A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Questions, We Get Questions.

I hear from a great many of my blog readers with questions about individual pieces of majolica they may own. I’m happy to help when I can but most are disappointed with my responses. There’s a great deal of reproduction majolica on the market and it’s very easy for a novice collector to be fooled. Here are a couple of recent examples I’ve received.

Q: I found your name on a Pinterest and wondered if you could help me identify a pitcher. It’s a white rabbit pitcher, ears are the handle. You show a pic of one just like it. I believe it is a St. Clement pitcher, has 3 numbers and an odd mark on the bottom. It doesn’t match. anything in your description.

A: In my opinion your pitcher is a modern reproduction. The St. Clement factory was founded in 1758 and remains active to this day. The production of faience was discontinued in 1930.  For more on the factory here is the listing from The Majolica International Society:  http://majolicasociety.com/st-clement

Q:  I've come across your blog yesterday while doing a bit of research on the piece in the picture, which my husband brought home a few days ago. I assume that it's not old at all and a modern majolica - style reproduction?! I do like how it looks in our home and only £20 were paid so I wasn't too disappointed to see a very similar one (repro/ fake- warning) on your blog. Could you nevertheless provide me with some details/ information on the piece, please?

A:  You were correct in your assumption that the piece is new, probably manufactured in the past ten years. Many similar pieces enter the wholesale market from Asia where they are created for decorative use. By law they should have a paper label on them designating country of origin but these labels are often removed by dealers who try to sell them as antique. I don’t know the inspiration source but it appears to be an amalgamation of two or three different neo-renaissance French majolica pieces I have seen. It could be a complete fantasy or an interpretation of an existing piece that I am not familiar with.

I don’t give values on my blog but £20 seems a fair enough price for what it is. It really looks very nice in your photo with the white flowers in it.

Sometimes I’ll get an interesting email from a researcher seeking information. This reader was interested in the destruction of the Minton majolica St. George fountain at Bethnal Green. I assisted them as best I could and in return they were kind enough to share some information they had found that I thought I’d pass on to my readers:

“There’s ... a splendidly interesting set of documents about the fountain’s removal in the Board of Works records in the National Archive at Kew in London.  The Board was completely baffled that the local people of Bethnal Green might prefer the fountain to the nice flowerbed they were proposing to replace it with.  They met (and were harangued by) a delegation of locals, including the local MP.  There’s even a transcript of the delegation’s arguments among the records.   In the end the Board persuaded the V&A to give the local borough surveyor permission to salvage what he could of the fountain to use elsewhere in the borough.  I’ve tried to trace the surviving pieces further, but haven’t succeeded.  The borough surveyor’s descendants think he used some of it in the decoration of York Hall in Bethnal Green, but I’ve not found anything to confirm it.”

It's lovely readers like this that make writing this blog a pleasure.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Another Sad Etruscan Majolica Reproduction

I have to admit that whenever I need to report another reproduction in this blog my faith in mankind is diminished. This reproduction has been around for a while but I’ve never had the chance to examine it very closely. Now that I have I can see it’s more sorry than I ever expected.

The piece under discussion is another phony frog mug made to deceive. There are quite a few floating around in various designs but this is the only one marked with an Etruscan Majolica stamp. It is based on a genuinely old majolica mug without a frog or mark. This isn’t a piece that would fool a knowledgeable collector but it really isn’t aimed at that audience. Like most reproductions its audience is the casual buyer. The design, the glazes are so wrong for Etruscan Majolica it would fool no one but the most naive buyer but with pottery collectors becoming ever fewer since pottery's fall from designer grace, that audience is less educated than ever. 

I hope this post enlightens at least some to the awfulness of this piece.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Majolica Mania Postponed

Minton St. George majolica fountain

The Majolica Mania exhibition at the Walters Art Museum and the Bard Graduate Center has become another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic infecting the US. Originally scheduled to open the summer of 2020 at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore it has been postponed until 2021.

The show, which will be a major examination of majolica's influence on the decorative arts, will now open in the Bard Graduate Center in New York on January 16 2021 and run until May 16, 2021. It will then move to the Walters Art Museum in the summer of 2021.

The show advertises a group of 350 pieces from museums and collections in the US and England as well as a history of the rise and fall of the medium as decorative ware. The exhibition will be accompanied by a two volume catalog, Majolica Mania: Transatlantic Pottery in England and the United States published by the Yale University Press.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Rodin's Vase of the Gods

If you find yourself visiting my hometown of Philadelphia you may want to check out the 19th century European decorative arts section of the fine Philadelphia Museum of Art for one of their recent auction acquisitions–––a glazed terra cotta example of Auguste Rodin’s Vase of the Gods, also called the Vase of the Titans.

"Vase of the Gods" in Philadelphia    photo: Ulysses Grant Dietz
The plinth and bowl was designed by the workshop of Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse with figures modeled by Rodin. Carrier-Belleuse retailed the set in a limited edition under the Carrier-Bellevue name without any attribution for Rodin whose participation was not officially acknowledged until 1957.

The workshop of Carrier-Belluse did sculpting for a number of different decorative groups with its work for Mintons in the 1850s the most well known. Albert-Ernest’s relationship with Rodin was fundamentally that of a mentor and employer to a talented student. After working as his assistant between 1866-1870, Rodin freelanced for his mentor as an independent contractor for the next seven years with the Vase of the Titans produced in the final year of their collaboration.

Auguste Rodin
Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse as modeled by Rodin
Manufactured primarily at the Severes porcelain factory in glazed terra-cotta, the piece was also made by license at other potteries in different bodies including majolica glazed earthenware from the factory at Choisy-le-Roi managed by Hippolyte Boulanger.

Vase of the Gods in majolica at the Petit Palais
The piece consists of a plinth of four seated male figures topped by a bowl jardinière. The plinth figures recall the work of Michelangelo’s unfinished “Slave” series where the figures appear to struggle to release themselves from the stone surround.  In a description from the Web site of the Musee-Rodin in Paris:

"The bodies here have a tormented force entirely keeping with the depiction of the mythological Titans, the primitive giants vanquished by the Gods of Olympus."

Here the four titan telemons support a plain ionic central column on which the oak leaf decorated bowl sits. The bowl in contrast is in a classic Greek Dinos shape with a modeled bough of oak branches encircling the jardinière directly under the lip. The entire piece was manufactured in a variety of different colors and only a few complete examples have survived intact. The example at the Petit Palais in France is the only example in earthenware majolica that I know of. Complete examples can now be seen in museums in Paris, Detroit, Houston and Philadelphia.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Fan Ice Cream Dish... from Staffordshire

Fan ice cream clatter with six plates.
Attribution for a design has long been a tricky process. We’ve written on this topic before. One of the signature pieces that the American Eureka Pottery of Trenton, NJ has been associated with over the years is the double fan ice cream set with its colorful assortment of individual fan plates. These have never been found marked as Eureka yet conventional wisdom stated that they were made by Eureka. This may harken back to the first available book on American Majolica by Charles Rebert. This book was riddled with inaccuracies including attributing these fan pieces to Eureka, yet because it had no predecessor its word was taken as gospel. Recently, there has been a scholarly challenge to this attribution by Dr. Laura Microulis of Bard University who has theorized that these fan wears were not made by Eureka but by Willets Manufacturing Company, a neighboring Trenton pottery. This theory is based largely on an advertisement for fan wares made Willets Excelsior Pottery that appeared in 1882 for the company. We outlined this in a previous post. The matter seemed to be settled by this new scholarship however, it was still at odds with another theory on the attribution of these fan dishes—that they were English in origin.

Willeets ad for Fan wares
It is well known that a series of similar round plates and tea sets were made by the British pottery of Shorter and Bolton, yet to the best of my knowledge this company has never been associated with these fan dishes. Recently I photographed one of these fan ice cream dishes with an English Diamond Registration mark—for March 1881—on the reverse. The design is registered to Shorter and Bolton, a year before the Willets advertisement.

English Registration mark for March 17, 1881
I should say that the presence of this new design attribution throws a bit of a monkey wrench into our assumptions about this design as American but does not necessarily destroy everything we know about the pieces. After all, it was common practice for companies to copy designs from each other. In fact we have illustrated such copies in this blog, and it was especially common for American companies to copy pieces from elsewhere. The Etruscan Works of Phoenixville, PA was notorious for reproducing numerous Wedgwood designs among its earliest work. Still, it does force us to reevaluate the origin of this clever and popular fan design.

Wedgwood cricket jug on the left and the American copy on the right 

Given this information we have no choice but to conclude that this fan design was an original Shorter and Bolton design that was copied by American potters. This actually makes much more sense than attributing the fan design to any American pottery. The Shorter and Bolton fan series is large and consistent. All the pieces have small flowering Prunus branches and most have a pebbled sharkskin ground. The bird found on the double fan platter is repeated again and again on hollowware pieces of different types. It makes for a cohesive overall look for the pattern. [For a quick purview of Shorter and Bolton’s known fan wares look here.] While the different components were copied and reworked by smaller potteries they never work better than they do here. We do not know how long these designs remained in production at Shorter and Bolton. Unless further study proves otherwise the design origin must now be considered English.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wedgwood Majolica "Monkey" Wares

One of the more whimsical group of wares created by the Wedgwood factory are their monkey themed wares. Difficult to find in any form, they are among the most sought after pieces in the company's catalog.

In majolica, the centerpiece of the group would have to be the stunning, large, figural monkey compote. To the best of our knowledge all pieces were made in four majolica ground colorways: Argenta, cobalt, turquoise and ivory as well as in decorated earthenware.

An Argenta example of the monkey centerpiece.
This monkey stand was also made as a gas lamp with a coconut oil reservoir substituting for the bowl, shown below in decorated earthenware.

The compote bowl came with a simpler tree stump base as well.

Matching plates and chargers complete the service.

Wedgwood 8¾" majolica plate, c.1880.
Argenta Wedgwood  monkey plate
Wedgwood ivory ground monkey plate
Wedgwood monkey plate pictured with a continental smoker and striker
Wedgwood Argenta majolica plate c.1879. 11 3/8"
This was made as a low platter with twig feet.

These are all wonderful additions to any collection ... but if you aspire to add them to yours make sure your purse strings aren't too tight– they command a premium.