Derain, Dufy, Matisse, Picasso: La Céramique des Peintres

Derain, Dufy, Matisse, Picasso: La Céramique des Peintres

The Musée d’Art Moderne de Troyes, in the city’s beautiful 16th/17th-century Episcopal palace, is celebrating its 30th anniversary with Derain, Dufy, Matisse, Picasso… La Céramique des Peintres, a major exhibition of ceramic works by great artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The show presents some 200 vases, plates, tiles and objets d’art from the collection of renowned Russian émigré poetess and Parisian gallery owner Katia Granoff (1895–1989) and her nephew Pierre Larock, displayed along with paintings by the same impressive roster of artists, including Chagall, Derain, Dufy, Léger, Gauguin, Marquet, Matisse, Miró, Picasso, Renoir, Rouault, Van Dongen, Vlaminck, Vuillard  and such contemporary stars as Lucio Fontana and Hans Hartung. Most of the paintings are part of the exceptionally rich donation by Pierre and Denise Levy that provided the museum’s initial collection.

Gauguin claimed to have been the first painter of note to have vigorously pursued ceramic sculptures, producing more than 100 pieces in concert with ceramist Ernest Chaplet. But it was only after the early 20th-century Arts & Crafts movement that the idea of combining the useful with the beautiful really caught on. “I made some plates, did they tell you?” Picasso is said to have asked André Malraux. “They are very good,” he added, dropping into a mockingly deep voice. “You can eat from them.”

It’s unlikely that anyone would serve supper on plates like those on show, but it’s fun to imagine a banquet table set with them, with Raoul Dufy’s delightful ceramic planter, The Music or Opera Garden (1927), filled with flowering greenery, as a splendid centerpiece.

Just on the other side of the city’s cathedral, the Musée Saint-Loup offers a graceful counterpoint to the ceramics show with Porcelaine de Sèvres: Tradition et Modernité, an exhibit of some 150 pieces of porcelain from the historic collection of the Royal Manufactory of Sèvres on permanent loan to Troyes, including vases, tableware, sculptures and objets d’art from the Second Empire to the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods of the early 20th century.  Among the most charming works is the small bisque version of the celebrated marble Cupid’s Warning by sculptor Etienne Falconnet, who was director of the Royal Manufactory from 1757 to 1767—the childlike winged Cupid holds a finger to his lips, while his other hand discreetly starts to pluck an arrow from a nearly hidden quiver.

The two shows add up to a perfect excuse to visit Troyes, although no excuse is really needed for making the easy hour-and-a-half train trip from Paris to the wonderful town in the southern reaches of the Champagne region, whose medieval Old Town with its half-timbered houses, superb historic churches and singular Musée de l’Outil et de la Pensée Ouvrière are always well worth the detour. (See Troyes: Rainbows in Champagne, France Today, February 2011)

Musée d’Art Moderne, 14 pl Saint Pierre, Troyes, €8. Through Dec 2


Musée Saint-Loup, rue de la Cité, €4. Through Dec 30


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