Style Other / Ref.10639
Clément MASSIER (1844-1911) ceramicist, James VIBERT (1872-1942) sculptor "Man taken by Morpheus" iridescent earthenware cup
Width: 6'' ¼ 16cm
Height: 19'' ¼ 49cm
Depth: 6'' ¼ 16cm
France, 19th century
Iridescent earthenware, enamels with metallic luster
H : 49 cm (19”5/16) ; W : 15,5 cm (6”1/8) ; D : 16 cm (6”5/16).
Signed : « Clément Massier Golfe Juan (cm) »
This symbolist cup in ceramic with iridescent reflections depicting a “Man taken by Morpheus” was made around 1900 by the symbolist sculptor James Vibert (1872-1942) and Clement Massier (1844-1917), member of the Massier family, a dynasty of ceramists who introduced an artistic earthenware in Vallauris and then Golfe-Juan.
A naked man emerges from the long draperies of a woman with spread angel wings supporting an ovoid cup. The bare chested angel looks down at the numb man she seems to be irresistibly attracting. Gentleness, even sensuality, emanates from this composition. It is probably a representation of the myth of Morpheus, the divinity of prophetic dreams. Messenger of the gods, Morpheus appears most often in dreams in a human form while being an incarnation of fantasy. Although he is most often a butterfly-winged man, Morpheus' iconography is evolving and changing, especially at this turn of the century when symbolism, freed from all tradition, appropriated the myths and legends in favor of aesthetic and personal fantasy.
Reinterpretation of the myth of Morpheus or simple angelic figure, the aqua green, violet and turquoise metallic iridescence stresses the poetry of this group and Clement Massier made a specialty of it. He worked all his life for the improvement of enamels with metallic luster. It is a type of iridescent glaze enabeled by the application of an enamel comprising oxides of gold, silver or copper particles. The shiny, metallic and shimmering aspect of this technique gives the objects a certain preciousness as well as an unreal and fantastic aspect in adequacy with the represented subjects. Already used by the Spanish-Moorish ceramists of the Renaissance in Mallorca, this technique was discovered by Clement Massier around 1886-1887, which earned him a gold medal at the 1889 World Fair.
It is also interesting to draw a parallel between the etymology of “irisation” and the depicted theme. Indeed, the term is derived from the name of Iris, messenger of the gods in Greek mythology, whose colorful wings leave rainbow traces in its wake. While it is not a representation of the goddess, the association of this palette and subject has revealed a harmony between the poetic aspect of the mythological episode and the rainbow shades; a harmony which is also sought in the Sculptural bowl representing languid bodies, like nymphs, merging with scrolls and algae. Preserved at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this bowl is also the result of the collaboration between Clement Massier and James Vibert.
The Massiers, and particularly Clement, often surrounded themselves with renowned artists, thus taking part in a characteristic movement of the time that contributed to the renewal of the decorative arts. For example, he worked with Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer (1865-1953), Jules Scalbert (1851-1933) and of course James Vibert (1872-1942), a sculptor of Swiss nationality.
First trained as a metalworker in Geneva, then graduated in modeling and drawing in Lyon, James Vibert moved to Paris in 1892 where he attended symbolist circles. He worked in the studio of Auguste Rodin from 1894 to 1898 before returning to Switzerland at the dawn of the following century when he became a professor at the School of Fine Arts in Geneva.
James Vibert collaborated on many occasions with ceramists like the well-known Adrien Dalpayrat or the Müller brothers. A letter written by his hand, mentionned by Karine Lacquemant in Massier, the introduction of artistic ceramics on the French Riviera, highlights the fruitful understanding between the sculptor and the ceramist:
“I send you the little sketch I promised you, and I take this opportunity to thank you once again for your charming pottery, which is admired by all my friends. Believe my sincere sympathy.”
Hence, a lamp is published in 1899 in the journal Art and Decoration, which is entitled Man taken by Morpheus, made by Massier after a model of James Vibert. This is the same model as our cup, revealing another destination of the object.
The theme of dreams and fantasies as well as aesthetics with curvaceous lines and aquatic colors are eminently late-century features, from which Clement Massier took inspiration for many works. The work of the Massiers also reflects in its entirety the variety of styles that went through the nineteenth century and which they witnessed: if their first achievements are marked by their historicism and their eclecticism, they will devote themselves later to a production in symbolist or Art Nouveau style. It is for example Loïe Fuller, represented during her fire dance with undulating draperies, that Clement Massier will stage in this dish exposed in the Metropolitain Museum of Art.
Clement Massier belongs to a dynasty of ceramists installed in Vallauris. Pierre Massier (1707-1748) was the first to initiate this family tradition. If the workshop had at first a utilitarian vocation, it passed with Jacques Massier (1806-1871) the simple usual pottery to devote itself to more artistic ceramics which will know a great fortune. This turning point occurred in the middle of the century, when the Italian potter Gondolfi Gaetano arrived in 1859 at Jacques Massier's workshop. From then on, the family factory took a new turn. The latter initiated Delphin (1836-1907) and Clement to the manufacture of enamels, the use of plaster molds and was at the origin of enamelled earthenware. The two brothers, however, quickly took their independence: Delphin built a factory of artistic earthenware in Vallauris while Clement moved to Golfe Juan in 1883, where was designed our cup. These two companies stood out from the craft workshop, an inovation in the region. At the end of the 19th century, the Massiers enjoyed an international reputation and their works are still today among the most popular in the field of ceramics.
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