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A Iridescent and Lustre Earthenware Vase

Designed by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, Executed by Clément Massier, circa 1887

With pinched sides, decorated with butterflies amidst lilies, painted signature Clement Massier, Golfe Juan AM, stamped CLEMENT MASSIER GOLFE JUAN (AM) L LÉVY

11 ¼ in (28.6 cm) high
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Clément Massier was born into a family of ceramicists and therefore took an interest in the business from an early age. After years of work, study and travel, Massier relocated his share of the family firm to Golfe-Juan in 1884. There, he began producing Hispano-Moresque influenced pottery using silver and copper oxide glazes made iridescent in a smoky kiln. With the arrival of Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer in 1887, Massier introduced fiery lustre glazes enriched with etching and painting, applying them to forms ranging from the hand-made to the slip-cast. Soon after, Clément Massier was running a busy factory and a showroom that boasted an elite international clientele.

Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer (1865-1953) was taken on as Massier’s primary artistic director. An Algerian by birth, the nascent Symbolist painter was a collector of antique and ethnic ceramics and decorative arts. He encouraged Massier’s experimentation with the lustre glazes, adding metallic qualities and intricate surface effects through painting, etching and stamping. The first known instance of Clément Massier’s metallic lustre glaze dates from the year of Lévy-Dhurmer’s arrival. Massier exhibited his new metallic lustre-glazed pottery at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889. At this time, the patterns were generally applied to forms inspired by a great variety of exotic cultures: Iznik, Persian, Moorish, Japanese, Greek and Neoclassical. Lévy-Dhurmer’s influence on the decorative style of Massier’s production became dominant during the 1890s. In the first half of the decade, simple forms, many of which had been designed earlier, were decorated with elements based on a festive version of nature: insects crawled, prawns cavorted, and butterflies danced, while spiders, starfish and eels played in underwater fields of seaweed and algae. Fluid, organic shapes, such as this vase, were more typical of the second half of the decade.

In 1895 Lévy-Dhurmer returned to Paris to pursue his career as an artist. His paintings in the Symbolist style were a great success with both the public and his fellow artists. Today, they are collected by museums worldwide and he is considered one of the important artists of the Symbolist movement. One of those works is the magnificent Wisteria Drawing Room created by Lévy-Dhurmer for his friend Auguste Rateau, now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

By 1895, Clément Massier’s lustrous creations were offered in at least five Paris galleries and an unknown number of other venues across France. The catalogue of the Massier factory did not include the metallic lustre glaze as it was used only for one-off pieces. Massier spent the remainder of his life perfecting the iridescent metallic lustre glaze. He emerges as one of the major creative forces of his time, on par with contemporary Symbolist and Impressionist painters. Massier’s works are a unique and magical combination between symbolism and nature.