One of Jean-Nicolas Gérard’s signature forms is the tall beaker.
In this article we explore how, with his typical loose touch, after being left to dry til leather-hard, they are then clasped between finger and thumb to create their characteristic side indentations.
colourful beakers out on display on a bench in Gérard’s treasured garden
Thrown in both tall and short sizes, Gérard’s beakers are among his most sought-after forms here at the gallery, with most of our new batches being snaffled up by staff members and Jean-Nicolas’ fans before they can even make their way onto the pot shop shelves.
Their generous, squat forms combined with their indented finger impressions make them extremely comfortable to hold and use, perfect for a beaker-ful of a hearty Provençal red or a large G&T. Grouped together, they present Gérard’s joyful style of decoration in miniature, with loose sgraffito marks, daubed finger spots and lavish layers of warming yellow slip.
Gérard centring, drawing up, and shaping an emerging tall beaker
Gérard’s throwing style appears simple to the untrained eye, but is the result of years of working with the same form and learning to react spontaneously to the abnormal textures and rhythms of the rotating clay on the wheel.
He starts by centring a small lump of orange-red earthenware clay which he then draws up into a simple cylindrical form, always watching for the occasional lilt of the clay and either taming or following its movements until the basic shape is there.
Gérard shapes the side of a beaker with a metal sheet (above) before smoothing the rim (below left) and removing it from the wheel to dry (right)
Further shaping of the sides of the beaker is then done with a scrap of metal or plastic taking the place of a traditional potter’s ‘kidney’ or ‘rib’, Gérard digging the corner of his tool sharply into the base of the emerging pot to create a natural foot area and ‘lifting’ the clay from the wheel.
Checking the shape is balanced (though not symmetrical), the rim of the beaker is softened with a damp sponge or cloth and excess water removed from the interior of the pot before it is removed to a sideboard to dry with its companions. Once leather-hard, Gérard will then squeeze each beaker between his middle finger and thumb to make small indented ‘pockets’ on either side of the pot, perfect for nestling their eventual owner’s hand when held.
(above and below) glorious short and tall beakers wait huddled together to be brought back to the gallery in Uppingham
Given the popularity of these pots both in the gallery here in the UK and in Gérard’s atelier in Valensole, Southern France, we are fortunate that our recent consignment from Provence included a healthy collection of beakers tall and small which has started to appear on our website.
Alongside Gérard’s typical yellows, browns and blues and his scratched lines, many of the pots in this selection sport beautiful layers of slip, litterings of black dots, and unusual combinations of marks and surface qualities. Some are decorated with jaspé layering, where wet slips are applied one after the other and then run to create exquisite marbled and mottled effects.
Jean-Nicolas Gérard enjoying the sun in his Valensole studio
With its bright colours and playful shapes, Gérard’s work always seems to bring with it Mediterranean sun and the feeling of Summer. We’ve an outstanding selection that’s started to appear online and which is out on display in the gallery, so if there is anything you see that takes your fancy don’t hesitate to get in touch.