Article published in "L'Illustration" in 1925
The jeweller often spends a lot of time looking after the case and it is on a soft velvet of delicate shade that he presents the pearl. In the Danish section of the Grand Palais, Bing and Grôndahl offered to the public's curiosity the precious jewels and true masterpieces of their infinitely diverse production, in the midst of the simplest, coldest and least attractive apparatus. Was it a challenge? Perhaps, but they won it.
The crowd never stopped flocking to see their softly glistening porcelain, their "pâte tendre", with its inexpressible fineness of grain, their flamed stoneware, with its richness and variety of colours dominated by notes of purity and freshness, and the striking sculptures carved into the ceramic rock by the Frenchman Jean Gauguin, one of the first among their master collaborators, and finally those disturbing marvels that are the sculpted porcelains, works of feminine scissors, wielded by the skilful hands, the fairy hands, patient and learned too, of Miss Hegermann Lindencrone, Miss Garde and Mrs Jo Locher.
The famous Bing and Grôndahl porcelain factory in Copenhagen, worthily represented in Paris by the master ceramist Rouard, dates from the middle of the nineteenth century. It was created to reproduce in biscuit the works of a famous Danish sculptor, Thorwaldsen. It was from 1884 onwards that the company's efforts took on an innovative and modern character. At that time it was led by Ludwig and Harald Bing. Harald Bing had the rare gift of being a discoverer of men.
He discovered Willumsen, determined him to apply his marvellous talent and prodigious intuition to ceramics, guided him with a firm will, with fraternal criticism, supported and led his trials and made him the artistic director of the manufactory. Only the great, the true leaders know how to surround themselves with great collaborators! Willumsen was the undisputed precursor of Danish decorative art. His works before 1900, bold and full of faith in the future, seem, when one considers them, to be the fruit of the principles that we are only now beginning to obey.
One of the merits of Bing and Grôndahl is that they sought out young talent around them and not only welcomed it, but nurtured it in order to help it mature, to allow the spark to become a focus.
This is how they welcomed Kai Nielsen, who arrived as a teenager from his province of Fionie, unknown and without support, whose death in 1924 was a great loss for Denmark and its national art. They acquired his first works, and it is fair to say that it was Harald Bing's influence on his life as an artist that enabled Kai Nielsen to become one of the greatest Danish sculptors of all time. His ability to handle kaolin, his mastery of bending the fiery fecundity of his inspiration to the consequences of the capricious play of light on the polish of the porcelain, and the scale of his production all served to establish how capable ceramics were of meeting the demands of great sculpture. And this is no small technical revelation.
His masterpiece was the Sea. He completed it on his sickbed. No words can give an idea of the absolute beauty of this work of pure milk-white moulded porcelain. The fertile and nourishing sea is represented by a young woman lying down. Two of her children are suckling on her breasts and others are frolicking around her on the back of newts.
The discovery of 'soft paste', one of Bing and Grôndahl's specialities, was the result of a conversation between Mr Harald Bing and the curator of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Copenhagen, Mr Emil Hannover. The "soft paste" is remarkable both for its grain and for its ability to retain a wonderful freshness of colour after firing. The first results obtained with it were reserved for the Exhibition of
Arts décoratifs. They were extremely admired there.
But one of the glories of Bing and Grôndahl will undoubtedly be to have allowed the beautiful French artist, Jean Gauguin, son of the esteemed painter of that name, by opening their workshops to him in 1920, and by placing at his disposal the assistance of their chemists, to create, after many laborious tests and a considerable effort, this "ceramic rock", an artificial material which, This artificial material, with the hardness and inalterability that the firing process gives it, offers the same guarantees for the exterior decoration of buildings and gardens as marble or stone, and at the same time provides the artist with the unique ability in ceramic art to complete the entire execution of his work, without any foreign element intervening between his conception and the final realisation of the latter.
One must admire in his inspiration the power that made him create the material he felt necessary to interpret his dreams or life, and praise the fertility of his imagination when he abandons himself to dreams, the penetration of his eye when he observes life. His wounded bull of ceramic rock, lying down in the arena to die, pierced by the matador's thin sword, is strikingly true.
But there is so much more to say about so many other creations or specialities of Bing and Grôndahl that he now lets us slide on! It is painful not to be able to dwell on their high-fired stoneware, born of the collaboration of the chemist Hallin and the late Cari Petersen, a master ceramist, obtained in workshops where one lived bent over the potter's ancient kiln, anxious about the results, fearing the hazards of fire and its whims. Volumes could be written - and read with interest - about their sculpted porcelains, their new matte enamel, as soft to the touch as a child's skin and suitable for the manufacture of small trinkets of incomparable delicacy, about the prestigious art with which they treat underglaze porcelain.
And as we considered it the other day at the Grand Palais: "How then," we asked, "how then do you obtain this projection of the decorative motif on the background of the object? "
We smiled and were invited to judge by touch. There were no protrusions. The beautiful vase was absolutely smooth.
Was it not the Greek painter Apelles who was told: "Lift this veil that prevents me from seeing your painting"? But it was the veil itself, painted, that formed the whole picture.
And so, in all ingenuity and sincerity, it was possible to pay the same involuntary but eloquent tribute to a masterpiece by Bing and Grôndahl that once greeted the genius Apelles.
Article published in "L'art vivant" in 1925
The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Factory, founded in 1779 by Queen Julian Mary, who encouraged artists and promoted the arts, was keen to present the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts with an ensemble worthy of its famous reputation and capable of making it stand out even among competitors who also presented particularly artistic objects.
The Royal Manufactory has had two symmetrical pavilions built by Mr. Helveg Muller, a renowned Danish architect. These two pavilions are linked by a terrace preceded by a double perron, one is called the King's pavilion and is devoted more particularly to porcelain, the other, called the Queen's pavilion, is reserved for earthenware. In the first, there is a bust of King Christian wearing a large furry cap, and in the other, that of Queen Alexandrine; both busts are made of white porcelain. The architect had an excellent idea of separating these two pavilions because the crowd literally rushes in and after staying a while to admire the products exhibited in the first pavilion one can go and breathe on the terrace before entering the second one where the crowd is also dense.
We had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Dalgas, chief administrator of this factory, and that of Mr. Helveg Muller during their visit to Paris; one must have frequented the Danes to appreciate their extreme friendliness. Miss Dalgas was keen to show us around the factory that her father manages with Mr. Chr. Joachim, who is known as the artistic director. This gracious young lady was a precious guide for us, for she knows not only manufacturing very well, but also French, and it was with ease that she presented the objects on display to us, using exact terms to point out the difficulties overcome and the results obtained. She told us that she was very happy to be able to stay in Paris for six months because this would allow her to speak our language even better.
The architect insisted on great simplicity in the form and colour of the pavilions. They are rectangular in shape with a slightly round main façade, all glazed to form a frontage cut by a large entrance door with two glass-filled leaves fitted with copper rods to protect them; a single side door, also with two glass-filled leaves, allows access to each pavilion from the terrace. The two buildings are very pale grey in colour with a very dark grey base, like the steps of the doors and those of the perrons; this grey colour is broken by the apple green colour of the doors and the lower parts of the benches of the terrace, which themselves have their upper part painted in dark grey, like the pedestals of the statues and vases decorating the rooms and this terrace. The façades are surmounted by a narrow, bright blue band on which the name of the factory stands out in thin, raised, golden letters. There are no ornaments other than the Danish coat of arms, surmounted by the carved, painted and gilded royal crown, on the main door of each pavilion. Both buildings are covered by a flat roof with a large overhang on the glass façade to protect it from rain and sun.
Each pavilion forms a single room of a beauty as sober as that of the exterior. The unenclosed windows are pearl grey with dark grey skirting boards and fascias, topped by a solid part forming a frieze in an extremely light cream colour with gold marbling.
The facades of the pavilions are in keeping with the simple layout and decoration of the exhibition rooms. The sober elegance of the interiors can only enhance the beauty of the exhibits in the light filtered by the canopy over the rounded, fully glazed façade. One can only congratulate the architect. Mr. Helveg Muller for his happy inspiration because the whole gives the impression of a delicate and unpretentious modern style.
On a pedestal placed in front, in the middle of the terrace stands a rather high statue of "The Potter" by Mr. Jais Nielsen, a young artist attached to the factory.
In the pavilions we see the inimitable white porcelain animals that we have so often admired and that are so well known, some of them by Mr. K. Khyn, who specialised in animals and especially in monkeys.
Also worth mentioning are two large white porcelain vases decorated under enamel. One depicts Danish fishing boats on a calm sea under long clouds and is signed by Mr. Benjamin Olsen; the other with a flight of swans in perspective of increasing size is signed by Mr. V. Th. Fischer.
Particularly noteworthy are the small vases in flamed porcelain by Mr. Proschowskv: some are white porcelain with parts covered with frost exactly like that on windows in winter.
The white or grey porcelain, crackled, decorated on the glaze is represented by dishes, bowls and cups with ornamentation or flowers in fine gold and by pretty small vases with gold decoration and figures in grisaille heightened with gold, by Mr. Thorkihd Olsen.
In the grey porcelain decorated under the high-fire enamel, of an almost white colour, we mention a vase very rich in form and decoration with a filleted lid, with garlands of flowers and a medallion of an iron-grey tone with a slight hint of blue, large dishes with a very detailed plant in the foreground standing out against a landscape also of the same slightly bluish-grey tone, these pretty things composed and executed by Mr. Olut Jensen, and statuettes of the same name. Olut Jensen and statuettes of costumed figures, decorated in the same way by Mr. Georg Thylstrup, sculptor.
On the tables are exhibited very beautiful services in white porcelain decorated on enamel due to Messrs. Ch. Joachim. A. Maliwosky, their decoration is blue or gold.
Finally, we would like to mention two works of art that have caught our attention for a long time: the admirable groups of white porcelain decorated on enamel by Mr. Gerhard Henning with matt and shiny parts.
Finally, the Royal Manufactory has endeavoured to make celadon porcelains like those which were very popular in China a thousand years ago; these are plain vases or sculptured objects in a colour reminiscent of the peach leaf, i.e. a very soft almond green, with Messrs O. Mathiesen and Jais Nielsn competing in this genre.
Since 1863 the factory has installed another factory which deals more particularly with decorated earthenware, with a lively, cheerful, gleaming appearance in shades of jewels, Mr. Chr. Joachim, a talented artist, has also devoted himself to this interesting manufacture and has become, thanks to his knowledge and technical skill, the artistic director of the two factories. Through his care the establishments have achieved considerable success and it is in this way that we are able to admire at the Exhibition the small Nielsen statuettes which are reminiscent of the Granville animal designs.
These Tranquebar earthenware dinner services are generally used with the half-crystal, white glass and white tinted glass for fine wines produced in collaboration with the Holmegaard glassworks.
The earthenware tea sets known as pink roses, decorated with small roses on rich green foliage, stand next to planters decorated with huge flowers and large foliage, enhanced by richly and vigorously carved fruit.
Particularly noteworthy are dishes and vases decorated with richly coloured birds and peacocks set against elegantly composed foliage.
The exhibition is completed by a series of stoneware pieces, including a grey-green hamadryas with garnet castings placed on the terrace, stoneware with a large flame in a wine colour called "sang de boeuf" (oxblood) by Mr. P. Nordstrom, stoneware in a dark grey colour, and others that are almost greenish-grey. We find here Mr. Nielsen with his stoneware decorated under the glaze with a very dark colour almost like iron or with the appearance of slate with covers in reserved parts, these covers always decorated with religious subjects dating from the beginning of the Romanesque period; his stoneware is a remarkable ceramic product, but why does he show us at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs Modernes subjects of such an old design?
Many of the stoneware pieces have wrought bronze mounts and lids, which are the result of Mr. G. Thystrup's genuine talent.
The exhibition at the Royal Porcelain Factory in Copenhagen is in its entirety and in its details particularly remarkable.