Salmagundi Library Newsletter | Winter | 2023 | The ceramics of Charles Volkmar

Dear Club members,

This is the sixth newsletter of the Salmagundi Library, which describes a library exhibition of decorative arts from an early (1880) member, Charles Volkmar, who is better known today for his ceramics than for his landscapes, etchings or paintings. We have included etching from the club’s collection and the ceramics were kindly lent from a private collection. Volkmar was a potter and etcher of the Salmagundi Club credited with setting up the first etching press of the Salmagundi Club and firing the library mugs in Delft Blue. His tiles, bowls and vases, many he created in Greenpoint, NY and then along with his son Leon Volkmar at the Durant Kilns. His ceramic pieces and tiles may be viewed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection.

I hope you will enjoy these ceramic examples of Volkmar’s art.

Alexander Katlan
Salmagundi Library Committee Chairman

The ceramics of Charles Volkmar

Charles Volkmar (1841-1914)

Charles Volkmar was a ceramicist, painter and etcher. He was an early member of the Salmagundi Club joining in 1880. He set up the first etching press at the club and started the monotype etchings. Best known today as a ceramic artist, but in the mid-1860s, at the outset of his career, he was very much the model of an aspiring landscape painter. Most of his canvases were of American subjects painted in Europe, along with Barbizon and other French scenes.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland to a family steeped in the arts (his grandfather was an engraver; his father, a Dresden-educated portrait painter, etcher and restorer),it was natural for Volkmar to pursue artistic training. Having received his initial art education at the Maryland Institute, he was an accomplished etcher by his late teens.

A ceramic jug, with an ocean scene depicting a pair of small boats in the waves.

Settling in Paris, he studied under the bronze sculptor Antoine-Louis Bayre at the Jarden des Plantes and in the government schools. Volkmar remained in France for nearly fifteen years, making frequent trips to the United States. He studied pottery painting and tile making working as an apprentice at the Haviland factory and worked with various pottery ateliers Schopin, Henry-Arthur Lefort, Auguste Jouve, Edward Gillis creating Barbotine ceramics. He taught underglaze technique at the Society of Decorative Art of New York.

a vase with a painting of a boat in the water.

During his first visit in 1864, he exhibited a landscape entitled Gorges Creek, Va. at the National Academy of Design in New York; on his next trip in 1867, he married his wife Nettie. Volkmar returned to Europe and took up studies with Henri Harpignies, the Barbizon landscapist. He made his first appearance at the Paris Salon in 1875 and thereafter became a regular exhibitor of paintings, etchings and pottery.

Volkmar was once again in the United States to visit the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where he exhibited one of his landscapes and saw, for the first time, a French pottery decorated with an underglaze “slip.” Fascinated by this technique, Volkmar relocated to Montigney-sur-Loring, near Fontainbleau, to observe the potters employing the method first-hand. There were at that time a number of other artists, all of them later celebrated, who painted for the potters before glazing: Harpignes, Cazin, Troyon, Diaz, Anker, Colturièr and, most notably, Eugene Carrière.

Carrière invited Volkmar to set up a kiln in partnership with him. Instead, Volkmar worked with the faiencier Theodore Deck in Paris and there learned the procèss barbotine underglaze slip painting technique.

Volkmar returned to the United States and set up kilns at Greenpoint, Long Island in 1879; Tremont (the Bronx), New York in 1882; Menlo Park, New Jersey in 1888; and Metuchen, New Jersey in 1902. His son, Leon Volkmar, joined him in 1903 in a partnership that flourished until 1911 when ill health forced him to dissolve the business. Volkmar died three years later in 1914.

Volkmar exhibited at the National Academy of Design from 1864 until 1894; at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Annual, 1877, 1883; at the Boston Art Club, 1881, 1884, 1892-94; at the Brooklyn Art Association, 1883, 1885; and at the American Watercolor Society, 1898.

For his pottery, as for his easel paintings, etchings and watercolors, Volkmar’s preferred decorative motif was a landscape with water and some living creature, often a duck, goose or cow. Writing about the artist in 1909, William Walton observed: “His studies of ducks, both wild and tame, in full flight like the feathered bullets they are, or placidly paddling and floating in the domestic pond, have been so numerous, so varied and so truthful that to many he is known chiefly as a painter of these fowl, in all his three arts” (Walton, p. LXXX).

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