During the Art deco splendor of the 20s and 30s, Belgium became a reference for the world of ceramics. At La Louviere, in the south of Belgium, Boch Freres-Keramis hired one of the most talented artists in the sector, Charles Catteau. He worked on site during forty years (1907-1947). Before WWI he followed the traditional style of the house but afterwards he revolutionized the shapes, the glazes and the patterns incorporating new influences: Japonism, Africanism and, above all, Avant-garde. A new style in art deco ceramics was born. The reasons of its success were the same that destroyed it: it was too personal and distinct.
The location of Keramis in the south of Belgium was not the product of pure chance. It was an area with a dense industrial and creative tissue fuelled by local coal (another Belgian world reference, in this case of glassware,Val Saint-Lambert, is still located in Wallonia). It was very close to the French border, near Paris, then the world capital of art, and very well connected by railway and motorway. Neither was fortuitous that Catteau decided to spend forty years of his life there. He had been born in Douai, on the other side of the French border, and trained at the National School of Ceramics in Sevres, where he got a degree as a ceramic engineer in 1903.
In 1907, when Catteau started working for Keramis, Belgium was an artistic and industrial reference for anyone trying to build a career in the applied arts. The zenith of Art Nouveau, with its vegetable curves and motifs, had already been reached and with the construction in Brussels of the Stoclet Palace in 1905 by the Vienna Secessionist Josef Hoffmann, a more geometrical style had gained the favour of the international critique.
Catteau founded in 1920 Keramis’ “Fantasy studio” or “art department” where he coordinated the decoration for existing vases and for new vases and objects, with no specific usefulness, away from the practical tableware the firm produced. Although he was not the author of all the designs of the “Fantasy studio”, his signature became synonymous with a label of quality and taste.
Catteau’s efforts were crowned at the International Exhibition of 1925 in Paris, which set art deco as the style of an era, with prizes and sales. After the suffering of WWI, Catteau captured the predominant climate of hedonism to create beautiful stylizations of animals or flowers and suggest, through a series of motifs, a summery or springtime atmosphere. These decorative vases hardly need more developed flower or animal patterns in their simple existence of artistic objects.
Keramis started facing difficulties in the 70s and finally closed down in 2009. Now, a ceramics museum and a foundation under the same name, Keramis, intent to recover the legacy of an industry which flourished so intensely. Without Catteau it would not have been the same.
Discover our selection of Charles Catteau’s vases for Keramis.