When Vallauris was the epicenter of modern ceramics
Since 1968, the city of Vallauris, in the Alpes-Maritimes, hosts the International Biennial of Ceramic Art. An opportunity for aficionados of this prehistoric art to discover creations from all over the world. How did Vallauris become a name and a reference in the history of ceramics? This is what we propose to tell you, from the origins of artistic ceramics in Vallauris, to the golden age of the 50s, marked by the presence of the great master Pablo Picasso.
Before becoming the epicenter of modern ceramics in the 1950s, how do you explain the attraction that Vallauris exerted on the artists and visual artists who came to stay or settle there? First of all, Vallauris is renowned for the quality of the clay contained in its soils. Thus, the Gallo-Roman potters went to Vallauris to recover the raw material. Subsequently, the city welcomes in the sixteenth century 70 families from around Genoa who come to repopulate the village devastated by the plague, among these families, there are potters …
If Vallauris became the capital of artistic ceramics after the Second World War, there had already been a local production to develop and sell a pottery whose use is not only culinary, but also artistic. We owe this development to the Massier family, a local dynasty of ceramists who founded one of the first terracotta factories in the city in the 17th century. At the turn of the 20th century, under the impetus of Clément (1844-1917), Delphin (1836-1907) and Jérôme Massier (1820-1909), the family business oriented its production towards artistic pieces. In 1889, Clément Massier received a gold medal for his iridescent ceramic vases at the Paris World Fair.
The First World War and the economic depression of the 1930s slowed down the development of artistic ceramics. Only culinary pottery remained in Vallauris. It was the 1950s that really marked the development of artistic ceramics with Vallauris as the capital. two dates are important in this development: the creation in 1946 of the first exhibition of Vallauris potters and the installation in 1948 of Pablo Picasso in the city of 100 potters.
The initiators of this exhibition are the Atelier Madoura, founded in 1938 by Suzanne Ramié (1905-1974), its founder; the ceramist André Baud (1903-1986), and the Atelier Callis, founded the same year by Robert Picault (1919-2000), Roger Capron (1922-2006) and Jean Derval (1925-2010). This new generation of ceramists settled in Vallauris and will revitalize the ceramic art with a renewed aesthetic language.
The Madoura workshop is the acronym of “Maison Douly-Ramié”, Douly being the maiden name of Suzanne Ramié. She is a central figure in the Vallauris adventure, since it was she who, with her husband Georges, introduced Pablo Picasso to the art of ceramics. In the Madoura ceramics workshop, Picasso, already famous, will create more than 4,000 pieces. The Madoura workshop will remain the exclusive publisher of the ceramic work of the famous painter. Suzanne Ramié breaks with the tradition of utilitarian ceramics and creates works with pure and original forms.
The trio Picault, Capron and Derval is also important in the history of ceramics in Vallauris. The 3 met on the benches of the School of Applied Art in Paris. During their association which will be brief, Robert Picault turns the pieces, decorated then by Roger Capron. Jean Derval is the one who distributes the production of the workshop, including the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs. In 1948, Robert Picault left the Atelier Callis to produce his own pieces, with a certain success, since his Vallaurian workshop included up to 25 people. These creations are notably distributed in the Parisian department store Primavera.
After the Callis experience, Jean Derval is hired by Madoura as a turner-decorator. His style is considered by his peers as “humanist”, his creations borrow from the mythology of ancient Greece and sacred art. In the 1960s, he turned to architectural ceramics. In 1952, Roger Capron bought a disused pottery and made earthenware tiles and tables. In 1954, it is the consecration, since it obtains the gold medal with Xe Triennale of Milan. Thereafter, Roger Capron had a brilliant industrial career until 1982 when his factory went bankrupt – it employed 120 people in 1980 -. Capron received the Grand Prix International de la Céramique in 1970.
Arrived in Vallauris in 1942, André Baud will be one of the active promoters of the Valaurian ceramics. President of the Association Vallaurienne d’Expansion Céramique (AVEC) from 1959 to 1962, he developed a very personal style. His creations are recognizable by the white and black matte for the exterior, when the interior is illuminated by enamels of bright colors.
Until the 1970s, Vallaurian ceramics remained dynamic. It owes it to talented creators and workshops that remained on site. In addition to Madoura and Callis, let’s mention the Atelier Le Grand Chêne (Odette Gourju, Ljuba Naumovitch, Jacques Innocenti), Les Archanges (Gilbert Valentin), Le Tryptique (Gilbert Portanier, Albert Diato & Francine Del Pierre), Le Portail (Jean Derval). Some of them are internationally successful, like Gilbert Portanier (1926) who creates, from 1964, unique models for the German porcelain manufacturer Rosenthal…