History of the museum
Rising up between a paved courtyard and a terraced garden beside the Musée des Beaux-Arts, the Hôtel d’Hocqueville contains the largest public collection of Rouen earthenware in France. The building, constructed in the 17th century and largely altered during the following century, now sports a Neoclassical-style interior design, providing an outstanding and intimate setting for visitors to explore the history of European ceramics. The museum contains five thousand pieces, providing a comprehensive overview of Rouen earthenware from the 16th to the late 18th century, and exhibits some of the finest examples. They include Renaissance paving by Masséot Abaquesne, large ceremonial dishes with radiating decoration from the early 18th century, pieces with niello decoration in ochre, and monumental earthenware paintings and sculptures, like the remarkable Celestial and Terrestrial Globes by Pierre II Chapelle (1725) and a series of busts of the Seasons (1730). While Rouen earthenware represents over two-thirds of its treasure, the museum also features some remarkable collections from other earthenware centres like Delft, Nevers and Lille, thus situating its local history in the more general context of European ceramics from 15th century Italian majolica ware to 1930s creations from the Sèvres factory.
The circuit begins on the ground floor with a display of the earliest European earthenware: majolica, produced in Italy between the 15th and 18th centuries. It continues with pieces from the Rouen workshops of the ceramist Masséot Abaquesne (c. 1500 – before 1564), glazed terracotta ware from Normandy and pieces by Palissy's followers from the 17th and 18th centuries. On the first and second floors, the rooms devoted to the 18th century – the core of the collection – feature earthenware masterpieces from Rouen: blue monochromes, red and blue radiating decorations, niello decoration in ochre, polychrome earthenware sculptures and paintings, chinoiserie and embellishments in horn. Works by the earthenware centres of the Netherlands, Nevers, Lille and Moustiers are grouped together in a small study. Two rooms are dedicated to porcelain and china. Lastly, the circuit continues beyond the 18th century with a presentation of 19th and 20th century pieces from the Sèvres factory.
In April 2012, after three years' restoration work, the Musée de la Céramique unveiled its new display of the permanent collections. The Hôtel d’Hocqueville's former lustre is now restored, with magnificent Neoclassical decoration and a warm, inviting atmosphere that cocoons visitors in an intimate setting – ideal for exploring three floors of exhibits and a history of European ceramics from the 15th century to the 1930s. The rooms, now painted in light colours, boast new display cases designed by museographer Didier Blin. Furniture and paintings from the 18th century are dotted throughout the rooms, giving them fresh vibrancy. The paintings have been harmoniously re-hung, and numerous works from the reserves have been added to their number, together with generous loans from the Sèvres-Cité de la Céramique and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The museum's most celebrated masterpieces, such as the paving by Masséot Abaquesne, the large ceremonial dishes with radiating decoration, the polychrome busts of Apollo, Ceres and Bacchus and the earthenware violin from Delft, have been staged to greater effect. On the second floor, the Louis XVI salon with its monumental Celestial and Terrestrial Globes contains paintings and earthenware sculptures from Rouen. Alternating with the display cases, the rooms highlight the useful purpose of these objects in reconstructed interiors. For example, a table laid out with Rouen earthenware for serving desserts at the end of the 18th century shows the relationships between the various table pieces. Further on, a small room is dedicated to the theme of toiletry, where a table hung with lawn and muslin displays items in Rouen earthenware, silver, glass and natural or lacquered wood: all toiletries used in the second half of the 18th century.