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

Monday, August 30, 2010

Majolica Spotlight: Lear's Sunflower & Classical Urn and Narcissus

Few majolica patterns embody the precepts of the Aesthetic Movement more than Lear's Sunflower and Classical Urn pattern. Registered in August of 1887, the pattern is a mad explosion of rigidly organized abstraction typical of Japanese design mixed with images from the Aesthetic Movement. As the symbol of the movement itself, the sunflower was the primary focus of the pattern. The classical urn was a design device used quite a bit during this period, appearing in hundreds of different motifs including the two Wedgwood patterns below.

In addition there are conventionalized flowers, and other contemporary motifs worked into the pattern. The entire pattern is given a pastel treatment of brilliant turquoise, lavenders, yellows and pink against an ivory ground.

Sunflower and Classical Urn was a successful and extensively utilized pattern for the company, made in everything from huge tea trays to cuspidors to cane stands. I have seen few marked examples.

It spawned an almost identical twin, Narcissus, where the sunflower and urn were replaced by intertwined red Narcissus flowers. 

Both patterns are colorful, readily found and reasonably priced. They're a wonderful way of bringing a bit of the 19th Century Aesthetic Movement to your 21st Century home.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Majolica Egg Baskets

There's something very homey about egg baskets. For me they codger up memories of childhood and sitting at the breakfast table with my brother and sisters, the soft boiled eggs on their little egg cups waiting for us to break into them with the bowl of the spoon. This is the sort of image I think manufacturers had in mind when they created egg baskets.

Egg baskets are a very specific type of container for eggs. To my mind they are not really serving pieces for eggs at a table, though there are many majolica versions of this kind of server.

Egg baskets are more intimate than this. They are for private moments in the morning with family or close friends, each person with their little egg cup. One thing is for certain, egg baskets were used A LOT! Trying to find a baskets with all its egg cups is very hard to do.

But it can be done! Egg cups are fragile little things that are often damaged. Personally, I would rather have a complete set with damaged egg cups than one with missing egg cups. While it is possible to find individual cups to fill out a set, the chance that they will match is unlikely. It's so common to find egg baskets with mismatched cups from someone else's attempt at filling out a set, but you can find complete sets as well.

They're hard to find. They're hard to find complete. They're hard to find in good condition, but they are a visual treat that can add a bit of childhood memories to your majolica collection.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Majolica Collections

I don't know about you but I love looking at majolica collections. Aside from the benefit of seeing things you've never seen before, you learn an awful lot about the collectors themselves. Collections are always so eclectic, so personal!

One of the most famous of all majolica collections was the collection of the late Dr. Karmason, who was part of the team that produced the definitive book on the subject, Majolica a complete history and illustrated survey.
The above photo of her collection appeared in the book. I never had the good fortune of seeing it in person but I'm told it was an awesome sight to behold and why wouldn't it be? Dr. Karmason began her collection before most people knew what majolica was and had the resources in later years to amass some of the very finest majolica ever created. When it was disassembled and sent to auction in the Fall of 2005, this wonderful collection was lost forever, but as you can see just by looking at the photos--all taken at different times--collections are a growing, constantly changing thing.

As wonderful as these sorts of focused, educated collections are, my favorites are those that are an eclectic jumble of pieces like the inherited group below.

These types of collections are unified only by the aesthetic of the person who assembled them. They are a mix of expensive pieces and inexpensive, older and newer, all given the same prominence on the display shelf.
They're the kind of collections I could look at for hours!

I've even included a photo of my own collection below, c.1990. I used to collect mostly plates to fill a huge cupboard I had in my dining room. I have virtually none of these plates now. Boy do I wish I still did!

If you're interested in sharing a photo of your collection send it to me and I'll post it here!