Sèvres' Fin de Siècle Rebirth

The Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, established in 1756, had fallen on hard times by the late 19th century, with critics accusing the factory of a lack of creativity and imagination. Change was finally effected near the turn of the 20th century and came via several sources. The first was the initiation of Japoniste decoration; an explosion of interest in Japanese art occurred in the latter half of the 19th century as a result of artists and craftsmen being exposed to Eastern wares at European expositions. Several artists employed at Sèvres, including Marc-Louis-Emmanuel Solon and Henri Lambert, formed a secret Japanese society at the manufactory and began to incorporate Japanese motifs and styles into their work. 

The second proponent of change was a presidential decree in 1891 stipulating that Sèvres must not only search for new forms and decorations, but also to develop stoneware. The decree spurred Sèvres to extensively experiment with clays and glazes, successfully creating not just a new, versatile low-fired porcelain body, but a range of sumptuous crystalline glazes. 

The final creative spark that led to Sèvres’ triumphant charge into the 20th century was Alexandre Sandier’s appointment as creative director in 1897, a post he would occupy until 1916. Sandier embraced and fully introduced the Art Nouveau style and was primarily responsible for the company’s success at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, which re-launched the firm and garnered them newfound fame and respect. 

Their spectacular Exposition pavilion façade, a monumental work that employed their grès stoneware to great effect, is permanently installed in Square Félix-Desruelles, Paris. The firm’s output from the late 19th century and throughout the first decades of the 20th was refined and diverse, full of splendid, intricately decorated wares,  sinuous, naturalistic vegetal forms, and simple vessels with spectacular crystalline glazes.

Paris - Square Félix-Desruelles - 01

Portico stoneware, square Félix-Desruelles, 6th Paris, France. Image: Wayne77 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Musical Ear, Artistic Eye

Works from the Collection of Seymour Stein

Seymour Stein is co-founder and Chairman of Sire Records, one of the world’s most influential record labels and home to some of the most iconic artists in modern music. He has been Sire’s driving visionary and creative force since its origins in the 1960s as an independent label and its four-decade tenure as part of Warner Music Group. His unique ability to anticipate musical trends, and to discover and sign the greatest artists within those movements, has left an indelible mark on contemporary culture. 

It was in 1955, when he was just 13 years old, that Stein was granted access to the Billboard archives, where he painstakingly transcribed two decades of charts, developing his encyclopedic memory of songs. After high school, he joined the Billboard staff, then worked for King Records and Red Bird Records. He and producer Richard Gottehrer launched Sire Records in 1967. 

Stein and Madonna at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, 1996

Stein first saw the Ramones in 1975 and, as he said, “It was like sticking my hand in a live electric light socket.” The band’s first album was released by Sire in 1976. It remains one of the seminal recordings in rock and roll history. Stein put New Wave music – a term he coined – on the mainstream map with the likes of Talking Heads and the Pretenders. And in a moment that has become a permanent part of music industry lore, Stein signed a young artist named Madonna while he was in the hospital recuperating from a heart infection. Over the years, Sire’s roster has included other cutting-edge artists such as Tom Tom Club, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, The Cure, Ice-T, k.d. lang, Seal, Everything But The Girl, Aztec Camera, Dinosaur Jr., Wilco, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, Aphex Twin, Spacehog, Regina Spektor, Tegan & Sara, and many more. Stein was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

In addition to his myriad musical pursuits, Stein developed an impeccable eye for fine and decorative art. His particular love for Art Deco and Art Nouveau design began during his many trips to London and Paris while on the hunt for new bands to sign. With the guidance of his long-time curator and adviser Rodney Richardson, Stein procured only the best examples of ceramics, paintings, drawings, and furniture he could find. We are thrilled to present works from his extraordinary collection and are grateful to him and Rodney for their help, warmth, and good humor.