cf. J. Gacher & F. Santi, Zsolany Ceramics, Atglen, Pennsylvania, 1994, p. 183 for a vase of similar form.
The seven here offered pieces are representative of some of the finest Art Nouveau works executed at Zsolnay. 1897 to 1914 were a golden age for the factory when much of its iconic work was produced: it was teeming with richly talented artists including the factory’s principle designer from 1890-1910, Táde Sikorsky, the Nabis painter József Rippl-Rónai, the symbolist painter Sándor Apáti-Abt and Laszlo Mack.
Purchasing a small clay pit in Pécs, the major provincial city in southwest Hungary, Miklós Zsolnay established the Zsolnay stoneware and ceramics factory in 1853, and by 1914 it had become the largest ceramics firm in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Miklós’s younger son, Vilmos, took over in 1865 and transformed it from a struggling local business into a flourishing establishment with an extensive international clientele.
Under Vilmos’s leadership, Zsolnay became a source of national artistic pride, regularly winning awards at international exhibitions. In addition to its renowned art ceramics division, Zsolnay was acclaimed for its freeze-resistant ceramics which were widely used for roof tiles and also for the exterior architectural ceramic sculptural ornamentation which became increasingly popular around the turn of the last century. Zsolnay ceramics were extensively used by noted Secessionist architects such as the Hungarian Ödön Lechner and the Austrian Josef Maria Olbrich.
Vilmos, fascinated by the reflective metallic surfaces of Clément Massier that he saw while exhibiting in Paris in 1889, began experimenting with glazes. With the assistance of two professors at the Budapest University, in 1893 Vilmos developed his “eosin” glazing technique, producing rich colors and mercurial, metallic, iridescent surfaces. The process is named after the Greek goddess of dawn, “Eos,” because the first results produce a light red/pink color reminiscent of the early morning sunshine.
In 1900, when Vilmos died, his son, Miklós, took over fully embracing the Art Nouveau movement that was sweeping through Europe. And, Zsolnay’s eosin glazes, with their lustrous, rich deep, luminous, colors were well suited to these new, flowing, nature-inspired organic forms.
Discouraged from signing their pieces, Zsolnay’s art works were conceived by an infinitely talented band of designers. There were women depicted in sculptural form; natural tendrils, small insects and amphibians adorned or engulfed a vessel; landscapes were wrapped around vases, some with the flamboyant color combinations of the Fauvists artists and other more akin to the free forms and coloration of Louis Comfort Tiffany.