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Jean-Baptiste Stahl (Johann Baptist Stahl)

Saareckstraße 13, Mettlach, Saarland.
Entwerfer & Modelleur / Designer & Modeller
Known dates: Born 20 June 1869, in Oberbetschdorf, Alsace. Died 31st January 1932 in Mettlach. Active 1895 -1920.
 Text by Dr. Branko Stahl, great-grandson on Jean-Baptiste Stahl
Jean-Baptist Stahl was the inventor and designer of the Phanolith. He was born in Oberbetschdorf, Alsace, in 1869, as the son of Louis Stahl (b.1843 and Anna Maria Braun (b1841).
He grew up in the family pottery business. His studies of ceramics, modelling and sculpture led him to Strasbourg and Höhr & Grenzhausen. His detailed, translucent and finely worked porcelain reliefs gained him a gold medal at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. Partly influenced by art nouveau, Jean-Baptist Stahl took topics from Greek mythology and rural life. Usually, the white translucent figures are finely set on a blue or green background that partly shines through. Striking is his absolute eye for the detailed modelling of his figures in a very delicate and lively way. In order to increase the three-dimensional illusion, he carefully modulated the transparency of the white porcelain. On the one hand, parts of the scene and figures with higher translucency, i.e. darker tint, were precisely placed to evoke the impression of shadow. On the other hand, he used this means in a way to let parts in the background systematically fade out further away than is meant to appear. The most prominent figures in a scene show the highest fraction of pure white. In this way Jean-Baptiste Stahl achieves mastery of the so-called pates-sur-pates style in that his rather flat reliefs of his mature period demonstrate the three-dimensional illusion most prominently. Jean-Baptiste Stahl explored the variation of the translucency of the white porcelain as painters do, who simulate changing lights, depth and plasticity by varying the brightness of the colours.
In preparation of his porcelain reliefs he made precise pencil drawings that are partially colorized. A fraction of these were rescued post war, from the debris of the Villeroy & Boch factory building, by his grandson Erich Stahl, who was one year old when Jean-Baptiste Stahl died. All of Jean-Baptiste Stahl’s work was solely from his lifetime employment at Villeroy & Boch in Mettlach, Saarland, Germany, where he headed the factory's school of drawing. Besides himself, his son Hans Stahl (b.22.11.1898 - d.13.1.1978) was employed as a modeller till retirement in 1963. As an apprentice, his grandson Erich Stahl (b.24.3.1931) learned the old tradition of copper engraving as a pre-stage for the transfer of a certain kind of decors. Out of this craftsmanship he developed his own techniques in a period of over 65 years in the course of his unique works of art. Examples of his work can be found at the Albrecht-Dürer-Museum in Nürnberg. With Branko Stahl (b.10.6.1963) the art tradition lives on in the Stahl family in the fourth generation.

Jean-Baptiste Stahl directed several employees of which Hans Stahl his son, plus Messrs. Vesely and Selzer may be mentioned. He closely worked together with the head of the painters section at  Villeroy & Boch, his friend Paul Winkel. They both retired in the same year and both died only a few months later. Within the college of the company, Jean-Baptiste Stahl worked as a teacher for design. Hans Stahl succeeded him as head of the modellers section. During that time, Hans’ son Erich had already accompanied him to the studio, where he made his first drawings and paintings. Hans Stahl was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit for his lifelong honorary commitment.

As a man of good humour, the following anecdote about Jean-Baptiste Stahl was narrated to Branko by the late Roger Schmitter, a relative of the Stahl family who still operated a pottery in Oberbetschdorf. As Jean-Baptiste Stahl led a comfortable life in Mettlach he neglected to some extent his relatives in Oberbetschdorf. One day he received a telegram that his grandma had died. Thus he bought a wreath, put his coat tails on and made the journey to Oberbetschdorf. When he arrived people watched behind the windows and started laughing. Of course grandma hadn’t died and they all had a good time together.

Besides the drawings out of the debris of the Villeroy & Boch factory, a small sketchbook from the year 1896 and pages of a larger one were handed to Erich by his father. In addition to the drawings by Jean-Baptiste Stahl, the smaller sketchbook also shows pencil drawings by a child, maybe Hans.

The genealogy by Marcel Schmitter, goes back to Anton Stahl. As a carpenter, he married A. Barbara Krummeich (b. 1737), the daughter of the potter Johannes Krummeich, in 1762. As a newcomer in the business of pottery he lacked success and turned to the tradíng of tableware. Nevertheless, his son Anton Jnr. (1772-1841) continued as a potter. According to a census in 1836, the son of Anton Stahl Jnr., Franz Joseph Stahl (1802-1872), is again mentioned as a potter in Oberbetschdorf. The next generation was Louis Stahl (b. 1843), the father of Jean-Baptiste. The Stahl family successfully operated their potteries over several decades [Summarized from Marcel Schmitter “Die Elsässischen Steinzeugtöpfer” in Töpferhandwerk, Rheinisches Jahrbuch für Volkskunde, 24. Band, Hrsg. H.L. Cox, Bonn 1982].

 

Designed for: for Villeroy & Boch - Mettlach 

Cameo based designs: #2194, #2219, #2243, #2244, #2245, #2278, #2363, #2364, #2380, #2442, #2530, #2607, #2627, #2628, #2631, #2634, #2635, #2652, #2686, #2688, #2714, #2754, #2835, #3177

Stahl's plaques, which were first shown at the World's Fair in Paris in 1900 and in the 1901 Villeroy & Boch - Mettlach supplement of their 1899 catalogue, 
all have a #70xx mould number. The term Phanolith was first used in the November 1905 price list.

Reference:
Stahl Compendium  Wikipedia  Walt Vodges  UniHeidelberg 1  UniHeidelberg 2  UniHeidelberg 3  UniHeidelberg 4


Jean-Baptiste Stahl (Johann Baptist Stahl) 13-6-16-1
Villeroy & Boch - Mettlach cameo plaque #2443,
dated 1902. "Trojan lady and her servants" 
The other one of the pair is #2442
Both are diameter 46cms. / 19ins.

Jean-Baptiste Stahl (Johann Baptist Stahl) 13-6-16-2
Enlargement of the centre of the
Villeroy & Boch - Mettlach cameo plaque #2443 above.

Johann Baptist Stahl 1
Shortform signature on
Villeroy & Boch - Mettlach cameo plaque.

Johann Baptist Stahl 2
Enlargment of shortform signature on
Villeroy & Boch - Mettlach cameo plaque.
 


Jean-Baptiste Stahl (Johann Baptist Stahl) 12-4-20-1
Villeroy & Boch - Mettlach cameo stein # 2754.

Jean-Baptiste Stahl (Johann Baptist Stahl) 12-2-6-1
Close up of the front panel of
Villeroy & Boch - Mettlach cameo stein # 2754.
Stahl's shortform signature can be seen bottom right.
N.B. the brushing on background paint in the shallow areas by Paul Winkel mimics the translucency of the real phanolith effect. 


Jean-Baptiste Stahl (Johann Baptist Stahl) 12-2-21-1
Highly detailed and ingenious translucent rendering of two female forms, totalling 80mm high, from a "blue" phanolith on a Phoenician style urn, made by Villeroy & Boch - Mettlach #7003 . Stahl's fullform signature is bottom right.


Johann Baptist Stahl 04
Full form signature on
Villeroy & Boch - Mettlach cameo plaque #2442.


Johann Baptist Stahl 3
Shortform signature on cameo stein,
Villeroy & Boch - Mettlach #2652, dated 1900.


Jean-Baptiste Stahl (Johann Baptist Stahl)12-2-9-1
" Green" Phanolith, detail from a large cup.

Jean-Baptiste Stahl (Johann Baptist Stahl) 12-2-9-2
Phanolith plaque #7074 with delicate Venus and Cupid, signed by J. B. Stahl. Translucent porcelain, 7¾ inches, Old Tower and Mettlach mark, dated 1907.

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