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

Friday, June 28, 2013

Majolica in the Movies: The Big Sleep

The last thing I expected last evening was to see a piece of majolica in a Humphrey Bogart movie but there it was, in the opening scene of The Big Sleep, as big as life and twice as natural!

Filmed in 1944-45 and released in 1946, The Big Sleep is a classic Philip Marlow detective tale with Bogart as Marlow, Lauren Bacall and Martha Vickers as shady dames and a host of enough suspicious character actors for several movies. The movie is best known for the interplay between Bogart and Bacall and less known for a plot line that can, at best be described as confused.

The movie opens in the mansion of a wealthy man who has lots of strange goings on around him. He has called Marlow to his home to do some investigative work on his family. As Bogart awaits his meeting with the great man, bad girl Martha Vickers comes bouncing down the stairs all sex appeal and youthful exuberance. Before going into the parlor to speak to the detective, she pauses at the table in the entryway to pick up the mail. Right there in the center of the table is a large majolica vase filled with roses.

I can't say the exact design is familiar to me but the style is unmistakable. With a large central mask and acanthus leaves everywhere I would be greatly surprised if the manufacturer was anyone but Wilhelm Schiller & Son.

No one did masks and acanthus leaves as prolifically as WS&S. Combined with the restrained color palette common to the Bohemian potters the piece practically identifies itself as the Austrian majolica manufacturer or one of his followers.

It was a totally unexpected surprise, but a very cool one. Now, I just need to keep an eye open at auction for the actual shape itself!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Majolica in the Movies: Life with Father

Life with Father was on Turner Classic Movies last night. It's a pleasant film with an all-star cast based on the long running Broadway play. I've seen it many times before. I remember watching with my own father on the "Late, Late Show" when I was growing up. I was a hopeless night owl as a teenager and he would come home from work and settle in to watch TV with me. It was really the only time we ever spent alone together while I was growing up.
He loved this movie.

What I never noticed before about Life with Father though was the prominent role that a majolica pug dog plays in the movie! How could I have watched this movie so many times and be so oblivious to it!

Towards the end of the movie the Mother character played by Irene Dunne gets into a verbal joust with Father William Powell over getting baptized. During the argument he is distracted by what he describes as "that repulsive object"which he sees out of the corner of his eye.

It is a majolica pug dog sitting on a table behind Dunne. When he insults it she rushes to its defense calling it "a great work of art", but when he asks the price and she tells him it was $15 he becomes infuriated.
Somewhere along the way words and meanings are twisted and Mother takes it to mean that Father will allow himself to be baptized if she will just return the pug dog, which she does. The movie ends with the whole family off to church to baptize Father.

This "repulsive object" is probably one of the best known majolica animal humidors available.

The glaze in the above example from Ophelia Fine Arts is different from the one in the film but the mold is identical. Actually, the coloring of the example in the film is more typical of this form.

Who would have thought that a piece of majolica would be responsible for the salvation of William Powell!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Lovely Majolica Tablescape

We've written before about the the lovely blog being written by Vignette Design of Northern California. One post we've seen that we particularly liked was on a majolica Tablescape created for the designer's birthday.

The designer mixed majolica with baskets, textiles and transfer ware to create a unique and memorable place setting.

For the complete post, go to the Vignette Design Website.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Art of Majolica: Janet Fish

I was scanning one of our reader's Facebook pages earlier today and was so excited to see a painting by my favorite contemporary representational painter on there featuring majolica.
The Facebook page belonged to dealer Black-eyed Susan and the painting is by Janet Fish.

I have loved Janet Fish's work since seeing a large show of it in the late 1970's. Back then she was considered one of a new wave of young, brave photo realists, trying to reclaim figural art for the representationalist painters. The abstractionists who had dominated the form for most of the Twentieth Century. In retrospect they weren't terribly successful. As fabulous as the work of Fish, Close and other photo realists can be, art since then has become more abstract and even more conceptual in nature.
That shouldn't stop us however from enjoying the glorious work of this fabulous artist.

Fish was always most famous for her handling of transparent forms like the one below. In the painting with majolica she does not disappoint.

A pale aqua depression era glass dessert stand sits alone on a brightly colored tablecloth. To the side is a Fielding insect and fern pitcher.  Like in all of Fish's work, you can practically feel the warmth of the sun on the objects.

It seems that Fish had a yellow or brown example of this pitcher and toned down the bright colors to better match the surrounding tonality of the pastel tablecloth because I have never seen that pitcher so pale before. Still it's nice to see a recognizable form handled in such a beautiful way.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Majolica in the Movies: Dark Shadows

Every day in high school I'd rush home to watch the latest adventures of vampire Barnabas Collins and witch Angelique Bouchard in the gothic TV soap opera Dark Shadows. I take my Dark Shadows very seriously. Needless to say I was horrified when I found out that Tim Burton was planing a big screen parody starring Johnny Depp. I refused to see it on the big screen and actually had little interest in seeing it at all.

This past weekend Burton's Dark Shadows made its appearance on cable TV. Having been sidelined with a bad knee and little else to watch I decided to see how bad it could possibly be. Well, I'm here to report it actually wasn't as appalling as I anticipated, in fact it was a sort of loving send up of the campy '60's soap.

The last thing I expected to find in Collinwood Manor was majolica but right there in one of the first scenes in the mansion there is a large bowl on a mantle in one of the rooms. It wasn't a particularly interesting piece--the sort of thing that Julius Dresser made that was probably popular in Germany and Austria from the 1890's through the First World War but there it is, in this mansion that supposedly hadn't been updated in years and had been in steady decline since the 1700's.

The bowl only made that one brief appearance at the beginning of the movie but it reappeared again at the conclusion of the movie, just it time to be smashed to pieces in a fight between Barnabas and Angelique along with the rest of Collinwood. The bowl can be seen in the background above Johnny Depp in the picture below.

In all it wasn't a bad movie though I'm glad I didn't shell out any money to see it at the theater. It's a shame to destroy a nice old piece of majolica for it though.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Some Current Majolica Reproductions

Here are a few reproductions I found online.

This corn pitcher is a relatively common example of the type of reproduction coming out of southeast Asia today. The opaque drippy glaze, the thin sides that echoes the exterior design on the interior and the thick rim are all commonly seen on repros of this type. On the underside is a faux English registration mark as well as a thick clumsy foot, two features which are also commonly seen on these pieces.

Here is another example:

Another common English design that has also exploded on the reproduction scene is the venerable parrot pitcher.

The reproductions below bear only a superficial resemblance to the original above.

Badly modeled and glazed in garish colors that were never seen on the originals, these are relatively easy to detect. A look at the inside of the pitcher is a dead giveaway.

I have never seen a Victorian majolica pitcher that is glazed only partway down the interior. That wouldn't make much sense since these were made to be used.

The next repro is a vase that is a copy of a copy of a Minton piece, only taller and more fanciful.

As in the case of the corn pitcher, the drippy glaze and the thin sides that show the exterior design on the interior are give-aways that this is a reproduction. The thin blue glaze that puddles at the bottom is also very common. Victorian majolica interior glazes do not, as a rule, drip and puddle in this manner.

The next piece is also a reproduction of a reproduction of a Minton piece.
The Minton monkey and rooster teapot shown below has been heavily reproduced in the past several years, following an exceptional auction result a few years back.

The earlier reproduction, shown directly below, was a decent copy of the original.

The new reproduction wouldn't fool anyone even remotely familiar with the original.

Another new reproduction on the scene is this copy of a copy of an English water lily pitcher, which itself was also contemporarily reproduced by the New Arsenal pottery in the nineteenth century . (Confusing isn't it?)

The older reproduction, shown directly below, was closer to the original than the new one shown above.

The biggest giveaways in these reproductions is the thick rim, the poor modeling and the grey-green glaze, which is a color never used in Victorian majolica. Of course, why you would want to buy either reproduction shown above when the English original or the New Arsenal copy can easily be bought for around the same price as the reproductions is a mystery to us.

A reproduction we've discussed before is unfortunately still going strong.

These copies of the blackberry plate have completely saturated the majolica market. Their success has been so complete that many new dealers are not even aware that they are reproductions. That's a pretty sad state of affairs. The original, shown below, was never made with the kind of care and precision given to the copies. 

One reproduction that doesn't seem to fool anyone is this rabbit teapot.

Aside from its appalling workmanship, this teapot isn't even a reproduction of an existing Victorian piece. It is a copy of a contemporary majolica piece made in the early 1990's.

There are several other majolica teapot reproductions also making the rounds, many of them also copies of copies.Below are the new reprisal followed by the older repros.

 Then there are the fanciful designs that have no Victorian precedent.

As I say at the end of all of my posts about reproductions, the key to not being fooled is to read as much as you can about majolica and to buy from a reputable dealer. Both of these will guarantee that you'll have a collection you can be proud of.