One of the definitive ceramicists of the 1950s, the French artist produced a wide range of works that fit into any collection
Over the last two decades, Georges Jouve’s sinuous, black vases have become go-to accents for top interior designers looking to bring timeless touches to their clients’ collections. The breadth of the ceramicist’s oeuvre, however, extends far beyond this form and colour with which he has become so synonymous.
‘Because of the diversity of his objects, from abstract to nearly classical in their silhouettes, Jouve’s work was — and continues to be — adapted to a wide range of interiors and collectors across a spectrum of tastes,’ says Michael Jefferson, Design Specialist. ‘He’s also from this magic moment in the postwar era when there was a tremendous amount of innovation, optimism, and a synthesis of many arts, but specifically in architecture, design, decor.’
Below, discover how Jouve discovered his calling as a ceramicist, what his most coveted pieces are, and why his market is surging more than ever.
His interest in ceramics was a by-product of being displaced during World War II
Born in Fontenay-sous-Bois, France, to two decorator parents, Jouve studied architecture and art history prior to serving as a soldier during the Second World War. After being captured and detained in a German camp for two years, he managed to escape to his stepparents home in Dieulefit, a potters village in the South of France.
In looking for a way to make money, Jouve explored the earth beneath his feet, making clay from local soil. He soon learned that clay was a material he could manipulate easily in his hands to express his freedom and creativity. He found a willing collaborator with a kiln in a nearby town where he could fire his creations. He had to ride the works in a crate on his bicycle over mountainous terrain to get to the kiln, and many works cracked along the journey, which did not deter him.
During the summer of 1944, Jouve and his family moved to Paris, though in 1954, Jouve relocated again to the south in Aix-en-Provence.
He is known as much for his use of colour as he is his use of black and white
Celebrated for his glazed and enamelled stoneware, Jouve had already perfected his distinctive satin-finish black glaze by the late 1940s. He started making ceramics with galena glaze that contained elements of black and metallic. ‘Black became Jouve’s signature colour because it allowed him to express the sculptural aspects of his ceramic forms,’ says Jefferson. ‘His most important and finest works are often black.’
Jefferson adds, ‘He did, however, have a very broad approach to colour and a full palette. He is also known for his usage of white, and he used distinct shades of yellow, orange, green, red, and sometimes blue.’ Jouve’s use of both fired glaze and enamels over ceramic is another unique component of his work.
His works are noted for their diversity of form and subject matter
‘What makes Jouve a perennial favourite is this contradiction in his work,’ says Jefferson. There is this simplicity and abstraction — shapes and colour in space — and at the same time within his oeuvre, you see works that are figurative and relate very directly to animal and plant forms.’ Figurative forms, such as his depiction of the god Bacchus or mermaid-like sirens, range from the classically proportioned to those that take on an abstract, even Cubist sensibility. Animal forms include birds, especially the rooster, as well as sharks and bulls. In other instances, subjects relate to the sun, or are entirely abstract and amorphous.
In terms of utilitarian works, objects range from vases, platters, bowls, and lidded boxes to lamp bases, wall lights, and tables. No matter their size, his furnishings retain a sculptural feel. ‘This is another reason why Jouve is sought after — when you collect Jouve, you can have an assemblage of cylinder vases, or you can move beyond that and pursue larger-scale furnishings, or major abstract sculpture, or even figurative sculpture.’
Above all, he created works as objects of beauty and contemplation
For Jouve, designing ceramics was less about solving issues of functionality and more about producing objects of beauty. ‘He saw beauty as vital to life. His works became objects for aesthetic contemplation and enjoyment, and he believed access to beautiful objects was a fundamental right of humankind,’ explains Jefferson. ‘He also created fantastic lamps and tables that were exceedingly functional as well as being aesthetic objects in their own right.’ Freedom of expression and choice was an important tenet in Jouve’s approach to design and living.
His tiled tables are amongst his finest technical achievements
Many designers and decorators wanted to utilise Jouve’s work in their interiors or architectural installations. Jouve made ceramic tiles that were then formed into textured walls or used as tabletops. ‘These pieces show Jouve’s great range of ability to incorporate ceramics both as repeated tiles, or also as sculptural, freeform tabletops that even channel other aspects of modern art, like the work of Constantin Brancusi,’ says Jefferson, who references a coffee table comprised of four thick white ceramic tiles that form an elongated oval shape, reminiscent of Brancusi’s seminal 1928 sculpture, Bird in Space. ‘It’s really a masterpiece of his furniture design.’
In May 2022, Christie’s achieved a new record for Jouve when his glazed ceramic and oak table from 1950 sold for €1,062,000, more than doubling its low estimate. The work was made in collaboration with designer and artist, Janette Laverrière, with whom Jouve made some of his most desirable sculptural tables.
He was aligned with top designers of his time, and their collective market is surging
After the war, Jouve became deeply embedded in Parisian life and its artistic scene. His work was published and exhibited in major galleries around the world. ‘He’s very much linked to Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand, whose works would be exhibited with Jouve’s at major exhibitions and by important dealers, such as Steph Simon, who was a key retailer for Jouve’ says Jefferson. ‘It’s for this reason that many people that collect French design love Jouve as additional accents in their collections. These designers were born of the same ethos in the postwar era, so they work quite well together.’
Influential tastemakers have been pairing works by Jouve with the likes of Prouvé and Perriand since the beginning. A reemergence of legacy collections on the market in recent years has triggered newfound interest in these French postwar designers. ‘Private collections, such as the Daniel Lebard Collection, which Christie’s sold during fall 2021 in Paris, had really significant examples of Jouve’s works that had been long tucked away,’ says Jefferson. ‘As these works enter the marketplace, they have helped foster a frenzy of interest in Jouve.’
His wife Jacqueline was instrumental in cementing his legacy
After his death in 1964, Jouve’s wife Jacqueline played a crucial role in disseminating her husband’s story and promoting his work. For example, she sold important works to collectors and dealers in the early 1990s, namely Catherine and Stéphane de Beyrie. The de Beyrie’s then brought Jouve to New York where his work was experienced by a new group of collectors who helped to broaden Jouve’s global interest.