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Gallery of Ceramics - Expo Paris 1889

Gallery of Ceramics at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889
Architect(s) : Marcel Deslignières


The main entrance to the Exhibition of Class 20, which includes ceramics and mosaics, contrasts pleasantly by its light tone with the door of the Furnishing which is next door and whose dark tint makes it stand out all the more.

It is entirely from the industries to which it gives access that M. Marcel Deslignières, the architect of this pretty portico, asked for all the elements that make it up.

The two-tone terracotta background is divided into three bases, surmounted by a cornice with Arabic crenellations.

The note of the Orient is perceived more than it is seen exactly in the whole order of the entrance, which however has nothing of the distinct ogives of the Moorish style. This impression is rather due to the very pleasant combination of natural colours and enamels.

Two ceramic statues represent Ceramics, one in the guise of a young woman offering a buire to the public's admiration, with the ingenuous gesture of the little Italians who want to sell you their plaster figures.

The other personifies the Mosaic, in a woman of very good looks, who contemplates a mosaic composition set in a wooden frame, which she is holding in her hand. This figure is very successful, but one wonders, without arriving at a precise answer, why this mosaic wears a high Henri II ruff. There is no motive for this, unless it is a reminder that the mosaicists were called from Italy to France by Catherine de Medici.

Also noteworthy is a pediment composed of half-relief scenes, executed in white enamel and separated by colonnettes, which represents the complete history of a ceramic vase.

Golden Book of the Exhibition - Henry Anry.


The ceramics exhibition includes a showcase in the thirty-metre long gallery, and then, in the palace of various exhibitions, several rooms leading from the monumental door to the Glassworks. In addition, behind the Goldsmith's shop, the Ceramics department occupies another room, adjacent to the first. It is clear that this is an important installation. It is true that it includes under the very general name of ceramics all the "arts of the earth": earthenware, porcelain, furniture and building ceramics and mosaics.

Before going any further, let us say that quality meets quantity and that this exhibition is no less remarkable for its excellence than for its importance. Ceramics has remained for the last few years in a period of expansion and progress, during which our national producers have especially distinguished themselves. England alone was able, for a time, to compete with decorative ceramics and the iron clay of tableware. Today the English industry is beaten on all the line and the French earthenware triumphs, as the French porcelain already triumphed.

But with regard to the latter, it should be noted that every day porcelain loses more and more favour with the public, which, having rehabilitated earthenware, which some thirty years ago fell into unjust disdain, now throws itself into this unique path and hardly wants to hear about porcelain.

What is reproached to porcelain is not only the unaffordable price of the beautiful pieces, but also the mawkishness of the decoration, fiddly, patochés sans energy. Earthenware, on the other hand, taking advantage of the push of art towards nature, determined by Japonism, is better suited to receive fatter decorations, in full pale, and detaching with vigour on warmer backgrounds, an ornamentation high in colour and firm in drawing.

When it comes to everyday tableware, the preference is even more pronounced.

Unless you want to go for prices that are out of the ordinary, you have to stick to plain services in the classical forms, and the price is still quite high.

Whereas today, at prices of 20 to 25 francs, one obtains a service of 75 pieces of Korean earthenware, and let us say, artistically decorated. It is industry, of course, and not personal production, but whereas the application of a poncif leaves the drawing, on porcelain, clumsy and contoured, the use of the same process on earthenware, with the difference in grain and glaze, makes it possible to obtain a decoration which has all the appearance of an inspiration and a first draft.

Nevertheless, porcelain services are numerous. Together with Limoges, they garnish the window of honour, and worthily support the competition of private industry against our great and glorious Sèvres factory.
We find porcelain in the form of shelf trinkets. Here, it is incomparable, but here again Ja mode makes infidelity to it. The pieces that are sought after are imitations of Saxony or old Sèvres. It must also be admitted that no good grace has been shown in renewing the old models. We keep finding the shepherd and the shepherdess and Collin singing Collette:
Give me back your heart, my Gollelte; Collin has given you back his.
Those who love J.-J. Rousseau and the 17th century must be charmed, but the majority are not of that taste, so the shepherdesses remain on the shelves and do not find any customers.
And yet, these pretty laces and the exquisite doll-like figures of the empaysaned marquises are very pretty, but here, as a modern poet said in a thirteen-foot verse, which is quoted as the model of the genre:
L'on vit bien un jour les duchesses guillotinées, et la guillotine abolit le souvenir de Trianon.

Porcelain painting has retained its devotees, I should say its devotees, for almost only women devote themselves to this art today. I am not referring to decorated porcelain but to painting, genre painting or portraits on porcelain panels. Mrs. Hortense Richard, who is considered to be the master of the genre, has exhibited several compositions after the painters of the léché and the finish, which lend themselves better than all the others" to execution on porcelain. To be enamelled at high fire, Mr. Bouguereau is without rival. It is even more natural after than before.

Other various enamels accompany the painting on porcelain. We find at the bottom of these graceful miniatures the names which, every year, return with a feminine obstinacy at the bottom of these same enamels of the Salon, which the public persists in not looking at.

I prefer in this genre, or more or less, the compositions painted on lava and fired in a large fire in the style of this superb Mare en forêt shown to us by Mr. Jouve. There is a shiver of nature that passes under these foliage and that wrinkles the quiet water. Dame, it is not finished in small stitch and scoured with a brush as big as a needle point, but it lives like any painting of a master of light and the open air.

Here we are at the earthenware. In truth, she is a hoarder. It holds almost all of this exhibition and, better than that, it holds almost all of the Universal Exhibition. It is earthenware that has decorated the interior doors and attics with superb panels, laid the gleaming cords on the cornices of the palaces, placed real friezes on the pediments, replacing painting, fresco, sculpture and often masonry. For, by whatever name it is called, it is always earthenware, these large compositions, these powerful plastic motifs that make up the majority of the decoration, both interior and exterior, of the palaces of the Champs de Mars.

We have seen it in tableware, here it is in superb vases of an overflowing fantasy; with the beautiful vase of Bourg-la-Reine pastiching Japan without servility; with the earthenware of Vallauris, reediting, either in tableware or in ornamental vases, the formerly renowned products of Rouen and Marseille.

Here it is again, in its most artistic and personal blossoming, with the magnificent products of Gien, the red and yellow copper flambées, the vases of all dimensions and decorated soberly on a dark background but with a very intense and very rendered feeling of nature.

Blois shows curious earthenware of an archaic form and a very elementary design, but worked and decorated with a tasteful quirkiness and a perfect understanding of colour.

The decorative ceramics are represented mainly by tiles and fragments of the decoration of the Champ de Mars palaces. The most remarkable piece of those that do not fall into this category is a fireplace that had Mr. Paul Sédille as its architect and Mr. André Allar as its sculptor. It must be called the Foyer. In any case, it is of great style. Under the hood and the mantle, in clear ceramic, four life-size figures in terracotta stand out. The father explaining something to his child and the mother caressing a delightful toddler. These honest bourgeois, dressed in the fashion of yesteryear, make a pretty ensemble of quiet happiness, absolutely well in its setting.
Where better to be than in the bosom of your...
...fireplace when a good fire is blazing and elsewhere the wind and rain and snow are raging.

There are other terracottas in this section, but they are nothing to brag about, as they fall into the category of those hideous yellow men, which little Italians pretend to sell on the terraces of the boulevards' cafés. It's generally quite ugly.

Another kind, not more artistic and not more beautiful, is represented by so-called genre terracottas, hideous caricatures of which a gummer and a gumdrop usually do the damage. On three or four of these horrors is the inscription, "Purchased by the Prince of Wales."

I prefer to believe that the dealer is a puffin who wants to tell us about it, or a naive person to whom some rastaquouère will have presented himself as the heir of the United Kingdom.

Despite the reduction in Queen Victoria's civil list and her family's endowments, it is impossible to believe that the Prince of Wales is at such a point as to buy such trinkets at two pennies a pile.

It would in any case be very regrettable, for it will certainly not give him a proud idea of French art.

Mosaics are related to ceramics by the nature of the coloured cubes they use. In the past, natural stones were used, but the need for a wider range of colours has led to the use of artificial cubes.

In the Briare showcase, we find the materials of this art, which is all patience, seemingly ungrateful, and which has nevertheless produced marvels. The mosaic on a gold background, copying in its overall look the enamels of Byzantium, is very fashionable today. It is the most common exterior decoration and also the most elegant.

The main mosaic pieces on display are, in addition to a collection of portraits after M. Lenepveu, the arms of Saint-Denis, and two Cleopatras after the frescoes of Tiépolo. These last two very large compositions are remarkable, not only for their perfectly homogeneous execution and a fading of tones as successful as if the mosaic were a painting on porcelain, but also for the naïve anachronisms of costumes and types committed by the painter.

The Cleopatra of the Pearl is dressed in a superb Henri II ruff, and her pages have the costumes of the best maker in Rome, under Leo X.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - Paul le Jeinisel.