The social circles of French artistic contemporaries, Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) and Jean Lurcat (1892-1966) overlapped at the glittering edges–both knew Pablo Picasso, another artist who painted ceramic plates in addition to participating in other innumerable artistic ventures in that heyday of Bohemian creativity in early 20th century Paris. Despite their differences, the spirit of their milieu, embodied in a kind of exploratory playfulness, is captured in both artists’ plates.
Ceramic plate with white glaze by Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), Profile of Man with Fish, signed on back Limoges, France, circa 1959. Diameter: 9-1/2″
Of the two artists, Jean Cocteau had the wider artistic range. A true Renaissance man, he was a poet, artist, novelist, dramatist, designer, filmmaker among many other things. Known as “The Frivolous Prince” in his artistic circle, the novelist Edith Wharton once described him as a man to “to whom every great line of poetry was a sunrise, every sunset the foundation of the Heavenly City…”
White glazed ceramic plate depicting a lion head by Jean Cocteau (1889-1963). Signed and marked on reverse side, Limoges, France, circa 1958. Diameter: 9-1/2″
That exuberance for life is captured in his whimsical Limoges plates. Depicting (in order), a man with a fish on his head, a smiling lion, and a wistful cat, the signed plates are hand-painted using strong, clean lines.
Ceramic plate with cat decoration by Jean Cocteau, signed and marked “Limoges” on back, France, 1959. Diameter: 5-1/2″
In contrast, Jean Lurcat was mostly a visual artist best known for his role in the revival of tapestry. After taking up residence in Paris to work as an engraver and an apprentice to painter Jean-Paul Lafitte, he briefly went to the war front in 1915 before returning home due to injury. In 1917, he began making his renowned tapestries and often traveled “East” to countries such as Greece, Turkey and northern Africa, the influences of which can easily be traced in his plates.
Surreal glazed earthenware plate by Jean Lurçat, France, c. 1920s-1930s. Diameter: 8-1/2″
Reflecting his more somber mindset and experiences in the “Orient,” Lurcat’s surreal signed plates depict fantastical figures in elaborate headdresses, sometimes representing chieftains whose faces bear serious expressions in the eyes and lines of their mouths.
Surreal glazed pottery plate by Jean Lurçat, France, c. 1920s-1930s. Diameter: 8-1/2″