The work of Émile Decœur is representative of the stylistic changes undergone by the decorative arts in the 1910s. In 1890, Decœur became an apprentice to the potter Edmond Lachenal (1855-1930); he studied faience and enamel techniques for ten years before collaborating with his master. Decoeur, who admired the work of Jean Carriès (1855-1894), discontinued his work with faience around 1907 to focus on stoneware and flambé porcelain. Turning his back on Art Nouveau, he adopted a more restrained style influenced by Chinese ceramics of the Song dynasty, reflected in these pieces. He was a perfectionist who experimented endlessly with grand feu (high temperature) firing, exploring all its secrets in order to create the desired effects with his paste. He had a preference for reduction firing, playing with the phenomena of shrinkage caused by the superposition of successively fired coats of enamel to obtain delicate marbling effects in a range of tones. In addition to his expertise with firing, from 1927 on he added a technical feature that became his signature style: he developed a paste containing kaolin, with a texture that became glossy after firing. His fine-walled porcelain stoneware is both very light and very resistant. Following in the tradition of pioneering ceramicists (such as Ernest Chaplet and Auguste Delaherche for stoneware), Émile Decœur produced bowls, vases and beakers in pure shapes that he coated with monochrome enamel, leaving aside the transparent effets of glaze. These opaque enamels were the only real decoration on his pieces. His beautifully light but impermeable works with their smooth, fine walls, pure lines and velvet-textured enamels in delicate pastel tones of pinkish beige, corn yellow and straw white were much commented on by the columnists of the day. Decoeur became famous in the 1920s; his work was disseminated by the glass and porcelain dealer Géo Rouard with that of other fashionable artists, his pieces often appeared in the specialist press and a full-length study was devoted to him in 1923. These perfectly curved pieces testify to Decœur’s tireless quest for technical perfection, but the sensuality of the material also governed his approach. “We live, we think, we suffer,” was one of his favorite sayings.
Guillaume Janneau, Émile Decœur, céramiste, Paris, La Connaissance, 1923
René Chavance, “Œuvres récentes d’Émile Decœur,” Art et Decoration, t. LXII, 1933, pp. 39-344
Ernest Tisserand, “Émile Decœur,” L’Art et les Artistes, no. 135, March 1933, pp. 202-206
René Moutard-Uldry, “Hommage à un grand artiste : Decœur,” Art et Decoration, no. 37, 1953, pp. 14-15
Céramique française contemporaine, sources et courants, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs, 1982