Frederic Kiefer

Stoneware vase flamed oxblood – Frédéric Kiefer

Frederic Kiefer

Ovoid vase

Date : towards 1930

Dimensions : H : 47,5 cm ; L : 24 cm

place of production: Boulogne-Billancourt ( France )

Material : Porcelain stoneware (also known as kaolinic stoneware)

Condition : Very good condition

References : Musée d’art moderne de Paris, Metropolitan Museum of Art de New York, Musée de céramiques de Sèvres


of work


This flamed oxblood vase is very likely the largest vase created by the great ceramist Frédéric Kiefer. Made of porcelain stoneware, this imposing and elegant short-necked ovoid vase features many emblematic details of Kiefer’s work, where the originality and inventiveness of the production distinguish it among his contemporary ceramists.

Resting on a hexapod base, this ovoid-shaped vase unfolds in a particularly well-balanced manner towards a short neck. The latter is encircled by numerous striations which, like waves spreading on water, gradually disappear as they approach the body. Subtle veins emanate from the six feet, imposing a slight hexagonal form on the body of the vase. A lip perfectly proportioned to the dimensions of the neck and body of the vase slightly overflows. Beneath the touch, a slightly undulating surface can be felt.

Resembling a huge urceolate corolla of summer heather, this magnificent vase displays a rich range of colors that also evoke the hues of this flower. Usually classified by families (speckled, marbled, oxblood, celadon, etc.), the glaze places this vase by Frédéric Kiefer within the flamed family.

Abundant in colors, this oxblood glaze reveals, depending on the vase’s orientation, a spectrum of purples and reds ranging from bluish plum to Chinese red lightened with celadon. The neck is adorned with flamed blue. Inside the vase, beyond the celadon and eggplant lip, a luminous purple and lilac flame can be glimpsed.

The preferred material of high-fired ceramics (firing temperatures exceeding 1200°C), porcelain stoneware, developed in 1927 by the ceramist Emile Decoeur, was adopted by Frédéric Kiefer, who worked with him at the Sèvres Ceramics Manufacture.

Unlike enamel, a simple vitrified coating that covers previously fired earthenware, high-fired glaze truly fuses with the clay of the vase during a single firing. Consequently, a continuity is created between the glaze and the body of the vase, giving these ceramics an exceptional structural quality.

Frédéric Kiefer, Art Nouveau ceramicist and Best Craftsman of France.

Frederic Kiefer


Who was Frédéric Kiefer? A humble, discreet, and talented artisan, an excellent craftsman whose technical mastery of high-fired ceramics was admired by the great ceramicists of his time, and with whom he worked. Frédéric Kiefer worked at the heart of the large-scale production of French art ceramics in Sèvres and Boulogne-Billancourt.

Frédéric Kiefer was born on July 2, 1894, in Diemeringen, Alsace, then part of Germany following its annexation in 1871. Diemeringen was renowned for its pottery, where numerous potter families had been established for several generations.

Coming from a very old family of potters, Frédéric Kiefer naturally began his apprenticeship in the family business, where he likely learned to create traditional Alsatian pottery using molds for Kougelhof and richly decorated terrines.

The First World War and the arrival of products like aluminum or plastic, competing with the traditional terracotta used for kitchen utensils or horticultural pottery, led to a rapid decline in the early 20th century of the family potteries in Diemeringen.

Most likely constrained by the economic conditions of his village, Frédéric Kiefer went to work as a lathe operator at the Beauvais stoneware factory, then under the direction of the ceramist and industrialist Charles Gréber.

Frédéric Kiefer then became a mold-maker at the Gentil and Bourdet factory in Boulogne-Clignancourt and a plaster modeler in the design office of the Renault company, also located in Boulogne-Billancourt.

Apart from significant industrial activity related to the automotive and aviation industries, the municipalities of Boulogne and Billancourt, merged in 1925, housed numerous internationally renowned ceramics companies near the city of Sèvres, just across the river.

The Fau et Gaillard company, emblematic of the Roaring Twenties, the Manufacture du Pont de Sèvres, or La Maison Collinot et Cie founded by Eugène-Victor Collinot and Adalbert de Beaumont, whose international clientele such as the Shah of Persia or the Kensington Museum contributed to their reputation, are representative of the important and innovative ceramic activity that prevailed in the Île-de-France region during that time.

From 1930, Frédéric Kiefer participated in national and international exhibitions where his work was always noticed.

Employed at the Sèvres factory in 1936, Frédéric Kiefer was awarded the title of one of the Best Craftsmen in France for art ceramics (Group XV, Class 2) in the same year. This title, also obtained by Pierre-Adrien Dalpayrat’s son in 1925, is a prestigious acknowledgment that showcases Frédéric Kiefer’s prowess in ceramic artistry.

In 1937, he showcased several of his works at the International Exhibition of Arts and Techniques in Modern Life in Paris, some of which were acquired by the state. Today, they can be seen at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris.

Recognized by his peers, for whom he executed certain productions (Emile Decoeur, Maurice Gensoli, Adolphe Dalpayrat, etc.), Frédéric Kiefer became a professor at the National Superior School of Ceramics in Sèvres from 1947 to 1959.

From 1959, he was appointed to serve on the Artistic Commission of the renowned factory.

In June 1978, six months after his death, his artistic production was offered for public sale at Drouot. A little over 200 vases, bowls, cups, and sculptures were dispersed. During his lifetime, despite numerous requests, the ceramic artist Frédéric Kiefer only parted with a few of his works, primarily through public acquisition by the state.

the work

in its context

This imposing and remarkable vase by the ceramist Frédéric Kiefer offers a condensed history of French ceramics from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Its flamed oxblood glaze is reminiscent of the work of the famous ceramist Pierre-Adrien Dalpayrat (1844-1910), internationally known for his Dalpayrat red, a result of years of research to replicate the Chinese red known as sang-de-boeuf. It’s noteworthy that Frédéric Kiefer created numerous vases designed by Adolphe Dalpayrat, the son of Pierre-Adrien Dalpayrat. The influence of this great ceramist on Frédéric Kiefer is evident.

Beyond Dalpayrat’s influence, we can also draw parallels between this vase, both in shape and color, and Chinese Jun ceramics from the Song dynasty. Around the 1910s, a renewed interest in ancient Chinese ceramics (Tang, Song, and Yuan) emerged. Rediscovered a few decades earlier during archaeological excavations in China and showcased through exhibitions and the enrichment of public collections in major museums like the Louvre, Chinese and Korean pottery reinforced and influenced the aesthetic expression of French master ceramists, as well as their discipline and practice.

Hence, the glaze on this vase by Frédéric Kiefer is a clear reference to the highly prized Jun ceramics (Flamed red glaze), where the colors red and purple respectively symbolized the Song emperor, dressed in red, and high officials dressed in purple.

The shape of this vase also references Song ceramics, where bowls and vessels could be crafted with a hexagonal structure resting on a pedestal. Such ceramics can be seen at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, exhibiting the collection of the collector Avery Brundage, or at the Guimet Museum with the collection of Ernest Grandidier.


Another major influence, that of Emile Decoeur, one of the most illustrious ceramists, is also at play in this magnificent vase. A series of striations encircling the neck and the upper part of the body, gradually disappearing into it, can also be observed on many vases by Emile Decoeur. It’s likely that these striations result from an influence between Frédéric Kiefer and Emile Decoeur.

However, what leaves no room for doubt is the use of porcelain stoneware employed by Frédéric Kiefer to create this sang-de-boeuf vase. Developed by the ceramist Emile Decoeur in 1927, porcelain stoneware is a stoneware paste combined with powdered kaolin. This mixture achieves a paste that combines the finesse of porcelain with the plasticity of stoneware. Through meticulous work on proportions, Emile Decoeur succeeded in combining these two materials long considered incompatible. Previous attempts by other great ceramists such as Edouard Cazaux or Emile Lenoble, while promising, had not yielded a satisfactory result.

Porcelain stoneware, owing to its physicochemical qualities, allows for enamel vitrification at temperatures lower than those required for porcelain. Consequently, a more varied range of glazes becomes possible. Moreover, the whiteness imparted to this stoneware by kaolin provides the enamels, through a play of semi-transparency, with a brilliance that stoneware alone does not allow.


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