The Experimental Department

8 May 2024


Until May 19, visitors can enjoy the exhibition ‘Picasso. Magic Ceramist’ in the Royal Delft Museum. Picasso can be seen as one of the first Western artists who tried to translate his free painting into forms in ceramics. And Picasso’s work visibly influenced other ceramic artists after the Second World War. This is also the case at De Porceleyne Fles. This blog focuses on the art ceramics of the so-called Experimental Department.

The beginning

In post-war Netherlands, the idea arises that ceramics are not only of commercial importance, but that the material can also be used for free artistry. As a result, Porceleyne Fles (today known as Royal Delft) becomes the first ceramics manufacturer in the Netherlands to invest in ceramic artists, despite the negative financial impact that the Second World War had on the company.

Theo, Jet and Lies

An appeal is made to Theo Dobbelman (1906-1984), who at that time teaches at the Institute for Applied Arts Education in Amsterdam. Today this is the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, where ceramics still exists as a field of study. The unique department, as the Experimental Department was first called, was founded in 1956 under the leadership of Dobbelman. At the start he had two ceramists as his employees: Jet Sielcken (1929-2015) and Lies Cosijn (1931-2016). Sielcken is mainly responsible for the sculptural design of objects, while Cosijn is mainly concerned with decorations. The assignment they receive from Dobbelman is clear: they are not allowed to make objects that resemble the traditional Delft blue products of the Porceleyne Fles and they are not allowed to use brushes. Furthermore, they are free in their design.



Because Dobbelman forbids painting ceramics, the artists scratch the ceramic objects in a thin layer of dark clay that is poured over the object. This is also called sgraffito technique. Cosijn’s incised drawings are often about current topics in the world. After a year, the first results were presented at Museum Boymans (now Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen) in Rotterdam. In the exhibition at the time, entitled ‘Visual pottery’, the emphasis was on personal artistic expression, or artistry. After that, the department will grow and the objects will travel all over the world.

In the museum

It is something different than Delft blue, but the museum also houses a number of objects from the Experimental Department. Here you can get acquainted with the artist’s ceramics, which here and there also seem to be inspired by the works of Picasso. It is a unique collection in the history of Royal Delft that today is not inferior to our traditional Delft blue and tells the story of free artistry at our company. Get inspired!