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

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Celebrity Majolica: Garbo's Majolica

Greta Garbo is a legend of the silver screen who is probably just as famous for her reclusive behavior as for her film work. Although she had property all over the world she lived most her life in a grand apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in seclusion from the fame that brought her great wealth. During my youth I recall a Garbo sighting in New York as being something of an event. Photographers tripped over each other to get a photo of the legendary beauty who had mysteriously retired from movies at the age of 34. When she died in 1990 at the age of 85 her enormous estate went to her only relation, her niece.

In storage for the past 22 years, her niece's family has finally decided to disperse her property. This property is headed for auction this coming weekend at Juliens Auction in Beverly Hills. Simply out of curiosity I was leafing through a catalog of items from the upcoming auction earlier today and what should I find? Included in the auction is a single piece of majolica owned by the star: a turquoise jardiniere made by the the British company Bretby dating to 1890.

This jardiniere sat on the star's sideboard as is shown below.

Bretby Art Pottery is not generally remembered as one of the great names in majolica. For one thing they didn't start production of the ware until 1884, which was at the tail end of the majolica craze in Britain. Their wares tend to be simple utilitarian items like vases and jardinieres, but they did produce some more ornate things. My sister has two of their monkey jardinieres in her home.

Today Bretby is best known for their progressive designs from designer Christopher Dresser. Bretby bought many of the molds from Dresser's Linthorpe Art Pottery when the pottery closed in 1889 and continued their production for many years.

Bretby majolica tends to bring quite reasonable prices at auction so if you're a fan of the great star, here's your opportunity to own a piece of majolica owned by one of the goddesses of the silver screen.

For more on the auction, go to Juliens Auction Web site.

Update: The Bretby Garbo majolica brought an astronomical final price of $4,687.50 at auction. That's a bid of $3,750 plus commission.

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