Door 2: Valentine Schlegel

As so often artists get recognition for their work late in their career, after they stubbornly sticked to their practice for years. This was also the case for the French artisan, artist and designer Valentine Schlegel. In her case the exhibition, who put her back in the focus of a broader public, was curated by Hélène Bertin and called This Woman Could Sleep in Water.

The title stems from her ability to sleep everywhere and her lifelong fascination for the sea. Valentine Schlegel was born in 1925 in the coastal town Sète in the south of France. Growing up in a family of artisans, she studied at l’Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Montpellier in 1942. Three years later she moved to Paris, where she was first exposed to the ceramics and met also her lifelong friend the filmmaker Agnes Varda.

Despite the trend of ceramics in the early 50s, her approach was different. She herself put it the following way: “A pot is designed to hold flowers. Without flowers, it’s nothing. To have a life of its own, it must also be a sculpture.” Her ceramics with their organic forms are slightly reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s paper cuts.

Initially she thought that she could live off making mainly ceramics, but by accident a different source of income appeared. Friends bought a vase and wanted to put it on their marble mantelpiece, but and it did not look good, so Schlegel set out and redid the whole fireplace to fit the vase. This led to her now famous characteristic organic fireplaces, which she made until 2000.

These mantelpieces, that she friends and collectors - took between three weeks up to two months to create them. She famously designed and built the interior of Jeanne Moreau's apartment. This mantelpieces also inspired Raf Simons for his set design of his spring summer 2014 show for Dior.

 Photography by © Hélène Bertin/Adagp

Additionally she taught from 1958 to 1987 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs of Paris and during that time she founded there  the clay modeling department for the "Workshops for Young People under 15". She lived and worked until her death in 2021 in a former wheel factory in the 14. arrondisdement.