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

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Water Lilies everywhere!

One of the most commonly found themes in majolica is the water lily. Not to be confused with the water hyacinth, which didn't appear in the West until the 1884 International Cotton Exhibition in New Orleans, the water lily has been part of majolica iconography from the beginning.

Perhaps it's the beauty of the single flower floating on the water amongst elegantly formed flat leaves that caused the attraction. In any event the water lily was a well established form in the English conservatories that were often the home for large majolica pieces. Minton's famous St. George fountain, made for the London Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1862, was festooned with water lilies.

In fact, it's difficult to find a Minton conservatory piece that doesn't reference them in some way or another.

Water lilies were also common at the dining table with servers and center pieces of all kinds featuring the pink tipped white flower and flat leaves. In fact the flat leaves were perfect for serving dishes.

This interest in the water lily transferred to the New World when majolica took the U.S. by storm in the 1870's. Both the Chesapeake Pottery and the firm of Griffen, Smith and Hill created their own versions of the water lily plate by closely copying one of the English patterns.

The difference between the Etruscan version and the English one is that the American plate is much more colorful than the English ones.

In fact the English plates, which are much more common than the American, are often confused by newbies as unmarked Etruscan. The Chesapeake Pottery treatment is distinctive to the company's unique handling of majolica.

The sole American pond lily dessert stand, by the Phoenixville Pottery  is one of the rarest pieces made by the company, while the English stands came in any number of different sizes and forms.

Most Etruscan pieces are marked so the likelihood of finding an "unmarked Etruscan" example is pretty small. The reverse is always one of the standard Etruscan reverse treatments.

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