Production consisted of earthenware cooking pots and lasted till the 1920s and 30s, when cheaper and stronger 'faiences' from northern factories (Digoin, Sarreguemines, etc.) replaced Vallauris' more fragile 'terres vernissées'.
At that crucial point Vallauris had to reinvent itself or die.
This section/chapter examines the period following World War II, when, in response to the economic challenge, the small town reinvented itself as a world centre for the production of 'Art Ceramics'.
This film provides some useful (if highly romanticised) documentary images about Vallauris, but tends to focus on Picasso at the expense of the creative input of those unsung workers: throwers, decorators, handle makers ('hansistes'), those who stacked and fired the kilns; but also those who dug up the clay and prepared it; ready to be used by potters, etc. all those who made Vallauris what it was; contributing their skills, knowledge and creative imagination to its greatness, alongside the super stars upon whom writers tend to focus our attention on.
This section of the blog aims to celebrate the contributions of these unsung heroes.
From Tradition to Experimentation
By the 1940s, inexpensive and stronger 'faiences' mass-produced in the northern factories (Digoin, Sarreguemines, etc.) had replaced the traditional rustic (heavy and brittle) 'terres vernissées', that had made Vallauris famous.
Facing the inevitable, the few surviving potters of Vallauris realized that they had to diversify their production and switch from the manufacture of cooking pots:
to the production of decorative wares, if they were to save their industry.
ON THE WAY TO MODERNITY:
The examples below show that the first phase (40s-1955), during which Vallauris potters switched from the production of culinary pots to making decorative wares, did not immediately lead to experimentation, but to the production of a range of 'terres vernissées' that could still be used in the home: fruit bowls, jugs, vases, etc. and for decorative purposes as well.
The vase below incorporates several traditional features — hand-throwing, re-shaping, and 'pinching' (to produce 'colerettes', which were applied to the body) — which, through their skilfull economy of means confer upon these items the artistic integrity of genuinely traditional pots:
In the workshops where these items were made, a degree of specialisation had evolved over the centuries.
The different tasks were carried out by different individuals, who had acquired specialist skills and knowledge.
The same applied to decorating, glazing, stacking up the kiln and supervising the firing.
This level of specialization had enabled some workshops (in Vallauris and at Pichon, in Uzès) to reinvent the form of the fruit bowl (in French: fruit basket: 'corbeille de fruits') in spectacular, virtuoso ways, which stretched the capacity of clay and skills of the modeller (in effect the handle maker) to her limits:
AN 'ACCIDENTAL MASTERPIECE'?
In more than one sense the vase presents the charateristics of a 'pièce unique'; for it is also a visual 'idiolect': isolated in its absolute singuarity; in the production of this potter, and of Vallauris as a whole.
'Pièce unique' was the label attached to one-off pieces produced by the more ambitious potters, to distinguish their work from their commercial range, and to satisfy the desire of more discriminating customers to acquire individual, signed pieces:
In 1946 Sauveur Lunetta had opened his pottery, to make 'terres vernissées' in the Provençal style. In response to public demand for more contemporary designs, however, he adapted traditional objects, like this pitcher: hand-thrown, then cut, shaped and decorated with a black lustre glaze; producing a modern interpretation of tradition of some integrity:
The firm Granjean-Jourdan — resulting from the association of two potting families (1950s-1981) — introduced the new popular decor of 'Faux bois', which proved a huge commercial success; and had to be patented to stop being copied:
[see plate by Guillot]
The similarity between works from different workshops and factories shows that popular trends were copied quite unashamedly. The same also happened with glazes.
I have given these examples as illustrations of the transition, in Vallauris, from the production of traditional utilitarian forms to their adaptation (in some cases, 'kitschification'?) as giftware and souvenirs for the tourist market.
From the late 40s, an influx of potters from different parts of the country went to Vallauris, drawn by the attractive conditions of a small, old, picturesque, pottery town in the South of France: availability of material, qualified work force, workshops, quality of life, and a lower cost of living.
Robert Picault. Jug.c. 1950s. Hand-thrown and shaped earthenware, decorated in black lustre glaze. H.: c. 15 cm.
II. ARTISTS-DECORATED CERAMICS
Samples of their work can be seen in Anne Lajoix, L'Âge d'Or de Vallauris (1995).
Below are two examples sold on ebay in 2012, signed 'Courtade,
Marques et Signatures de la céramique d'Art de la Côte d'Azur, Sudarènes, 2009:
Pierre Courtade (1915-1963). Chargers. Hand-thrown and painted earthenware. 1950s-60s. Ø: 28 and 31 cm
Note the contrast between the Mediterranean 'joie de vivre' expressed in these chargers with the austerity of this East German interpretation of a neo-classical theme:
|The attribution to Luc is based on the same sun motif used on an orangeade set carrying the Luc paper label.|
III. EXPERIMENTATION WITH GLAZES: 'ÉCUME DE MER', etc.
THE THIRD SIGNIFICANT STRAND OF VALLAURIS CERAMICS involved the creation of spectacular, colorful, textured glazes — the most famous being 'écume de mer', for its analogy with the salty froth formed by the blue waves as they break onto the sand:
Vallauris, unknown workshop, Écume de mer' glaze on conventional slip cast urn-shaped vase.
La Vaucour, Vase. c. 1960. Slip cast earthenware. Free form decorated with 'Écume de mer' glaze,
'Made in Vallauris' seems to have acted as a collective 'appelation controlée'; and was also accompanied by the stamped or engraved mention 'fait fait' or 'décoré main' (hand made and hand decorated), which seemed to have mattered more than the name.
The following vase bears the hand engraved signature 'Luc' (for 'Lucchesi), + a number (series number?) as well as 'VALLAURIS' on its base; and vry probably also carried a paper label:
Vase. c. 1950. Slip cast earthenware, decorated with applied glaze patches on a matt black glaze.*
The yellow and green glazes of 'terre vernissées', increasingly replaced on vases and other decorative objects by more 'showy' and colourful glazes or painted decoration, continued to be used on 'jarres' and other garden ornaments.
In the nearby town of BIOT, a town famous for its large jarres, which, in past centuries, were exported throughout the Mediterranean, the tradition is kept alive by 'La Poterie Provençale', set up in 1935 by René Augé-Laribé: for the production of garden pots and for vases. The pottery is now listed as 'patrimoine regional'.
The small vase below (23 cm) reproduces the shape of the much larger 'jarres' once used to store water or to decorate gardens:
The addition of sgraffitoed flowers, highlighted in red and mauve and black, for contrast; may have been inspired by the popular style popularised by Cérart (1934-?) and Cérdazur (c.1945-1960) in Monaco:
NOTE ABOUT COLLECTING: Today, the challenge, for the would-be collector, is — among the mass of tourist 'tat' that was produced in Vallauris — to find pieces with some integrity: pieces whose materiality and workmanship exudes quality, even if the vase was mass-produced.
A vase* decorated in 'écume de mer' glaze, as this humble vase, below, probably by Fady, could be a good starting point:
Compare with the vase below, which still carried its original paper label which identifies the maker: Fady.
An other productive approach towards collecting Vallauris involves looking for pieces by a named studio, that deviate from the standard machine-made Vallauris pot-boilers which flooded the tourist market, and can be found in today's car-boot sales.
Hand-thrown items tend to have a quality that distinguishes them, aesthetically, from those pot boilers. But there are exceptions.
Looking for an interesting shape and/or glaze, is a good starting point; and a good alternative to buying standard, mass produced commercial item by Roger Capron, whose standard commercial wares have become the subject of intense, irrational speculation.
The vase below, made at the 'Jérome Massier' workshop, in 1968 or 1969, during the period Alain Maunier (grand son of of Jérome Massier Jr), managed the firm (1960-1990), was bought by a Belgian holiday-maker, for his living room, directly from the Massier shop, in the Summer of 1969. It seems, however, that the glaze was developed during the 50s, when the workshop was managed by Jean Clergue:
Jérôme Massier studio. Hand build stoneware vase (c.1969), decorated in bright yellow on matt white on grey glaze (wax process). H.: 42cm.
This type of vase and its glaze are part of a series or range developed at the J. Massier 'factory' during the period Jean Clergue managed it. The artists responsible are not known. The series and its characteristic glaze continued to be produced during Alain Maunier's management of the firm, from 1953 to, at least, 1969, when this vase was bought.
The most common vases 'made in Vallauris' were slip cast in white clay, and decorated with splashes of bright color over-layered in streaks of colors, running over brown and under a shiny transparent glaze which gave them a brash glossy look ('tape à l'oeil'). They represent the Vallauris ceramic cliché at its worst, and can now be found by the thousands at car boot sales, in second-hand shops and on ebay.
The formulaic shapes and glazes are not without decorative value, as design, but can in no way compete with works informed by higher artistic ambitions.
The impact of fine art on popular ceramics can be appreciated in some of the vases produced by Panassidi, in which a splash of bright color — Miro-like — tears through a field of white 'écume' over a matt black ground:
Note how (as in the blue Luc vase above) the handles have been organically absorbed into the body of the vase; almost to the point of disappearance.
Le Vaucour, Five vases. Slipcast earthenware. 1960s.
Louis Giraud (1896-1985) occupies a special place in the development of Vallauris. His 'Poterie d'Art Giraud', on the prominent Avenue Clémenceau, brought a resolutely modern touch to Vallauris ceramics. A black vase from the 1940s combines the quality of 'taille directe' tribal and modernist sculptures with a hint of Art Deco.
Giraud's work is characterised by a sculptural quality and by an experimentation with thick lava-type glazes.
The volcanic glaze on the vase below recalls the incrustations left by mollusks on seaside rocks:
(to be continued...)