NEW YORK CITY — Celebrating the recent acquisition of Robert Ellison Jr’s European art pottery collection, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has installed an exhibition “Making Pottery Art: The Robert A. Ellison Jr Collection of French Ceramics (circa 1880–1910)” in the Wrightsman Exhibition Gallery, main floor, gallery 521. On view through August 18, the majority of the 40 works on display are examples of French pottery and porcelain, and they are shown with comparative examples drawn from the museum’s holdings of Asian art, European sculpture and decorative arts, Greek and Roman art, and European paintings.
French pottery from the Ellison collection includes vases made by potters in the years around 1900 that pushed the boundaries of the medium and were technically experimental and aesthetically ambitious. Works by master ceramicists Ernest Chaplet, Auguste Delaherche, Pierre-Adrien Dalpayrat and Jean Carriès are highlights of the installation. The installation also includes the monumental “Vase des Binelles” by Hector Guimard (who is most well-known for his Art Nouveau Métro stations throughout Paris) and an extremely rare ceramic vessel by Paul Gauguin, the first by the artist to enter the Metropolitan’s collection.
Determined that pottery vessels should be regarded as true works of art, avant-garde ceramicists in France in the last decades of the Nineteenth Century transformed their craft into an intellectual and emotional endeavor. The pioneers of this revival were Jean Carriès, Ernest Chaplet, Théodore Deck and Auguste Delaherche. These revolutionary artist-potters embraced artisanal traditions while pursuing lost techniques through exhaustive experimentation.
They celebrated the simplicity and sincerity of their medium, following the tenets of the Art Nouveau style to reform the decorative arts by emphasizing uniqueness and a return to craftsmanship. Artist-potters found inspiration in Asian ceramics, particularly Japanese stoneware, as well as in the forms, glazes and techniques of Chinese porcelain and pottery. They also looked to European traditions such as the rustic salt-glazed stoneware of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries and Gothic sculpture and architecture.
Robert Ellison Jr has been collecting pottery since the 1960s. His collection of American art pottery came to the Metropolitan Museum as a promised gift in 2009, and is currently on view in the American Wing. For his collection of outstanding European ceramics, he has sought the highest-quality examples — typically on a monumental scale — by the greatest artist-potters of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries to tell the narrative of the art pottery movement in Europe, especially France.
In June 2013 the Metropolitan Museum acquired 76 examples of European art pottery from the Ellison Collection — 54 of which were generously donated. These Continental and British ceramics, dating from 1867 to the 1930s, represent another ceramics milestone in the Metropolitan Museum’s history.
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