CHAPTER V

 

 

JOSEPH MASSE - ARTISAN – POTIER

DE SOYE-EN-SEPTAINE

 

 

      As a potter, Joseph Massé had initially been drawn to the attention of the public when he had exhibited at the Xle. Exposition des Anciens Elévès de l'Ecole d'Art, held in Bourges in April l924.  In articles written for 'La Dépêche du Berry', Edouard Duneufgermain recounted how Massé, 'déjà peintre et graveur, a voulu pratiquer un art plus manuel, si l'on peut s'exprimer ainsi.' (l)  It was as a painter and engraver that he had graduated more than two decades earlier; not from the school of art in Bourges but from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Lyons in which he had enrolled following his birth and youth in Bordeaux, where he had been born on 20 June, l878. (2)

      As a student in Lyons, he had formed a close and lasting friendship with his teacher, Paul Borel, who was part of that group of painters described by Lydie Huyghe as one of the two brilliant schools to emerge in the provinces during the nineteenth century. (3)  Including Chenevard, whose aesthetic and moral themes influenced Carrière, Janmot, a painter of religious themes strongly influenced by Ingres, and Lamothe, who bequeathed the ideals of Ingres to Degas (4), it had been the academic style and religious content of their works which had drawn the scorn of Baudelaire:

 

          ' ... Ville singulière, bigote et marchande,

          catholique et protestante, pleine de brume et de

          charbon, les idées s'y debrouillent difficilement.

          Tout ce qui vient de Lyon est minutieux, lentement

          elaboré et craintif, l'abbé Nouveau, Laprade,

          Soulary, Chenevard, Janmot.  On dirait que les

          cerveaux y sont enchiffrenés ...' (5)

 

      It had been Janmot, 'un esprit religieux et élégiaque', (6) who had been the mentor of Paul Borel.  Born l3 February l829 into a middle class industrialist family with strong links in society circles, Borel was enrolled in the Dominican school at Oullins, where a profound impression was made on him by the Abbé Lacuria, philosopher, artist, composer and writer. (7)  Revealing throughout his teens a growing piety and an inclination towards a religious vocation, he was forced however, to reconcile this aspiration with an equally potent desire to pursue an artistic career.  The reason for his eventual choice is made clear in a letter he wrote to a friend on the eve of ordination:

 

          '... Vous posséderez votre grâce tout seul, mais

          je suis persuadé que son ombre me fera du bien ...

          A chaque fois que vous ferez dans les Ordres, les

          liens se reserront.  C'est pourtant singulier que

          je parle ainsi de manière à faire croire que je

          suis dans les mêmes conditions que vous, cela vient

          de ce que je suis convaincu d'outre en outre que ma

          position d'artiste c'est une position sacerdotale

          et que je sais que vous le sentez ...' (8)

 

      Accompanied by Janmot, he had studied in the Louvre in l849, this being followed by an extensive tour of Italy and the Low Countries. (9)  Apart from some portraits of friends, it was religious painting which absorbed his energies and, being of independent means, the rest of his long life was devoted to his dual role in life, the practice of charitable works and the execution of large murals, the most important of which were the decoration of the chapel at Oullins, the Basilica of Ars, the Church of Saint-Paul at Lyons, the chapel of the Augustinians at Versailles and the hospital of Saint-Joseph at Lyons. (l0)

 

      In contrast to Baudelaire's harsh dismissal of the school of Lyons, the work of Paul Borel evoked unqualified praise from Huysmans in 'La Cathedrale'.  Discussing the religious art of his time, Huysmans singled out the Lyonnais painter who, 'vivant en province, et n'exposant jamais à Paris, peignait des tableaux pour les églises et pour les clôitres, travaillait pour la gloire de Dieu, ne voulant accepter, des prêtres et des moines, aucun salaire ...' (ll)  Though acknowledging that many, then imbued with the spirit of modernism, would have wryly smiled on confronting Borel's schemas, Huysmans found his painting to be:

 

          '... La peinture religieuse la plus suprenante

          de notre temps ... et elle avait été obtenu sans

          pastiche des primitifs, sans tricherie, de corps

          gauche cernés par des fils de fer, sans apprêts

          et sans dols.  Mais quel catholique pratiquant,

          quel artiste éperdu de Dieu devant être l'homme

          qui avait peint une telle oeuvre!

            Et après lui, tout se taisait ...' (l2)

 

      It was in such an ambience that Joseph Massé's interests had been nurtured, his own work likewise embracing much of the subject matter of his master.  The amity which had developed between them was one which was firmly cemented when, at the beginning of l902, Massé's grandfather died.  With a prosperous law-practice in Bourges, the elder Massé had also served as Vice-Président du Conseil General du Cher and Vice-Président de la Société d'Agriculture.  Since his father was already dead, it was Joseph Massé who directly inherited the family property at Soye-en-Septaine, some seven kilometres south of Bourges.

 

      Since the end of the seventeenth century La Domaine du Tremblay had been in the possession of the Massé family. (l3)  A large estate of approximately four hundred acres, it was situated on the southern edge of Soye-en-Septaine, a commune of two hundred and thirty inhabitants. (l4) (Plate 9)  Progressive extensions to the buildings, mostly effected during the nineteenth century, had resulted in an architectural complex typical of the Champagne Berrichon.  Though presenting an harmonious whole, the social categories of individual habitations were sharply defined, the accommodation of the 'métayer' and his family, and that of the agricultural workers - the 'logis du basse-courrier' - flanking either side of a clump of Dutch elms which fronted the main entrance into a central courtyard.  To the east of this was the rear of the 'logis du maître' (Plate l0).  In the latter, the rooms were all on the ground floor, 'c'est l'image d'une vie horizontale active' (l5) (Plate ll), and opened on to an attractive garden. (Fig. 59)  Though small, the main residence was differentiated from all other buildings by its architectural refinement, the careful disposition of the elements of the facade and roof, the quality of craftsmanship and the overall harmony of the proportions all being in the style of Louis XlV. (l6)

 

          '... bourgeoise, certes, mais elle reste pleine

          de bonhomie: C'est bien la le type de la

          gentilhommière compagnarde, demeures mi-paysannes,

          mi-bourgeoises, qui s'harmonisent si bien dans

          l'ensemble du domaine car le logis du maître fait

          partie intégrante de l'exploitation ...' (l7)

 

      Concentrating on the cultivation of cereals, the day-to-day management of the estate was supervised by the mÉétayer, while the proprietor, Massé's grandfather, pursued his law practice in nearby Bourges, where he maintained his principal residence.  Joseph Massé was already familiar with La Tremblay, having spent many vacations with his grandfather, but for some years after inheriting the property he divided his time between Soye and Lyons where he had an apartment and where he maintained contact with his relations, friends he had made at College, and his teacher, Paul Borel

.

      The extent to which Paul Borel's religious convictions imbued the totality of his existence can be assessed from the content of letters he wrote to many friends and acquaintances.  Those he wrote to Massé were published after his death in l9l3 and, in addition to painting some details of life at Le Tremblay, they are replete with the flavour of the message he hoped to perpetuate through his pupil.  Scarcely a letter is complete without constant allusions being made to the creator and the role one is called upon to play in this world:

 

          '... Notre vie actuelle est le vestibule de

          l'autre et c'est fort heureux, car la vie actuelle

          a trop de lacunes, trop de traverses, trop d'épreuves

          pour pouvoir nous suffire, et s'il y a moyen de la

          parcourir jusqu'au bout sans découragement, c'est

          uniquement en la Foi en l'autre vie qu'on le doit ...' (l8)

 

          '... Je vois que vous pensez aux amis même quand ils

          sont vieux! Je ne vous oublie pas non plus et je vous

          vois partageant votre temps entre les Beaux-Arts et

          l'Art agricole, nourricier de tous les autres, car il

          faut bien le dire, l'Art non agricole donne de l'eau à

          boire parce que l'on en trouve partout, mais ne dépasse

          guère ce résultant (j'allais dire ce but, ce qui eût été

          inexact) ...' (l9)

 

          '... Mettez vous a l'ouvrage dans la mesure où vous le

          permettront vos devoirs de famille et de propriétaire

          (et enfin de conseiller municipal), mais rappelez-vous

          que la liberté de travail est comme toutes les libertés,

          suivant un dicton de l'ordre politique, elle se prend,

          on ne la donne pas ...' (20)

 

          '... Je vous vois d'ici présidant a vos moissons comme

          un des vieux patriarches de la Bible (ce serait le

          moment de faire de belles phrases sur les épis d'or

          fauchés, non plus par le beau geste de la faucille,

          mais par le grincement des dents de la machine  à battre.

          Enfoncée la Bible!)

 

          Je vous vois aussi contemplant avec un ravissement rempli

          de promesses les murs et les vitrines de votre atelier.

          Si maintenant, vous ne tombez pas des chefs-d'oeuvre,

          vous serez un grand coupable.

 

          Je vous vois aussi, assistant au sénat municipal de la

          commune  ( vous êtes bien conseiller municipal ..." (2l)

 

          '... Vous travaillez, tant mieux! Je suis de plus au

          regret de n'avoir pas pu vous mettre la main au paysage.

          Mettez-vous-y tout de même.  Je serais fort étonné que

          cela ne vous fasse pas de bien comme débrouillage et

          d'étude d'ensemble.  Tachez de ne mettre des détails

          qu'a la fin ...' (22)

 

      Borel's reference to the studio is that which Massé built shortly after taking possession of La Tremblay.  Adding another storey to the building on the south side of the central courtyard, (Plate l0) he created a spacious studio and gallery, flooded with north light.(Fig. 60)  The character and quality of this extension, its ideal orientation, the standard of materials and execution are all significant predictors of the attitude which he was to adopt in all the many interests which he embraced.  Many files remain in his studio to attest to the application and intensity with which he researched the pursuits of a painter and country gentlemen.  In addition to copious notes on painting, there are those which reflect a passion for automobiles, and in a province where hunting was almost 'de rigueur', innumerable transcriptions from authoritative works on, 'La Chasse', 'Fusils et Armes', 'Les Chiens: Dressage, Elevage, Nourritures etc.'  Inevitably for one of his position in a small commune, he was soon called to take a part in political life and, as Borel had noted, in l904 he was elected 'Conseiller Municipal', an initiation into political life that was to take him eventually to the regional and national legislatures.  Once more there are large files but, given the tragic circumstances of the nineteen-thirties and the German occupation of France, these are empty today.

 

      Though there is no evidence to indicate whether or not Massé either exhibited or sold his paintings, those that remain in the studio show that his output during the years up to World War I was constant. Except for some engravings which he bought at the sale of the contents of Borel's studio (23), the walls and gallery are full of the paintings by Massé himself, some landscape sketches, portrait and head studies, often of his wife and other members of his extended family, old testament prophets and others based on religious themes, all displaying a classical training and academically sound understanding of form. (Figs. 6l, 62)

 

      As had been the case with his call to political life, he was shortly to become involved with the cultural and artistic life of the region.  In l908, he donated a painting 'Le Pèlerin' to the Musée du Berry, (24) possibly coinciding with his acceptance as a 'membre correspondent du Musée.' (25)  In a letter to the museum authorities, he informed them that he had also received notice from Monsieur de Meloizes that he had similarly been appointed a 'membre titulaire' de la Société des Antiquaires du Centre', continuing:

 

          '... j'ai changé d'adresse a Lyon.  Je suis

          maintenant 35 rue Tronchat mais je n'ai ici

          qu'un pied à terre et mon vrai domicile est à

          Soye-en-Septaine ou je reste la plus grande

          partie de l'année ...' (26)

 

      His regular attendance at the meetings of both bodies shows that he took such duties seriously, until World War I intervened to divert his attention to other things.  Mobilised on 2 August l9l4 as an ordinary soldier, he ended the campaign with the rank of sub-lieutenant, being demobilised on 2l February l9l9.  During the course of the war he was wounded twice, received two citations and was awarded the 'Croix de Guerre' and the 'Légion d'Honneur, à titre militaire'. (27)  The war did not deter him from following his artistic activity, and when the 'Exposition de l'Art sur le front' was organised by the magazine 'Bulletin des Armées' and the Administration des Beaux Arts, 'Massé, (Joseph) soldat, train des équipages' participated with a 'portrait étude.' (28)  Having served as mayor of his commune since l9ll, his political career was taken a stage further when he was elected Conseiller General du Departement du Cher following his return from the war.

 

 

Joseph Massé: Initiation to ceramics

 

      Other than a comment by Eduoard Duneufgermain in 'La Dépêche du Berry' in l924 that Massé, already an experienced painter and engraver, had wished, in the years immediately succeeding World War I, to practice 'un art plus manuel' (29), there is nothing to inform us as to why that art was to be ceramics.  Duneufgermain's article gives an account, and places on public record Massé's reaction following his first visit to La Borne:

 

           '... Il y a plus de deux ans, au'après de

          nombreuses visites aux potiers de La Borne,

          étant très admirateur du grès, nous avions

          conseillé à M. Massé de venir avec nous

          visiter nos amis les potiers, car ils sont

          tous nos amis, il en revient enthusiasmé ...' (30)

 

      Duneufgermain continues with a sequence of events which recount how Massé returned to the village on numerous occasions, how he informed him, Duneufgermain, that he wanted to build a kiln and requested all the documentation and information the 'Beaux Arts' could furnish, and how he was cautioned that the task he was embarking on was extremely complex.  But Massé was adamant, and all the material in the library was put at his disposition: (3l)

 

          '... Depuis, M. Joseph Massé a construit un four,

          oeuvre remarquable d'aspect et de conception; il

          sait tourner, il connaît les engobes, car la

          chimie céramique lui est aujourd'hui familière,

          et il nous fait admirer ses premiers essais ...' (32)

 

      All these facts were true, the pieces exhibited being those that had been through the first firing of Massé's new kiln on 3 January l924. (33)  Duneufgermain's recollection of Massé's visit to La Borne conveys the impression that his conversion to ceramics had come as a bolt from the blue, but what he may not have known was that his friend had been researching the possibility of establishing a pottery on his property at Le Tremblay, many months before his encounter with the potteries of La Borne, a date which the article places in early l922. (34)

 

      Though still not providing reasons for Massé deciding to take up ceramics, a possible clue is to be found in a series of nine letters, written from Lyons by his nephew, André Ducaroy, between l92l and l924.  All are dated with the day and month, most have the year included, but in a few instances this had been added in Massé's hand and, except for references to and greetings for other members of the family, they treat exclusively  with the question of the establishment of a pottery concern at Soye.  It has been possible, by placing them in the context of verifiable events in Massé's early career, to organise them in an accurate chronological order which is confirmed, in turn, by the internal logic of their content.  As has been noted, Massé was a prolific note-taker and methodical worker, and his copious records of information furnished by potters on his stays in La Borne, that recorded during the visits to Le Tremblay by many notables from the porcelain factories of Vierzon and Mehun-sur-Yèvre, and transcriptions of material from major ceramic authorities like Brogniart and Salvetat, allow one to plot with some accuracy his career as a ceramic artist.  In addition, every franc of expenditure was meticulously recorded in a ledger, 'Dépenses pour la Céramique', at least from the first entry of l0 October l922 until the end of l927.

 

      The clue to Massé's ceramic ambition might be found in the training and experience of his nephew.  He, too, was a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Lyons; in one letter he speaks of returning to study sculpture. (36)  In all, he displays a knowledge of, and some expertise in, the commercial side of ceramic production.  One letter is written on notepaper headed 'Atelier de Fabrication de Mercier et Chaleyssin, l2 rue Boileau, Lyon, presumably the 'usine' he constantly refers to, and whose director was patently well connected with many of the major figures in the world of French porcelain and faïence.

 

      That discussions had taken place about a possible joint venture at Le Tremblay, possibly during the August vacation of l92l, can be seen in the initial sentence of Ducaroy's letter of ll September:

 

          '... J'ai depuis mon retour à l'usine examiné

          notre projet sous plusieurs cotés, et je suis

          arrivé à des conclusions intéressantes ...' (37)

 

      Indeed, all the references to the venture are so couched: 'notre projet' and 'nos projets' and, in addition, the contribution which, from his own experience and contacts, he will be able to make.  That he was looking forward to working and living at Soye is also clear:

 

          '... Chaque fois que je reviens ici je déteste

          Lyon de plus en plus et j'aime Soye de mieux

          en mieux ...' (38)

 

          '... Mon vieux Soye auquel je rêve souvent et

          je fais penser tout ce qui peux m'arriver

          d'heureux.  Avec la brume bleuâtre de matin

          et le silence du parc, quelques cris de

          corbeaux, quelquefois il y a de quoi penser

          longtemps ...' (39)

 

      Although within a few years, Massé would style himself an 'artisan-potier', working alone on the production of unique pieces, the letters show that, at this early stage, consideration was being centred on forms of production and types of ware other than the grès made in La Borne.  In fact, in l92l, the village only receives brief mention, 'Tache d'aller à La Borne pour la pâte, mais surtout pour le vernis.  Ne neglige aucune relation ni aucun moyen de savoir.' (40)

 

      Prior to this, Ducaroy had enumerated his 'interesting conclusions':

 

          '...l.  La céramique en général et la faïence

          plus particulièrement, pour tout ce qui est

          fabrication de luxe, ne peut être d'un bon

          rap(p)ort qu'en étant faite à petite échelle et

          par des artistes payés (h)orriblement chère.

 

              2.  Il faut calculer dans une usine normale

          avant le prix des matières premières; les

          dessins, l'execution particulière et le déchet

          qui devient très onereux étant donné le prix

          spécial des émaux spéciaux.

 

              3.  Les ouvriers ordinaires que l'on est

          obligé d'employer, d'après mon calcul, n'arrivera

          à mener à bien que un tiers de leur production.

 

              4.  Toute production de second choix n'est

          pas vendable dans cette céramique de luxe.

          Il ressort donc de tout ceci que:  Il n'y a pas

          besoin d'un gros personnel pour produire

          suf(f)isamment.  Il ne faut que des artistes

          dans ce genre de travail ...' (4l)

 

      By 5 October, Ducaroy was again in contact, this time discussing the location in which his uncle had decided to establish the pottery:

 

          '... L'endroit que tu projette pour l'installation

          est parfaite, absolument parfaite.  Le point étant

          réglé cela permet de pénétre un peu plus loin dans

          nos projets ...' (42)

 

      It is evident that, at this stage, the project had not been aired locally, and Ducaroy is at pains to caution Massé against doing so, 'mais n'en parle pas trop à tes amis'. (43)  It is perhaps for this reason that a visit to Sèvres had been initially discussed, as opposed to advice being sought from the many competent maufacturers in the Berry region.  Making the point that a visit to the Manufacture Nationale should prove to be beneficial, if only to get plans for kilns, Ducaroy's assessment of the factory is enlightening :

 

          '... Pour le reste Sèvres n'est guère à copier,

          l'installation étant faite uniquement pour

          obtenir des résultats parfaits sans regarder

          les dépenses.  Sèvres conte à l'état des millions

          par an.  Du reste personnellement je trouve leurs

          produits parfaits au point de vue t(h)ecnique mais

          odieuse au point de vue artistique ...' (44)

 

      Following a brief description of some technical considerations in relation to firing procedures in a small concern, he returns once more to the question of the type of production they might engage in, either high or low-fired ware, but leaves no doubt as to his own choice, 'au point de vue artistique et vente c'est la faïence qui l'emporte de beaucoup ...' (45)

 

      Other than the visit referred to by Duneufgermain, there is no further evidence to indicate what had transpired during most of l922, unitl 30 September when Ducaroy was again writing to Massé.  His letter is a hurried response to one he had received from Soye the previous evening.  When examined in the context of Massé's first ledger entry, l0 October l922 (Fig. 63), one can understand his urgency; Massé was on the point of setting up the pottery at Le Tremblay !  Other than still speaking in terms of the salaries of workmen, the price of pieces and a clientele, the first concrete mention is made of La Borne:

 

          '... La chose étant pressée, je pens(s)e pouvoir

          demander trois ou quatre jours vers la trois ou

          quatre October pour aller spécialement à La Borne ...' (46)

 

      He had been unable to make this proposed visit when he wrote again on 5 October to let Massé know that he hoped to be at Soye about a week later.  This letter does begin to account for Duneufgermain's recollection of Massé returning from La Borne, 'enthousiasmé'. (47)  After noting, 'L'affaire de La Borne me trotte par la tête et je ne peux la considérer que comme une bonne affaire' (48), Ducaroy waxes enthusiastic, though with some reserve, about the type of kilns used in the village; 'Les Coréens qui ont fait des choses inouies en grais de grain fin n'employaient que ce système.' (49)

 

      By 23 October, he had returned to Lyons, 'avec mauvaise grâce'. (50)  The visit to La Borne had been made with a resolve to return, but Ducaroy's letter is concerned with assuring his uncle that a happy future awaits him in the field of ceramics. (5l)  Two further letters were to arrive at Soye before the end of November, both alluding to methods of production and kilns.  Ducaroy remains open to the possibility of producing faïence (52), and Massé, having seemingly expressed some reservations about using the potter's wheel, is assured that alternatives, commercial methods, are available:

 

          '... Cela n'est que secondaire pour nous car

          il est infiniment moins difficile de fabriquer

          à la barbotine et c'est aussi solide et joli.

          D'ailleurs il faut absolument faire de la série

          aussi petites soient elles ...' (53)

 

      By early October, Massé had already paid for the initial stage of work on his atelier.  Its location within the farm buildings was 'absolutely perfect', as Ducaroy had remarked in l92l. (54)  In one of the large outbuildings to the west of the main courtyard, Massé had new doorways installed which gave onto a spacious parkland on which the kiln would eventually be installed. (Plate l0) (Fig. 64)  On 23 November he was once more in La Borne, paying Armand Bedu l50 francs for a cubic metre of clay, and simultaneously settling his account with the village blacksmith, Vataire, who had made the iron components of a traditional 'tour a baton'. (55) (Plate l2)  By the end of November appropriate side-lighting, similar to that of the boutiques of La Borne, was installed, and in early December, the village wheelwright, Fouchet, had completed the wheel which was duly installed at Soye. (56)  Massé must have lost little time in setting to work since, in a letter from Lyons of 29 January l923, Andre Ducaroy, who had just returned from a vacation at Le Tremblay, asks, 'Depuis mon départ combien de petits pots sont nés?  As tu fait de nouvelles trouvailles de formes?' (57)  The whole installation had patently been viewed with pride by Ducaroy who reported:

 

          '... J'ai montré les photos de tes productions

          que tout le monde a admirés.  L'Installation du

          tour reste mysterieuse pour les profanes qui ne

          peuvent traverser du regard le petit mur

          entourant la roue.  Mais peu importe, le total

          fait bonne impression ...' (58) (Fig. 65)

 

      A significant portion of this letter is devoted to recommendations he wishes to make in relation to a construction of his uncle's kiln, one to which he had first referred in November of the previous year, 'Te voila donc avec en main; le plan d'un four.' (59)

      The only description of the kiln is one included in an inventory which François Guillaume made for Madame Massé on l5 February l946, shortly after the death of her husband:

 

          '... Four à axe de tirage oblique du type de

          ceux que l'on utilise à La Borne mais modifié

          pour permettre la cuisson en four carré

          moyennant la construction de deux murettes de

          separation.

          Ce four comporte un alandier, deux ou trois

          alandiers selon le mode de cuisson adopté.

          Le chauffage est prévu au bois, tirage par

          cheminée réglagée, la trappe de réglage étant

          commandée grâce à une escalier extérieur a la

          partie supérieure de la cheminée ...' (60)

 

      The kiln itself, the most tangible link between Massé and La Borne, was regrettably dismantled in the early nineteen-sixties, its quality refrectory bricks being taken by one of a later generation of potters of La Borne, to provide material for a new kiln which he was then constructing at Neuvy-deux-Clochers.  Its preservation, taken in conjunction with Massé's notes, would have furnished substantial evidence of kiln technology as it was practised in the nineteen-twenties, not only in La Borne, where its progenitors are to be found, but also in the many porcelain factories of nearby Vierzon and Mehun-sur-Yèvre where wood-fired kilns were still to be seen.

 

      Happily, it is in Massé's methodical style that one can ascertain some idea of its nature, both at its origin and following the modification which he had effected before it attained the final form described above by François Guillaume.  Though the plans of which André Ducaroy wrote cannot be located, Massé had made some replicas of its interior, to use as records of kiln packing and placement of specific pieces.  All these are similar in size, and are to a scale l:l0, thus they must have been either traced or taken from the original plans.  Only four have been discovered, although it is clear that Massé had made others : on that which he recorded the 'cuisson' du l8 mars l925' he had added 'pour les degrés des divers emplacements voire la coupe aux notes sur les cuissons.' (6l)

 

      The plans (Plate l3) depict a kiln which in form is similar to the traditional kilns of the region.  The firing chamber is approximately 3 metres 80 in length, l metre 80 at its widest point and l metre 25 at its highest.  Allowing for the narrowing at either end it would have a capacity of approximately seven cubic metres.  The quality of Massé's sketches and other technical drawings which he made suggests that he himself might have been responsible for executing the original, to a design based on observations and discussions he had had with most of the potters on his many visits to La Borne.  There were two basic innovations however: (i) the floor was stepped, and (ii) it was divided by a channel which ran its full length.  In one of his letters André Ducaroy had made reference to this feature:

 

          '... Si tu parle de cette nouveauté  à La Borne

          je serais curieux de savoir de qu'ils vont

          t'en dire.  La rainure va certainement les

          rendre sceptique, mais je crois que du moment

          qu'elle même ou plutôt ses parois seront

          imperméables à la chaleur il ne peu(x) pas

          avoir de perte ...' (62)

 

      There can be little doubt that, after his many other enquiries, it had been the image of the 'grand fours' of La Borne which had been a decisive factor in generating the enthusiasm of which Duneufgermain spoke.  More so, it may have been a romantic vision of artisan potters at work in their milieu which had stimulated Massé to install a tour à bâton in an atelier so closely resembling those used there.  Irrespective of the reasons, it appears to be the first time that such an influence had been exerted by the village and, to be undertaken by a man of Massé's status, it was bound to excite interest, if only amongst the ceramic and porcelain confraternity at the beginning.  The decision, however, corresponds to a change of direction in his nephew's letters.  In that of l November l922 he had been expressing concern about the nature of the ware to be produced:

 

          '... C'est là la chose qui doit decider de notre

          entreprise.  A Paris on m'a promis de nouveau

          toute aide ... On me dit de tout côtés Originale

          et rustique, grais et faïences, j'ai à Paris des

          amis très dévoués et placés dans differentes

          situations qui s'occupent de nous.  Notre ligne

          de conduite devra être je crois. l. rendre

          plaisantes des choses usuelles, 2. faire de très

          belles choses.  l. rustique, 2. originale.  Les

          deux choses doivent se soutenir l'une et l'autre ...' (63)

 

      The early months of l923 were devoted to the preparation of the site chosen for the kiln and the specially designed hanger for housing it. (Plate l0), (Fig. 66)  At the beginning of February, Damien, a local employee, had felled some oak trees on the property.  These were sawn up to provide the timber for the hanger and while all this was taking place, Massé was assembling all the necessary bricks and materials for the kiln, mostly acquiring them from the patron-potters of La Borne. (64)  By 2l April he recorded that he had paid the mason of La Borne, Louis Foucher, and his brother in law, l500 francs for the four weeks they had spent on its construction, adding l00 francs to each 'comme gratification.' (65)

 

      The date of the first firing is impossible to state with precision, though it was some of the pieces contained which Duneufgermain recorded as being exhibited in Bourges in April l924.  The first reference to using it is made in his 'Dépenses pour la Céramique', and entered on 28 January of that year, 'Payé à Auchère pour les deux cuissons.' (66)  Elsewhere, in a small blue backed notebook entitled 'Notes sur mes premières cuissons avec mon four comme à La Borne, sans alandier ni cheminé' he has recorded a second firing on 3 January.  This he called the 'cuisson de l'asphyxie', and heading the specific notes for this event he has written 'c'est à cette cuisson que j'ai trouvé le moyen de m'asphyxier.' (67)  But Louis Auchère, one of the few remaining traditional potters from Humbligny, near Neuilly-en-Sancerre, and who was to close down his business in l928 (68), had already stayed at Soye on four previous occasions during l923, in May, July, September and November, on each visit spending between two and four days. (69)  A letter from Auchère to Massé before one of the visits suggests that the first two may have been to assist the latter in mastering the potter's wheel, 'je vous passerais un télégramme afin que vous puissiez apprêter la terre pour quand je serais là.' (70)  The length of the final visit of the series, four days, and made in mid-November (7l), may have been the occasion when an initial firing was attempted.  As has already been indicated Massé had been almost asphyxiated on 3 January, a suggestion that the kiln was not fuctioning perfectly, and this was perhaps the reason for the second attempt.  It is possible that modification had been made to the La Borne type kiln, without firebox and chimney, since his records show that, on 2l November, he sent a postal order of 395 francs 60 centimes to Alexandre Foucher of La Borne for one thousand and thirty bricks. (72)  Nevertheless, there were pieces from the firing which he was happy to send to the April Exposition des Anciens Elévès de l'Ecole d'Art, and Duneufgermain's critique makes interesting reading.  The submission of four other exhibitors are subjected to a critical appraisal:

 

          '... Les vases de M. Monganaste sont des oeuvres

          excellentes ... L'un surtout, rappelant la canope

          égyptienne et décoré d'un rhythme de lignes brissés,

          offre une finesse de tons des plus remarquables,

          rappelant les céramiques arabe et persane ...

          M. Granger ... un rinceau d'une grande souplesse,

          du plus delicat et meilleur effet.

          Mlle. de Lyée de Belleau expose un surtout d'une

          belle composition ...

          Les vases à reflet métallique de Mme Guintrand

          sont d'une belle venue et d'une forme originale ...' (73)

 

      In a lengthy description of Massé's ceramic odyssey, and it occupied more than half of the text, nothing is written of their aesthetic quality.  His comments on the pieces of the other four leave little doubt that they had been the work of artists associated with the ceramic industry, and he takes the occasion to deplore that, in a region where such an industry was the principal one, it was to be regretted that a more important collection could not be presented:

 

          '... Quel champ d'action illimité.  Depuis les

          grès majestueux aux fines procelaines ajourées

          et gravées; matière, forme, parure, inspirées

          des lointaines traditions locales, sont des

          sources inépuisables que les flammes du four

          viendront parfaire ...' (74)

 

      It is in this context that he discerns the significance of Massé's efforts, and presumably both a vindication of his own interest in La Borne and the role he had played in introducing him to the village:

 

          '... Trop longtemps abandonné, l'art rustique

          des vieilles poteries de La Borne, dont les

          Musée du Berry posséde de beaux exemples, va

          revivre, car notre potier cherche les formes

          les plus simples et les décorations les plus

          sobres ...' (75)

 

      An impression of Massé's ability in these early years can only be obtained by referring to a photograph which he had made of pieces to be submitted, in June l925, for the Exposition d'Art a l'Ecole Nationale des Arts Appliqués, in Bourges. (Fig. 67)  Included there is a small pot with four horizontal handles.  This piece remains in his studio today, and engraved on the base along with Massé's name is the number 'l4'. (Fig. 68)  He was eventually to code his pieces with both a number and the year, thus it is evident that the engraved numbers indicate their chronological order of production.  A file on the piece in question shows that it was fired on three different occasions, a practice which Massé was to adopt for most of his pots, therefore the photograph does not give an accurate rendering of its glaze quality following the first firing in early l924.

 

      As well as that noted above, pieces numbered l0, l3, 30, 34 and 60 (Figs. 69, 70) are also in his studio.  All are quite small, being little more than twelve centimetres in height.  The throwing is unquestionably that of a beginner with little refinement of form.  Rims, pouring lips are inexpertly finished, and where handles have been pulled and applied they lack the strength and fluidity of those made by a proficient craftsman.  Decoration when used, though sober in conception, is tentative in its execution.  His glazes, however, reveal a link, not with La Borne, but with Saint Amand-en-Puisaye and Jean Carriès.

 

      From these pieces and others of a sculptural nature displayed in the l925 Exhibition (Fig. 7l), it is clear that Joseph Massé's involvement with La Borne had been primarily that of comprehending the kiln technology similar to that used by Carriès.  Although he had made written notes on the glazes used in the village, they had tended to concentrate on the collection, preparation and use of wood ashes.  The glazes which he used on his first pieces are all coded 'CC' in his notes and are numbered up to No. 24.  These were all made from recipes extracted from an article which appeared in the October l9l0 issue of 'Art et Décoration', and which was written by Auclair, the assistant of Jean Carriès when the latter had lived and worked at Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye.  Two types of Carriès' glazes appear to have attracted Massé, and both are noted in separate files; (a) 'Formules couvertes de Carriès: dites les cires' and (b) Notes sur les cendres - Carriès: Faire des cendres la base de mes émaux.' (76)  In relation to the latter, Massé has noted Auclair's contention that, despite criticism of Carriès' employment of wood ashes in his glazes, 'elle donne des effets remarquables impossibles à obtenir autrement'. (77)  This is accompanied by a personal observation, 'Personnellement j'ai toujours trouvé un grand charme dans les couvertes de La Borne qui sont à base de cendre', (78) and an historic reinforcement of this opinion, 'C'est au plaisir que je lis dans l'ouvrage d'Arsène Alexandre sur Carriès, page l28, ce passage qu'il ne faudra jamais que j'oubli.' (79)  Massé's quotation is composed of selected sentences from Alexandre's biography of Carriès:

 

           '... Carriès n'avait emporté avec lui, comme guides

           et manuels, qu'un volume de Roret, le livre de

           Monsieur Lauth, et le rapport officiel sur la

           céramique japonaise à l'Exposition de l878.  (Des)

           trois ouvrages cités, le rapport (officiel) de

           l878 lui donna du moins une indication qui le

           frappa et lui servit à fond dans ses premiers essais :

           il lut que les japonais se servaient beaucoup de

           cendres de bois lavées et melées à leurs émaux.  Ses

           premières et ses plus pures pièces, grisâtres, douces,

           sobres de couleur, fines et serrées, d'oncteux émail,

           de formes bossuées, appartiennent à ce que l'on peut

           appeler dans son oeuvre la famille des Cendres ...' (80)

 

      The significance of all the foregoing information is that it helps to explain Massé's selective interest in La Borne, the kiln and the traditional 'tour à bâton' attracting his attention more than the forms and limited range of glazes utilised.  It is also evident that his personal researches had drawn him further afield.  Indeed there is every reason to assume that he had visited Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye by the time he had glazed his first pieces.  Though undated, some notes in his files reveal that he had encountered some surviving members of 'l'Ecole de Carriès', notably Abbé Pacton and Leon Pointu.  On these visits he had made detailed sketches of the kilns of the region, (Plate l4) noting that of Gaubier of Saint-Amand particularly, 'Carriès a cuit dans ce four.' (8l)

 

           '... Le premier de ces fours que j'ai vu c'est

           en allant à St. Amand-en-Puisaye sur le bord

           de la route dans le commune de St. Verain à un

           endroit qui se nomme "la Mil(l)oterie" chez M. Jacques

           Clément, potier, nous a reçu très aimablement ...' (82)

 

      The potter of whom he writes was a member of the Jacques family which had been exercising the craft in the region of Saint Verain since the seventeenth century, and at La Millotterie since the latter part of the eighteenth.  The last Jacques to have operated this kiln was Charles Clement, who had been born in l836. (83)  His son Abel Laurent had assisted him up to l9ll before becoming a 'maître-potier' at Saint-Amand.  Another son, Clément Jacques, born in l867, was a potter at Saint Verain.  It may have been the latter who had greeted Massé so courteously, but by this time the kiln may have been inactive, 'En l92l il n'y à plus personne à La Millotterie.  Mais en l93l la poterie est reprise par Alexandre Pauron, gendre de Clément Jacques par son mariage avec Aline Jacques.' (84)  Despite the fact that the grands fours of La Puisaye were much larger than those at La Borne, Massé was able to note with some satisfaction, 'Pointu de St. Amand a un four long à peu pres dans les proportions de mien.' (85)

 

      What is incontestable, however, is that the personality of Jean Carriès exerted a strong influence on Massé in the early years of his ceramic career.  There is evidence to suggest that an article which appeared in the journal 'Beaux Arts' in l934, under the name of François Guillaume, contained a major input from Massé himself, and the influence is acknowledged:

 

          '... l924-l929: datent les pièces à émaux coulés

          semi-plats, toujours de grand deu, où se manifeste

          l'influence de Carriès ...' (86)

 

      The decision to concentrate on the production of grès, to the exclusion of other types of ware, must have inevitably derived from this source.  Whilst Ducaroy was speculating about the possible production of faîence and the use of slip-casting, his uncle must have been impressed by a section of Arsène Alexandre's biography of the sculptor.  On the same page as that earlier transcribed by Massé, Alexandre had written:

 

          '... J'ai vu cependant à Saint-Amand, en l89l,

          une traduction du vénérable livre de Picolpasso,

          le céramiste de Castel Durante, Li tre libri

          dell'arte de vassaio (l548).  Mais cela peut

          d'autant plus passer pour un livre de luxe que

          ce livre est un traité de la faïence, et que

          Carriès n'a jamais songé à cette matière pas

          plus qu'à faire de la procelaine de Chine ou

          de Saxe, exclusivement adonné au grès qu'il

          disait, 'le mâle de la porcelaine ...' (87)

 

      Much later in life, in a radio transmission he made on 24 April l940 to French artisans, he described his feeling for his medium:

 

          '... Vous me demandez pourquoi j'ai choisi le

          grès.  Le grès de grand feu est à mon avis une

          des belles nobles matières de la céramique.  La

          cuisson à haute témperature ne permet qu'un

          nombre restreint de couleurs mais elles sont

          en revanche d'une richesse incomparable ...' (88)

 

      It is furthermore possible to posit the opinion that, had he lived closer to Saint Amand than to La Borne, he would have modelled himself entirely on those potters who had kept the aesthetic of Carriès alive in that region.  Carriès had come to pottery relatively late in life, and after a successful career in another form of art.  So had many of those who had formed the 'Ecole de Carriès', while a few members of the traditional familes, like Leon Pointu and Eugène Lion, had transformed their own work in the wake of his discoveries.  Massé must have viewed the activity in Saint-Amand as reflecting more accurately his ambitions than that which he was able to observe in La Borne, at least that is what one reads in a response he made in l94l to an inquiry from an aspirant potter, following the publication of an article on his work in a local newspaper: (89)

 

          '... Si, réélment, vous avez l'intention de faire

          de la céramique, je vous conseille d'aller à

          St. Amand en Puisay, passer quelques jours au

          milieu des potiers, d'essayer de tourner et de voir

          si vraiment vous avez la vocation, car c'est un

          métier très dur et dans lequel il faut travailler

          pour l'amour de l'art et non pour gagner de

          l'argent ...' (90)

 

      By the time of the June Exposition d'Art à l'Ecole Nationale du Arts Appliqués, Eduoard Duneufgermain's critique of Massé's submission paid more attention to the quality of the pieces than that he had written the previous year.  Though no mention is made of La Borne, the author took time to hold Massé up as a model for those who aspired to surmount the difficulties of the art of ceramics:

 

          '... l'artiste inventif de Soye-en-Septaine a

          trouvé sa voie; quelle vigeur, quel beau

          sentiment décoratif se dégage de ses vases aux

          heureues combinaisons de lignes ...' (9l)

 

      Perhaps of greater interest was the fact that the gallery of Georges Rouard in Paris was now interested in his work.  This, in itself, was a major accolade.  In l9l3 Rouard had established 'Le Groupe des Artisans Français Contemporains', and in the gallery on l'Avenue de l'Opéra, he displayed only the work of the most important French ceramic artists:

 

          '... lors qu'un nouvel artiste veut y présenter

          ses oeuvres, l'ensemble des 'Anciens' se réunit

          pour donner son avis sur la qualité de ses pièces.

          Accepté, on lui prête une vitrine ou ses objets

          sont mis en dépôt ...' (92)

 

      Between July l927 and September l927 Massé sold a number of pieces from the gallery, but evidently not sufficient to satisfy Rouard himself, who wrote to Soye on 23 December:

 

          '... Nous avons fait tout notre possible pour les

          vendre en les plaçant dans une de nos vitrines au

          premier étage, mais nous n'avons pas eu le succès

          que nous escomptions l'un et l'autre et nous

          pensons qu'il vaut mieux terminer cette petite

          expérience ...' (93)

 

      In l925, however, Massé was meeting with success, not only in Bourges but also at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Moderne, in Paris.  The 'Liste des Récompenses' which was published on 5 January, l926, records Massé as having received an honourable mention, a fact that was hailed in the local press, along with the news that another local ceramist, Louis Lourioux, had been awarded a gold medal. (94)

 

      With his firing problems solved, Massé showed his work in Toulouse, in May l927, when the critic of the 'Express du Midi' wrote:

 

          '... Ses grès sont d'une rare distinction dans

          leurs forme simple et dans la sobriété de leurs

          émaux.  Ils gardent en même temps un aspect rude

          et fruste qui ajoute encore à leur saveur ...' (95)

 

      A major distinction was accorded to him in l928 when, in a comprehensive review of French ceramics, Massé was included with all the major figures of the period.   Ernest Tisserand, the author, was to write:

 

          '... Joseph Massé, qui s'intitule 'artisan potier',

          est une des figures les plus curieuses de la

          céramique contemporaine ...

          Ses préférences vont aux émaux mats.  On remarque

          surtout, de lui, des pièces gris beige, mouchetées;

          sa série de pots dits 'negres', d'un caractère assez

          sauvage, grès plus rugueux que les autres avec des

          ornements traités legerment en un ton brun sur fond

          blanc tacheté de vert ou de rose, enfin des flammés

          à base de cuivre et des craquelés ivoire ...' (96)

          (Fig. 72)

 

 

Joseph Massé's Collection of traditional La Borne Ware

 

      In Massé's studio today, one can view the main body of the collection he had made of traditional regional ware.  Originally it had been slightly larger but, following his death in January l946, his widow sold some of the most sought-after pieces.  There is no evidence available to indicate why he had formed this collection, or when he had done so, but it was complete by l935 when they featured in the first exhibition devoted to the 'art populaire' of the village, mounted in François Guillaume's premises in rue des Arènes, Bourges.

 

      When Massé first made contact with the village, Marie Louise Chameron (née Talbot) was still alive; she died in l923, after which her daughter-in-law, Valentine Chameron, continued making her small decorative whistles.  It is possible that Massé had met both, since four of these 'sifflets' are included in his collection. (Fig. 73)  Included also are a box like structure, believed to have been a Nativity 'crèche', a square bottle, a small fontaine, (Fig. 74) and a terrine à pâté. (Fig. 75)  There could be some doubts as to the provenance of one piece, an épi de faîtage, a pigeon which, with moulded and applied decoration in a lighter body, may have been made in a centre other than La Borne. (Fig. 76)  The two most important pieces remaining are another fountain, signed 'Jacques Sébastien Talbot' on the base, and a crucifix which for a time was believed to have been that which crowned the tall 'croix de carrefour' by Jacques Sébastien which had stood at the entrance to La Borne.  One unusual piece completes the collection, namely, a crucified Christ which, in the refinement of the head and shoulders, is patently not in the style of La Borne ware. (Figs. 77, 78)  Now recognised as such, it was for some time attributed to Marie Talbot.

 

      Though Massé's aim in compiling this small collection remains a mystery, it is possible that he was, like many others, responsive to an increasing regionalism, and the interest in 'l'art populaire' which had been gaining such momentum since the turn of the century.

 

 

Joseph de la Nézière

 

      Other than a one-line mention in Chaton and Talbot's book on the village, the position of Joseph de la Nézière in the revival of interest in La Borne is only noted briefly in Jean Favière's notes in the catalogue of the l962 retrospective on the 'Potiers en Terre du Haut-Berry.'  Favière's comment is not substantially augmented by those made later by Yvonne Brunhammer, and Chaton and Talbot. (97)

      On his mother's side, de la Nézière was a first cousin of Joseph Massé.  A bachelor, he lived in Paris where, in 6 rue Abreuvoir, Montmartre, he maintained his apartment and studio.  In addition to his painting, he was a traveller and gourmet (98) and, throughout his life, served on many official bodies concerned with the arts, at both national and regional levels.  By l933 when he served as president of the consultative commission of the Musée du Berry (99), he had already established semi-permanent roots in Berry:

 

          '... M. de la Nézière n'est pas seulement un

          artiste de grand talent, c'est encore un

          archéologue des plus distingués ... Il a procedé

          au cours des dernières années, à une restauration

          des plus intéressantes du pittoresque et charmant

          castel de Beugnon, situé sur la bord de la

          Rampenne ...' (l00)

 

      This property, on the outskirts of Bourges, seemed to suit the outgoing and ebullient character that emerges from his letters to François Guillaume.  The house was reputed to be the farm on which the first turkeys imported from the New World were raised ! Favière's dating of la Nézière's interest in La Borne suggests that he visited the village in the company of Massé, and it is most likely that his collection of traditional ware was made at that time.  Following his death in l944, the collection was broken up, some being acquired by François Guillaume, others by the Musée du Berry, the remainder becoming the property of his nephew, Guillaume de la Nézière.