The Metaux Vase by Cros

Thursday, May 24th 2018

Rediscovery of the vase presented at the Universal Exhibition of 1900

Cros Vase des Métaux - Rouillac - Artigny 2018

Henry CROS (Narbonne, 1840 – Sèvres, 1907)

Les Métaux

Stoneware vase
Signed and dated at the base, under the Child’s arm: "H. Cros / 1897"
Made in the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, France
51 1/5 x 28 1/3 x 28 1/3 in.

Model by Alexandre SANDIER (Beaune, 1843-1916)
Stoneware, cabochons surrounding an openwork flower
Made in the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, France
31 ½ x 22 ½ x 22 ½ in.

- Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, France ;
- Mr and Mrs Robert Zunz Collection, France, bought at the Manufacture de Sèvres on the 25th of July 1925. The original bill, dated 25th of July 1925, will be given to the purchaser;
- By descent, private collection, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France ;

Estimate: 180.000/250.000 €

Related bibliography:

- Catalogue des œuvres exposées par les Manufactures nationales de l’Etat (Gobelins, Sèvres, Beauvais) / Exposition universelle de 1900, Librairie centrale des Beaux-arts, Paris, 1900, pp.29-31, p.37, p.55, model listed as n°382 ;
- Catalogue officiel illustré de l’Exposition décennale des beaux-arts: de 1889 à 1900/ exposition universelle de 1900, impr. Lemercier: L. Baschet, Paris, 1900, p.267 ;
- Arsène Alexandre « Les Manufactures de l’Etat à l’Exposition Beauvais-Sèvres », Le Figaro illustré, N°124, 1st of July 1900, p.133 ;
- Gustave Saulier, « Travaux et projets de la manufacture de Sèvres », l’Art Décoratif, June 1902, pp.124-128, model reproduced p.125 ;
- Manufacture Nationale de Porcelaine de Sèvres, Catalogue d’ouvrages contemporains édités à Sèvres, impr/ G. de Malherbe, Paris, 1904, First Part ;
- Maurice Testard, « Henry Cros », Art décoratif, April 1908, pp.149-155 ;
- Marie-Pierre Verneuil, « Les pâtes de verre », Art et Décoration, v.25, N°1, 1909, pp.81-90 ;
- Catalogue de la vente des œuvres d’Henry Cros. Saturday 23rd of January 1909. Hôtel Drouot. Room N°7. Mr André Desvouges, auctioneer, Loys Delteil, expert (92 numbers including many drawings), prefaced by Auguste Rodin ;
- Antoine Bourdelle, « Un grand artiste méconnu »: Henri (sic) Cros », La vie, August 1917, 6th year, N°8, pp.225-226 ;
- Rétrospective Henry Cros au Salon d‘automne 1922, pp.369-373 ;
- Jean-Luc Olivié, « Jalons pour une histoire des pâtes de verre », La Revue de la Céramique et du Verre, N°26, Sept/Oct 1982, pp.9-13 ;
- Catalogue of the travelling exhibition De Carpeaux à Matisse… la sculpture française de 1850 à 1914 dans les musées et les collections publiques du nord de la France, 1982-1983, p.178 ;
- Noël Daum, « Henry Cros, le Précurseur », La pâte de verre, Ed. Denoël, Paris, 1984, pp.59-73 ;
- Catalogue of the exhibition La sculpture française au XIXe siècle, 10 April-28 July 1986, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, RMN, 1986, pp.88-89 ;
- Janine Bloch-Dermant, Le verre en France d’Emile Gallé à nos jours, Ed. L’Amateur, Paris, 1986, p.16 et p.26 ;
- Jean-Luc Olivié « Un atelier et des recherches subventionnées par l’Etat: Henry Cros à Sèvres », La sculpture au XIXe siècle, une mémoire retrouvée. Les fonds de sculpture. Collection Rencontres de l’Ecole du Louvre, La documentation française, Paris, 1986, pp.193-199 ;
- Wolf Uecker, « Henri Cros », Lampes et bougeoirs Art Nouveau et Art Déco, Flammarion, Paris, 1987, note N°213, p.43 ;
- Jean-René Gaborit, Jack Ligot (eds.), Sculpture en cire de l’ancienne Egypte à l’art abstrait, Jean-Luc Olivié, « Henri Cros », R.M.N, Paris, 1987, pp.213-215
- L’Estampille/ l’Objet d’art, March 1989, note N°223F, p.93
- Giuseppe Cappa, L’Europe de l’art verrier des précurseurs de l’Art Nouveau à l’art actuel 1850-1990, Pierre Mardaga Press, Liège, 1991, pp.93-95 ;
- Dominique Morel et Charles Villeneuve de Janti, Henri Cros ou la nostalgie du Paradis perdu, pp.44-49 ;
- Sylviane Humair, Henry Cros sort de sa réserve, Jardin des Modes, N°181, August 1994, pp.60-61 ;
- Pierre Sanchez, Dictionnaire des céramistes, verriers et émailleurs, 1700-1920, tome III, Dijon, 2005, model listed as n°382 ;
- Alexandre Sandier, Georges Lechevallier-Chevignard, Formes et décors modernes de la Manufacture nationale de Sèvres, Paris, Ch. Massin Ed., n.d. ;
- Emile Baumgart, « La Manufacture de Sèvres à l’Exposition Universelle », Encyclopédie du Siècle. L’Exposition de Paris (1900), Tome III, Paris, n.d., p.216 ;


« One of the most glorious men of the 19th century », Auguste Rodin

Ambitious and wilful artist, admirer of Pliny the Elder and his Natural History, Henry Cros delights since the youngest age in the reading of famous works in Latin, a language which he masters as well as ancient Greek and Hebrew. This artist from another age “with his pale figure, his feverish eyes, the smooth and black necklace of his beard, (…) seemed a lord from the Valois court” . This talented draughtsman, “this poet, this erudite and this great worker” is in his time recognized as one of the pioneers in the rediscovery of the glass paste technique. However, few of Henry Cros’s works survive today, whether in private or museum collections (principally at the museum of the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres and at the Petit Palais-Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris). Henry Cros is relatively unknown in the art world. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), in the preface of the sales catalogue after the death of Henry Cros, talked of him in these terms: “His sculpture has this serenity which belongs to Greek art; it is, I think, the highest praise one can give to an artist. Cros was one of the most glorious men of the 19th century. He passed away, unknown .”

Henry Cros Portrait

Originating from a literate family, Henry Cros is the student of the sculptor François Jouffroy (1806-1882) and Louis-Jules Etex (1810-1889) at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He also follows the painting class of Jules-Emmanuel Valadon (1826-1900) and experiments with encaustic painting, oil painting and aquarelle. Yet it is as a sculptor that he is admitted at the Salon of 1861 by presenting a plaster bust of his brother Charles. Cros’s work will be shown for the first time in 1863 at the Salon des Refusés and, from 1864, he will regularly present busts and medallions at the Salon.

From wax to glass paste: rediscovery of Antique art

The sculptor will nevertheless rapidly abandon traditional materials such as plaster, marble, bronze and terracotta. His desire to express colour and his will to ally sculpture and painting equally in his work will lead him, as early as 1867, to carry out research on wax modeling. The technique he uses of tinted-wax sculpture, known since Greek Antiquity and used throughout the Middle-Ages and the Renaissance to illustrate tumultuous court life, will make him quite successful. Alexandre Dumas son (1824-1895) and the critic and inspector for Fine Arts Philippe Burty (1830-1890) count among his first admirers . This technique enables the artist to sculpt in colour, but these polychrome wax sculptures are fragile. Despite a first successful work, Le Prix du Tournoi (Musée d’Orsay, N°inv.RF3661), acquired by the State after the Salon of 1873 , Cros decides to abandon this process.

It is in 1883 that he first experiments with the glass paste process, after having seen at the Louvre two medallions made with this technique . That same year, Cros will create a medallion portrait of his niece inspired by the iconography of Antique cameos, which he will fire on his own chimney grill in his Parisian apartment in rue Littré. He will later decide to build himself an oven in his workshop rue de l’Amiral Roussin, but his first experiments with glass paste are approximate and need improving. He will later win a silver medal for three glass paste works which he will show at the Universal Exhibition of 1889. One year later, he will triumph again and win a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition using the same process with L’Histoire du Feu.

The technical feat of a great stoneware vase at Sèvres

Our work was executed in exceptional conditions. Cros benefitted from a workshop in one of the buildings at the Sèvres Manufacture. This decision was taken in 1891 by the minister for Public Instruction and by the Fine Arts Administration , directed by Théodore Deck. An independent workshop was only offered to the artist in 1893, thanks to the support of Henry Roujon, director of Fine Arts appointed in 1891. Between 1895 and 1897, Cros requested a bigger workshop in a disused building of the old mill of the Manufacture, in order to house a new muffle and respond to the State’s commission to him of monumental pieces. Indeed, as early as 1885, the State becomes an important patron and collector by commissioning a large number of low-relief works with themes borrowed from literature or mythology. La Source gelée et le soleil (1895) and La verrerie antique (1888) are kept by the Limoges Museum, l’Incantation (1892) and L’Histoire de l’eau (1894) by the museum of Luxembourg and L’Histoire du feu (1900) by the museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. Cros also creates in this workshop L’Apothéose de Victor Hugo, from 1903 to 1905, today kept in the Victor Hugo House located Place des Vosges; he will work at its preparation and firing until his death in 1907 . His project for a chimney-piece on the theme of « Hope in the beautiful season”, commissioned by the prince of Wagram for his castle at Grosbois, will remain unachieved.

Towards the end of the 19th century, stoneware works became increasingly popular and the Salons of 1896, 1897 and 1898 bear witness to the interest of artists for this material. “Stoneware ceramic clay is a sort of earthy enamel, matt to the eyes and a little rough to the touch. There is something a little dry about this stoneware” , principally because of the semi-matt coverings used for the decoration of the pieces. This covering without reflection offers subdued and soft colours, more soothing to the eyes than porcelain works. What is more, the firing, even at a high temperature, ensures the perfect solidity of large pieces, which come out of the moulds without cracks or deformation. Stoneware ceramic clay offers a maximum of resistance to weathering and rough climate thanks to its light vitrification responsible for its good impermeability. Cros will only execute a few stoneware vases.
Cros will create his vases Les Métaux in one piece, a real technical feat. To do this, he creates a two- meter high and one-meter-sixty wide mould . For the making of “open pieces” he prefers to use a piece mould, shaping each element independently to assemble them afterwards by re-firing them together. The presence of seam-lines, more or less decentered, evokes the Antique process.

The neoclassical iconography of an unreal Golden age.

The iconography of the vase Les Métaux is neoclassical ; Venus, Mars and Vulcain are enthroned in staggered rows and set in a denuded Olympia, delimitated only by the shape of the vase. The rhythm of this harmonious composition is given by the presence of the figures, presented in full or as half-bodies, in relief or merely sketched, and placed at different heights. These figures contrast with the rough aspect of the bottom of the stoneware vase. These are detached from the background thanks to a slight relief and the powdery pink notes of their carnation. On our vase, the colour is treated with more precision and restraint. By comparison with the vase kept at the Petit Palais or the one at the Piscine, our work seems finer and more nuanced, while still preserving the elegance and the balance of the composition. The finely cut figures and the softness of their carnations almost evoke the translucent qualities of alabaster. The conjuring-up of the idyllic life in an unreal Golden Age is transcribed here with symbolist codes. Art collectors for several generations and great connoisseurs of Henry Cros, the actual owners of the vase Les Métaux suggest a reading of the medallion representing a male head as a self-portrait of the artist.
The artist is also here referring to the chthonian universe, by the mineral aspect of the stoneware and the presence and personification of the “minerals sleeping in the earth’s womb” , outside of all temporality. This netherworld is presided by a grimacing figure represented at the base of each handle. Thanks to the evocation of these two complementary worlds, Cros illustrates his search for a “less vulgar means of expression which, nowadays, have become of such a tiring banality”, and to “clarifiy the view and the soul of the ugliness of contemporary life, requiring other aesthetic manifestations than those where the official juries carry us annually” .
A formal parallel can be established with the work of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898). Both artists share the same attraction for large-size formats, polychrome effects and the treatment of figures incarnating an ideal beauty. Both artists seek inspiration in the classicism and the sensuality of Antique representations. The soft palette makes these works delicate and pleasant to contemplate. One could equally draw resemblances between Cros’s figures and those of the Pre-Raphaelites with their nostalgic and supple poses and their looks lost in mysterious reveries.

Rediscovery of the vase presented at the Universal Exhibition of 1900?

To this day, we can confirm the location of three stoneware vases of Les Métaux by Henry Cros: the one kept at the Petit Palais-musée des Beaux-Arts de Paris, the version kept at the Piscine museum in Roubaix, and ours. Research carried out in the national archives of the Sevres Manufactury has shed light on the dating and chronology of these three vases. It is thus possible to confirm a certain number of elements concerning their respective dates of creation and delivery.
First of all, the date of 1897 inscribed on each model indicates that it was conceived of by the artist at this date. During the Universal Exhibition of 1900, the Sèvres National Manufacture presented two vases entitled Les Métaux, referenced in the Catalogue des pièces exposées au Palais des Manufactures nationales, Esplanade des Invalides, aile droite (1900) . These vases are also mentioned in the Dictionnaire des sculpteurs de l’école française . Surprisingly, we did not find any trace of the production of these vases in the archives of the Sèvres National Manufacture, and they are no longer mentioned anywhere after 1900.

Manufacture de Sèvres, Stand de l'Exposition Universelle de 1900

The conception of a vase Les Métaux is attested by the register vv.12 of 1901, under the number 47.49 (1v. en grès “Les Métaux” par Mr. Cros). It is commissioned by the Palais Bourbon in October 1901. This version is most probably the one which is today kept at the Petit Palais-musée des Beaux-Arts de Paris.
A second stoneware vase is mentioned in the same register in 1902 (N°72.86, 1 v. Cros en grès), commissioned in November 1902 by the National School of Decorative Arts in Roubaix. It is most probable that this vase is the one which is today kept at the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent - La Piscine in Roubaix.
A stoneware vase (with no indication as to whether it is another version of Les Métaux) appears in the register vv.15 of May 1911 (line 39: vase Cros en grès). It is mentioned in the margin that the work is “intended for storage”.
Lastly, one more stoneware vase (again, with no indication as to whether it is another version of Les Métaux) is mentioned in the register vv.15 of June 1922 (folio 134, line 43, by the terms « Vase Cros, grès, Figures en relief »). It is indicated in the margin that it is “intended for storage”.
Taking into account all of these elements (including the purchase invoice dated 25th of July 1925), we can make the following hypothesis:
First hypothesis: our work is one of the two vases mentioned in the register vv.15 of 1911 or of 1922; but the posthumous production of such a vase appears unlikely.
The second hypothesis according to which our vase is on the contrary one of the two that were shown at the Universal Exhibition of 1900, preserved in the manufactory stock until 1925, appears more likely.

« All of Antiquity in a new soul », Antoine Bourdelle

The technical inventions (or rediscoveries) made by Cros are perfectly in tune with the preoccupations of Art Nouveau. They originate from Cros’s desire to unite the arts and to find an original and unlimited means of expression, capable of conveying all his creative potential. Cros was successfully able to ally the purity and the elegance of themes and techniques of Antique art to the formal preoccupation of the artistic movements of his time. Indeed, Cros had evident links with the Symbolist and the Parnassian movements of which some of his friends were a part of, such as Marie-José de Hérédia, François Coppée, Maurice Rollinat, Stéphane Mallarmé or even Paul Verlaine. Cros was able to create a symbiosis between the literary and artistic movements of his time. He reactivates certain Arcadian myths from Antique literature and mythology intertwined with new symbols. He thus goes beyond the preoccupations of a purely decorative art, reaching out for a universal work which combines different languages. Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) praised the work of Henry Cros in these terms: “It is calculated by Egypt, decorated by Syria, sculpted by a quivering Greece, and reflects the smile of the whole of France. Thus was the work of Henry Cros: all of Antiquity in a new soul ”.

Related works:

Henri Cros, Les métaux, 1897, Petit Palais
- Les Métaux, stoneware vase with traces of polychromy (H. 130, w. 72, l. 72 cm), signed and dated on the base, under the Child’s arm: « H. Cros/1897 », made in the Manufacture de Sèvres, exhibited at the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Paris, inv. number: PPO3737 (1). This vase was presented in L’Art Décoratif of June 1902 with another pedestal. It was transferred to the Galliera museum in 2005.

Henri Cros, Les Métaux, musée d’art et d’industrie André Diligent de Roubaix
- Les Métaux, stoneware vase with traces of polychromy (H. 138, w. 75, l. 73 cm), signed and dated on the base, under the Child’s arm: « H. Cros/1897 », made in the Manufacture de Sèvres, exhibited at the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent - La Piscine in Roubaix, inv. number: 2675-1278-17.
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