Pottery, ceramics and clay in Vallauris, Alpes-Maritimes, France

Vallauris is a French commune located in the department of Alpes-Maritimes, in region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Industrial culinary pottery has always been, over the centuries, along with working the earth, the main activity of the city. But at the beginning of the xx th century, she became artistic pottery and ceramics, with family Massier. The international biennial continues to make the city “the” French city of ceramics.

The expansion of the hamlet of Golfe-Juan is related to the development of tourism, and especially the arrival of the railroad in the second half of the xix th century. Illustrious personalities have villas built on the hillside. After the Second World War, Vallauris experienced a very prosperous period when renowned artists, attracted by the city’s reputation, came to settle there, including Pablo Picasso. He donated to the city of the Man with the sheep in 1950, and, in 1955, of the fresco War and Peace installed in a room of the castle which became a national museum.

The decline of ceramics has accelerated in recent years, with workshops going from around 250 in the 1960s to a few units today. Shops devoted to ceramics have kept pace and have either disappeared or been replaced by activities (banks, real estate agencies) which usually signal the disappearance of the urban commercial sector.

Vallauris pottery
Legend has it that in Vallauris the origin of ceramics dates back to the dawn of time. If we retain traces of it dating from antiquity, it was at the beginning of the 16th century, when the city was repopulated by Italian families, that an important ceramic activity was born until it became the main activity of the city in the 17th century.

The pottery works then on the mode of small family crafts. It was not until the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century for large factories to develop and for a real industrial and commercial organization to emerge. Thus, companies such as “the Reunited Manufacturers” and “the Gaunet Frères Company” appeared in 1875 and 1890, in order to fight against the scattering of sales and the disparity in prices. Very early on, traditional ceramics known as “terraille” were exported on mule back, where pine nuts are the most common production.

The end of the 19th century corresponds to the development of culinary ceramics that are exported from Golfe-Juan by land and sea. Vallauris specializes in cooking utensils (round pot, with a tail, low; round saucepan, etc.) simply coated with a colorless varnish.

Around the middle of the 18th century, a brown, orange or white slip partially covers the pieces. At the same time, the so-called “speckled” decoration appears, made up of spurts of engobes of different shades.

Around 1920, Société Générale offered three types of finish: “ordinary” pottery (exterior in raw earth, and interior enamelled red or light yellow), pottery “varnished” (exterior enamelled golden yellow and interior enamelled red or yellow. clear), “marbled” pottery (lemon yellow enamelled exterior with marbling and red or light yellow enamelled interior). Traditionally, these potteries have on their paunch a number corresponding to ancestral measurements derived from the foot and the thumb.

In order to reduce the risks of poisoning related to alquifoux (lead varnish), the Industrial Company created in the 1920s a Hygienic Pottery (green on the outside and white on the inside) in which the glaze is free of lead. Likewise in the 1930s and 1950s, Baptistin Georgis created lead-free enamel pottery.

The culinary industry
Although the Vallauris refractory clays have undeniable qualities for making culinary ceramics, to date, no trace of pottery activity has been found in the Vallauris region before modern times. We do not know of any ancient or medieval ceramics made in the characteristic clay of Vallauris.

Not until the xvi th century to 70 families from the neighborhood of Genoa, including potters, repopulate the village devastated by plague. Local production then developed despite the mediocrity of the means of communication. You have to descend the “terraille” on the back of a mule to the Golfe-Juan shore where it is embarked on tartanes (flat-bottomed boats).

At the end of the xix th century, the arrival of the railway enables the massive expansion of production. The small workshops are transformed into real factories and companies appear, grouping together several manufacturers under a collective name in order to fight against competition. These members will mark the beginning of the small industry.

Crisis and renewal
At the beginning of xx th century, as in other French pottery centers, culinary pottery begins to decline, competition from metal containers. The economic crisis of the late 1930s, and the arrival of more appropriate materials (aluminum, cast iron, stainless steel, etc.) moved pottery away from its utilitarian function and, towards the end of the 1940s, began a completely different development: ceramics artistic.

This artistic movement is present from the end of the xix th century with family Massier. Clément, Delphin and Jérôme introduced colored enamels and metallic pigments into their ceramics.

In 1930, Jean Gerbino (1876-1966) opened a workshop in which he created numerous pottery pieces using his unique mosaic process of colored earths. But it was in 1947, with the arrival of Picasso and his astonishing ceramic production carried out at the Madoura workshop, that the image of Vallauris as a traditional pottery center definitively gave way to that of a city where artists came together. and artisans.

Picasso in Vallauris
In 1948, Picasso moved to Vallauris, where he remained until 1955. During these years, Picasso produced many sculptures and paintings, including War and Peace, one of the major works of this period. He also embarked on an intense ceramic production, renewing and profoundly disrupting the creative language in this field.

It was in 1946, while visiting the annual exhibition of the potters of Vallauris, by chance of a meeting with Suzanne and Georges Ramié, owners of a ceramic factory, the Madoura workshop, that Picasso, curious about everything, realized his first ceramic tests. He then decides to devote himself to this activity which offers him new creative perspectives thanks to the plasticity of the earth and the magic of baking, which reveals the dazzling colors of the enamel and the brilliance of the varnishes.

It was at this time (1946) that Sima, who practiced ceramics in Vallauris, took Picasso there, who later worked with the Ramié at the Madoura pottery, a pottery where Sima produced a series of striking portraits of Picasso. Francoise Gilot and Michel Sima testify on this period in the film of “Christian Tran, Picasso and Sima, the modeler of friendship, production Artis, Lyon TV, 2009, 58 min”:

“That year, despite everything, it is where we also saw the Ramiers for the first time. The Ramiers from Madoura pottery. Also with Sima. Sima had an extraordinary intuition because he nevertheless anticipated that Picasso could maybe make ceramics. It’s quite extraordinary and it was not written in the stars you see “. F. Gilot

“For a few days I disappeared, so Picasso was surprised when he couldn’t see me, but I went back to Vallauris a bit (…) I worked there a lot. We went up to Vallauris and I showed him the ceramics”. Mr. Sima

Ceramics have always accompanied the work of Picasso, a native of Malaga, an important Hispano-Moorish pottery center. However, his research remained confidential until his installation in Vallauris.

Its practice is unorthodox. Picasso – sculptor – shapes fauns and nymphs in clay, sinks the earth as one does bronze, tirelessly decorates dishes and plates with his favorite themes (bullfight, woman, owl, goat…), uses the most unforeseen media (fragments pignates, casettes, oven material or broken bricks), invents white pastes which are unglazed ceramics decorated with elements in relief. Ceramics is by no means a minor art for Picasso.

In the Madoura workshop, he uses works created by Suzanne Ramié and produced by the workshop. The shapes of the Madoura workshop are possibly retouched, still fresh, by Picasso who completes them with a painted decoration, adding to the potter’s skill the expressive touch of the sculptor and the painter. he also decorates shapes made from preparatory drawings.

From 1946 to 1971, Picasso produced four thousand original works. According to his wishes, certain ceramics will be published (633 models were thus published with prints ranging from 25 to 500 copies). He chooses the models for the edition with Suzanne and Georges Ramié, decides with them on the quantity of each print and supervises the technical realization. Madoura will have the exclusivity of the production and distribution of the editions.

He wanted these edited ceramics to have daily use as he opens up to André Malraux:
“I made the plates, we can eat on them.”

Another technique also caught his attention, linocut, which he practiced with the printer Hidalgo Arnera (1922-2007) and, from 1963, with Aldo and Piero Crommelynck. The first works were produced for posters of bull races or for ceramic exhibitions in the city. He quickly turned it into a full-fledged means of expression with an emphasis on colors.

The exceptional reputation of Picasso produces an effect of attraction around the small city of Vallauris. Many designers come to settle in the city or its surroundings and learn about ceramics. This enthusiasm and the central role of Picasso explain the revival of Vallauris ceramics in the 1950s, which is presented as the golden age of Vallauris.

A new golden age
At the beginning of the 1950s, architects and artists from fine arts schools converged on Vallauris. The arrival of Suzanne Ramié, André Baud, Roger Capron, Alice Colonieu, Robert Picault, Jean Derval, Henri Grailhe, Robert Pérot or Juliette Mazaudois marks the revival of local ceramics. The first exhibition of the Vallauris potters in 1946, organized by the Madoura workshop, André Baud and the Callis workshop (Capron and Picault), is the starting point of a new era characterized by a great diversity of styles.

The new wave of artists creates in freedom, opposes all conformisms, applies the main principles of modernism where expressionist forms and Mediterranean sensibility are mixed. Two general trends emerge, the interest in animal subjects and that for geometric decorations. The cohabitation between “imported” artists and traditional potters will however always be conflictual and two very distinct clans will form.

Picasso’s presence in Vallauris amplifies the movement and attracts other artists, painters and sculptors who came to try their hand at ceramics. Picasso stimulates, through his creative power, the emergence of true potters. An innovative spirit is blowing in Vallauris. The first national ceramics competition was created in 1966 with the aim of asserting and maintaining the quality of production. The exhibitions multiply, devoted to the history of the arts of fire, the first biennial is organized in 1968.

The various ceramists in the city are all excellent technicians and passionate researchers. Among them emerge the names of André Baud, Roger Capron, Marcel Giraud, Robert Picault, René Maurel, Henri Grailhe, Ozère, Juliette Laurent-Mazaudois, Max Boissaud, Les Archanges (Gilbert Valentin), La poterie du Grand Chêne (Odette Gourju) and Lubina Naumovitch), Jacques Innocenti, Juliette Derel, Les Argonautes (Isabelle Ferlay and Frédérique Bourguet), Eugène Fidler, Alexandre Kostanda, Gilbert Portanier, François Raty, Jean Derval, theGreen Carpet workshop, Gabriel-Sébastien Simonet known as “Sébastien”.

Little by little, their personalities are detached from the influence of Picasso. Around 1972, Vallaurian ceramics were booming. After the passage of Picasso (who died in 1973), Vallauris remains a center of artistic pottery and unique pieces. Big names such as Boncompain, Roger Capron, Roger Collet, Jean Derval, Robert Picault, Gilbert Portanier, Francine Del Pierre, Jaque Sagan, Marius Musarra, Olivier Roy, Gilbert Valentin, Albert and Pyot Thiry, keep their workshops in the city.

However, the debauchery of products and decorative objects for tourists often masks this creative vein.

Among the innumerable factories that collectively signed ‘Vallauris’, without identifying themselves, we find interesting works, characterized by covers of the ‘sea foam’ type, which recall the ‘fat lava’ of German industrial ceramics of the 1960s and 1970s. The exclusive attention to the big names of Vallauris in the publications masks, alas, these contributions which remained anonymous, or which used a generic stamp, like that of Jérome Massier, under the direction of Maunier, during the 1960s. collectives, not claimed by artistic personalities, nevertheless deserve to be recognized for their contribution to the reputation of Vallauris as a world ceramic center, by their contribution of modernity anda popular experimental spirit accessible to all.

Heir to a long pottery tradition linked to a subsoil rich in clay soil, Vallauris has stood out for many years thanks to culinary ceramics. It was only at the end of the 19th century that artistic ceramics appeared alongside this traditional production. This was notably introduced by the Massier family… In 1948, the arrival of Picasso in the city of potters and his astonishing production largely contributed to the revival of this activity. He also encouraged the installation in Vallauris of many artists who had also come to learn about the “arts of fire”. It was in the 1950s that Vallauris ceramics experienced its “golden age”, a period during which we witness the advent of great names such as Roger Collet, Gilbert Portanier, Roger Capron, Jean Derval… Today, the artistic tradition continues with talent and Vallauris continues to give birth to new artists.

The 1950s marked a definitive breaking point with traditional production in decline, in favor of rapidly expanding artistic production. We know that even before the arrival of Pablo Picasso, Vallauris had welcomed new candidate potters from other horizons. According to their own testimony, they lived apart from the potters who did not admit their way of life. These artists were then called Roger Capron, Jean Derval, Robert Picault, all three from the School of Applied Arts in Paris.

The presence of Picasso will considerably amplify this movement. The popularity of the painter attracts a crowd of curious, amateurs, and Vallauris, in full effervescence, benefits from a worldwide audience thus attracting other artists including Gilbert Portanier and Roger Collet.

Vallaurian style as everyone’s works are the result of very marked individualities and the fruit of personal research. Some focus on the pictorial aspect, others work on the magic of colors, still others on volumes. It is by plunging into the heart of the city that we discover these small workshops where artists handle the soil with talent.

The Château de Vallauris, former priory of the Abbey of Lérins, rebuilt in the 16th century is one of the rare Renaissance buildings in the region. It houses the National Picasso Museum “War and Peace” in the Romanesque chapel, the Magnelli Museum and the Ceramics Museum.

The Magnelli Museum
The Château de Vallauris hosts collections devoted to the Florentine painter Alberto Magnelli and to ceramics. Alberto Magnelli (1888 – 1971) Contemporary of Picasso, Alberto Magnelli (1888-1971) is an Italian painter, pioneer of abstract art. During World War II, he took refuge in Grasse where he lived from 1940 to 1970.

The museum hosts various aspects of Vallaurian ceramics of yesterday and today: works awarded at the ceramic biennials from 1968, and objects of the culinary ceramic tradition, formerly called terraille, made up of pignates and frying pans, presented in the old kitchen of the monks of Lérins.

The national picasso museum “war and peace”
The National Picasso War and Peace Museum is located in the old Romanesque chapel (12th century) of the priory. Visitors can admire Picasso’s work on War and Peace, produced in 1952.

Poetry of Clay
The exchanges between Vallauris and Japan are part of a long history of nearly seventy years. From 1951, Vallauris hosted an exhibition Contemporary Ceramics from Japan in the Nerolium hall, in parallel with the annual exhibition of the city’s potters. This event was organized at the initiative of René Grousset, then director of the Cernushi museum where it was first presented. It is the first post-war exhibition to be shown in a Western country by contemporary Japanese ceramicists. After the influence of the arts of Japan, very significant in the second half of the nineteenth century, faltered at the beginning of the following century, from 1945, a new Japanese movement emerges.

From 1970, the participation of Japanese artists in the International Biennial of Art Ceramics, crowned with numerous awards, allowed the discovery of new techniques and materials associated with a modern aesthetic. Among the Japanese ceramists selected are eminent players in the revival of Japanese ceramics such as Suzuki Osamu and Hayashi Yasuo. The International Biennial of Art Ceramics has thus played a preponderant role in the promotion in France of the Japanese avant-garde in the field of ceramics.

These cultural exchanges have also taken the form of exhibitions organized at the Grandjean space, including the inaugural exhibition of the place in 1990 and the creation of the Japan Aurea, Manga and Asian Culture festival in 2007.

The works presented, chosen from the large collection of the Magnelli Museum, museum of ceramics, capture fifty years of Japanese creation in its diversity and richness. They reveal a delicate balance between modernism of forms and respect for tradition in technical approaches and attachment to the material. This selection underlines the specific approach of Japanese ceramics where clay is, more than a support, a plastic language through which a great poetic sensitivity is expressed.


Pottery Workshop Visits
The potters of Vallauris welcome you to their workshops to help you discover their know-how. They will perform filming and decoration demonstrations before your eyes, and will explain the different manufacturing techniques to you. A different workshop to visit every day.

Discovery Courses in Potteryearth Techniques
The Tourist Office organizes, in collaboration with the Municipal School of Fine Arts, several cycles of discovery and improvement courses in the different disciplines that affect this know-how which has made the undeniable reputation of Vallauris throughout the world. These courses are aimed at children and adults and are a wonderful way to enhance their holidays. Raku, filming, sculpture, modeling, decoration, plastic arts… so many techniques to discover or improve with teachers whose reputation is well established both for their artistic talent and for their teaching skills.