Modeler: Emmanuel Frémiet (French, Paris 1824–1910 Paris)
Manufacturer: Émile Muller (French, 1823–1889)
Factory: La Grande Tuilerie, Ivry, France
Date: ca. 1887
Medium: Glazed stoneware
Dimensions: Overall: 23 5/8 × 29 7/8 × 12 1/4 in. (60 × 75.9 × 31.1 cm)
Credit Line: Purchase, Friends of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts and Roy R. and Marie Neuberger Foundation Inc. Gifts, 2003
Accession Number: 2003.280
In 1870, the French artist Emmanuel Fremiet created plaster sculptures of four imaginary animals. Stone versions of these animals were carved to embellish the medieval castle of Pierrefonds, which was being restored by Napoleon III. The restoration of Pierrefonds was done in a highly romanticized medieval style; Fremiet's extraordinary sculptures bring to mind gargoyles on Gothic cathedrals.
In the 1880s, Fremiet asked the ceramist émile Muller to cast stoneware versions of his imaginary animals; this figure of a fantastic lizard is one of the few examples known to have survived. Fremiet's skill as a sculptor is also evident in the silvered-bronze animals that decorate the armoire by Charles-Guillaume Diehl (1811–ca. 1885).
The glaze of the lizard recalls the sang de boeuf (oxblood) red glazes that were first developed in China during the Song dynasty (960–1279) and became enormously popular during the Qing-dynasty reign of Qianlong (1736–95). In the West, the glaze became highly desirable in the second half of the nineteenth century. The traditional sang de boeuf glaze was a deep crimson streaked with turquoise blue. By the 1880s, French ceramicists, such as Théodore Deck and Ernest Chaplet, tried to reproduce the effect. A metallic glaze containing copper oxide was fired in a reducing atmosphere, one in which the kiln atmosphere is rich in carbon monoxide, thus yielding a crimson purple or a bluish red. However, by admitting air into the kiln, the process will produce variant shades of green, blue, and violet, called flambé.