demonstrated by its break away from the imitation of the past. Shapes from nature were adapted into stylized decorative patterns. A new feeling for color was developed which continued to influence designs in the manufacture of pottery in the twentieth century.

In the 1880’s and 1890’s new styles began to appear as a reaction against historical revivals and reproductions of earlier models. A new generation of designers at some of the oldest factories began to develop fresh techniques of manufacture and decoration. The new style of Art Nouveau emerged in Europe in the 1880’s and influenced porcelain design, although to a lesser extent than it did the design of earthenware. A few designers in the new style, like Hector Guimard, worked in both kinds of ceramics. Guimard designed three shapes for production in soft paste porcelain at Sevres (1903-1904) with crystalline glazes.

The most dramatic innovations came in the development of new glazes, some of which reflected the design preoccupations of the period. French iridescent wares were largely restricted to those produced by Clement Massier, who pioneered the development of iridescent glazes. Other French ceramists appear to have preferred working with clean white porcelain such as those decorated by Georges de Feure and retailed by Siegfried Bing.

The Art Nouveau style was widely adopted, and expressed in elongated, sometimes controlled shapes, shimmering contorted shapes, or richly colored glazes. Patterns and motifs typical of Art Nouveau such as trailing or climbing plants or nude dancing figures were often used in decorating the pottery. New ideas were associated with the Japanese and their art. Japanese stoneware was, perhaps, the major single influence on pottery made in the last 25 years of the century.

French potters, unlike their contemporaries in England, had an attitude towards studio pottery, which related it very clearly to that of fine art. There was a collaboration between potters, painters and sculptors which was not unusual. Potters such as Andre Metthey used painters of the Paris school such as Rouault, Matisse, Bonnard and Redon to decorate their pottery. In ceramics, Art Nouveau was often found in the works of small art potteries rather than in the products of the great factories.