Catalan ceramics of the 20th century: from the flat to the triumph of the “artist” stoneware Antiques 08/02/2024

We can consider that among the decorative arts of “Noucentisme”, ceramics achieved greater development and a greater degree of representativeness. Faced with the sophistication and sinuousness of lines, with predominance of floral, Gothic and international motifs of Modernisme, the “Noucentisme” tended to show in the flat a more austere repertoire of colors, shapes and typologies, inspired by the local ceramic models of the 16th to 18th centuries and in popular pottery. To this origin respond the simple forms of the vessels, the use of the intense green color in the glaries, or warm yellows, ochres, cobalt blues and dark greens applied on watertight white bases. Ornamentally, the taste for abundant borders and popular scenes, resolved with agility, also remind us of the same interest. However, while ancient ceramics were decorated by artisans without artistic training, but with intuitive expression, “noucentista” creators aspired to preserve the freshness of those, but with their own intentions, plasticity and compositions.

The genius of Nogués

Xavier Nogués (1873-1941), a very versatile artist, was perhaps the one who had a very varied production in the most diverse techniques. Authentic Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th century, he cultivated engraving, painting and drawing with particular success, but at the same time he also excelled in the arts of the object in a very special way. Particularly in decorated ceramics (pieces “in shape” and azulejería) and in enameled glass, he achieved achievements that are still highly valued today by collectors. In his objects, de pisa unfolded a wide repertoire of images both classicist and Mediterranean, and caricature, of friendly comics. Other artists such as Josep Aragay also stood out in the field of decorated ceramics, especially in the elaboration and ornamentation of dishes and vases, although he also decorated with tiles the emblematic public fountain of Barcelona located at the end of Portal de l’Àngel.

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Xavier Nogués. Tailor with character with basket. Toward 1923-1924.
Sale in Balclis at the face-to-face auction in December 2023.

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Xavier Nogués. Two musicians. Toward 1923-1924.
Sale in Balclis at the auction in December room 2023.

Francesc Elias, Josep Llorens Artigas, Antoni Cumella and the artistic stoneware.

At the same time, there would be an interest in the knowledge of techniques without local tradition, such as stoneware, which enhanced its use and approach to oriental ceramics. Francesc Elias (1892-1991) was an example of a multifaceted artist, but he was particularly prominent in glass and ceramics. Together with Francesc Quer (teacher of the School) and Josep Ma Gol he was a pioneer in Catalonia in the field of the recovery of enameled glass, making pieces of schematicism and markedly popular freshness. His glasses fit perfectly with the “noucentista” ideology, as also happened at first with his ceramics, but his learning with Quer, his training stay in France, his contact with Llorens Artigas and his passion for Japanese production, led him to a work in which the stoneware was the favourite material. Its vases perfectly reflect their concerns and offer us a rereading of the shape of the Far East specimens. The cover of the piece looks delicate nuances, showing his experimentation with the possibilities of chromatism and texture of the enamels. Both Francesc and his brother Feliu (who signed as “Joan Sacs”), were active advocates of the revitalization of the Catalan ceramic school of their time and published texts vindicating it and making known to contemporary foreign authors and oriental ceramics.

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Francesc Elias. Six vases. Grey. Century media XX.
Subscribe at the in-person auction held in Balclis in July 2019.

Josep Llorens Artigas (1892-1980), friend and collaborator of Elias in his early days, is undoubtedly the most outstanding Catalan artist in the field of decorative arts and the few who have transcended internationally. Unlike others of his generation, he did not have a multifaceted vocation, dedicating all his creativity and efforts exclusively to the purification of ceramic art. He was one of the first students of the Escola Superior de Bells Oficis, where he soon became a collaborator. His initial works in flats reflect the usual tonic of other artists of the time, decorating on white roofs, although they surprise the avant-garde motifs close to Cubism. However, these signs of his renewed concern did not sufficiently meet his expectations and the painted ornamentation in enamel would be less and less pleasing to him. A scholarship allowed him to go to Paris, where he deepened his knowledge of sandstone and settled in the city, collaborating with avant-garde painters such as Raoul Dufy. The adaptation of his creativity to the stoneware technique, harder, more compact and precise than the flat, was increasing and from now on he was his main vehicle of expression. With him he aspired to a pure and deornamented art, whose beauty will lie especially in the pulcritude of turned forms and the attractiveness of the surfaces, colorful, but without painted figurative decoration. Llorens Artigas took further than any other artist of “noucentista” formation the philosophy of “the well-made work” in his always unique creations, but he distanced himself from the majority of his generation for his departure from the decorated flat, focusing on formal conciseness and a reflection on the philosophy and technique of Chinese and Japanese ceramics. The author always cared for the process from beginning to end, from the selection of base materials and coating, to cooking, and was extremely demanding in his experiments and results. The work of matter in turn was decisive for him and in the manual elevation of the shape of his pieces, he sought the infinite possibilities of the profiles with subtle curved inflections. The sober purification, without extravagances or strangleholds, was accompanied by a deep search for the finishes, of matte or bright colored textures, which harmonized with those shapes, enhancing them.

He exhibited at the 1928 Paris Autumn Hall and usually at the Barcelona Spring Hall, which was held in the 1930s. Proof of the international transcendence that Llorens Artigas achieved was the exhibition at the Brummer Gallery in New York in 1932, in which the Metropolitan Museum bought one of its vases: the first contemporary ceramics it acquired. In his maturity he also collaborated with the great painter Joan Miró, making together both vases, large tile murals, and independent plates.

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Josep Lloreç Artigas. Gerro. Grey. 20th-century media.
Sale in Balclis during the auction in October 2022.

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Josep Lloreç Artigas.Gerro. Grey. 20th-century media.
Sale in Balclis at the face-to-face auction in December 2020.

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Josep Lloreç Artigas. Bool. Grey. 20th-century media.
Sale at the Balclis face-to-face auction in March 2022.

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Joan Miró & Josep Lloreç Artigas. Untitled.
Plaque in refractory ceramics. Around 1970. Sale in Balclis in 2022.

A little younger than Artigas and his friend, Antoni Cumella (1913-1985) also developed a wide creative work in the “great fire” ceramics. In 1936 he held his first exhibition at the Syra Galleries in Barcelona and after the Civil War he continued to exhibit regularly in it. In his abundant plates in relief he investigated the avant-garde aesthetics incorporating the informalist language while in his original vases he moved further away from the oriental forms seeking a language of more personal forms and lines of more exaggerated and contrasted volumes.

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Antoni Cumella. Gerro. Grey. 1957.
Sale at the in-person auction held in Balclis in December 2021.

You can find all kinds of glass art both in our daily online auctions and in our face-to-face auctions.