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

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Majolica in the Movies: A Flea in Her Ear

The 1968 British/American movie A Flea in Her Ear isn't a very well known film.

It is based on an extremely well known 1908 French farce by the same name written by Georges Feydeau that is considered a classic comedy of manners. The play has been adapted to the screen many times in many languages with this particular production rising from an extremely successful 1966 run at the Old Vic in England starring Albert Finney. The stage production was directed by Jacques Cheron. When the time came to adapt the play to the screen the job was given to Cheron because of his success in revitalizing this 1907 French play with a contemporary cast. Alas Cheron's inexperience with film resulted in a film that was beautiful to look at and wonderfully cast but poorly paced, probably the most crucial element in pulling off a comedy of this type. As a result the film was a heavy handed failure at the time and quickly became relegated to the dustbin of unsuccessful film translations of brilliant works of art.

I have to admit that I never even heard of it when I decided to watch it on TV the other day. It has a great cast: Rex Harrison; Rachel Roberts; Louis Jordan; and Rosemary Harris. The movie is set in Belle Epoque Paris with all the glitter and beauty that period has to offer.

The plot is a bit too convoluted to explain in a couple of sentences but let it suffice to say that the usual confusions and mistaken identities common to these kinds of stories all take place surrounding a Barrister (Harrison) and his wife (Harris).

At one point in the film the characters all find themselves in a hotel of ill repute which is represented in film as this colorful Art Nouveau confection so wildly over the top that the movie is worth watching for the art direction alone. I simply could not believe the interior of this building that the set designers had created!  There is French majolica, French bronzes, stained glass, country French florals and gorgeous Art Nouveau woodwork everywhere!
I tried to find out something about the production of the movie but could find virtually nothing. My guess is that the interior sets were based on the real interior of some wild Art Nouveau building in Europe, possibly the building used for the exterior shots of the hotel. Wherever the design comes from is is outrageous, wacky and gorgeous all in one! It is an explosion of color, probably meant to convey to the 1968 audience the vulgarity of the place. All I could think was how gorgeously exciting those sets were compared to the boring classic tastefulness of the Barrister's home, where the remaining story takes place.

I can't really recommend the rest of the movie because I eventually lost track of what was going on but as I said earlier the art direction is to die for!

The movie is running on the Fox Movie channel this month if you want to take a look for yourself.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Some interesting new reproductions

Several reproductions of high end majolica pieces have surfaced recently. Two of these pieces are copies of George Jones and one is a copy of a Wedgwood piece. Here are the reproductions followed by the original.

The first repro is a copy of a George Jones dresser tray:

The next is a copy of a Jones Strawberry server:

The third one is a copy of a Wedgwood game dish.

None of these are very good and certainly none would fool a seasoned collector.

Another reproduction that recently became available was found in the most unlikely place: Pottery Barn!

This reproduction of the Etruscan B-5 round leaf tray is well made but it wouldn't fool anyone any more than the others would. Still, it's good to know what's available on the market.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Majolica in the Movies: Kinky Boots

If you at all watched the Tony Awards a couple weeks ago you couldn't help but see that the awards show was totally dominated this year by a musical called Kinky Boots. With a book by Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy) and music by the irrepressible Cyndi Lauper (Girls Just Want to Have Fun), Kinky Boots is currently the hottest ticket on Broadway.

The musical is based on a 2006 movie also called Kinky Boots which itself is based on a documentary by the BBC. It is the true story of a British shoe manufacturer who saved his family shoe making factory by changing the focus of the business by catering to the fetish cross-dressing shoe market.
The movie stars Joel Edgarton as the desperate factory owner and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lola the transvestite who becomes the inspiration as well as the designer of the first line of kinky boots. A wilder true story is hard to imagine but it's really a charming movie. Much to our surprise though, majolica too finds its way into in this unorthodox story in an extremely unorthodox way!

In a scene that takes place in Lola's rented room she sits at her dresser in a robe with her wig on a wig rest. When her landlady comes into the room she removes the wig from the rest and pops it on her head. And what does Lola use as a wig rest? Why, a Sarreguemines majolica face jug of course!

I  must admit it made me chuckle when I saw it. It seemed so in character with the Lola persona to use a majolica pitcher as a wig rest that it was brilliant!

Of course the story all comes to a happy ending with everyone wiser for the experience by learning tolerance.

What a joy it was to find the pitcher in this sweet movie.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Book Review: European Majolica: With Values by D. Michael Murray

In the United States majolica from the Central European continent doesn't quite have the following of British or French majolica. Add to this the distinctively restrained looking glazes commonly used in Bavaria and you have a form that is a mystery to many collectors. Some potteries in this group marked their wares but many did not. It is therefore of utmost importance to have a reputable resource for identification. European Majolica is such a resource.

Well organized, well written text that breaks the region down by major potteries the book features 350+ clear if unglamorous photos for reference. Whole chapters are devoted to the work of Wilhelm Schiller & Son; Julius Dressler; B. Block and Co.; and Zsolnay. Images of pottery marks are also included.

There is a special section in the back of the book for unattributed work which is mostly humidors and smoking related items. This is one of the weaker sections of the book as it treads lightly on the topic, probably because of the obvious crossover with French potters and companies like Sarreguemines which have changed nationality. There is also a section in the back of approximate values.

If I were to add any criticism of this reference it is in the short shrift given to the work of Lonitz. Murray identifies Lonitz as as a minor pottery and dismisses it rather quickly with just a couple of sentences. That is a great disservice to one of the finest potteries to make Victorian majolica which Lonitz is.

Apart from this, European Majolica is a good general reference for the collector
This book comes recommended if you are interested in a literate overview of these little discussed potteries.
European Majolica: With Values by D. Michael Murray: Schiffer Books; 174 pages: $29.95

Monday, July 1, 2013

Majolica in the Movies: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane

Lately there have been a rash of sightings by your author of majolica appearing in movies. We always get a kick out of discovering these hidden majolica gems and, from the response from readers, you enjoy reading about them. Well, I have another movie to add to our cannon of majolica infused films... well, maybe... : What Ever happened to Baby Jane.

The classic black comedy/gothic horror tale What Ever happened to Baby Jane has been a favorite since I first saw it at the Esquire Theatre in Philadelphia when I was eight years old. My parents would give me money for the movies every Saturday and my cousin and I would just sit in the theatre all day often watching the double bill over and over again. Every Wednesday the theatre would change the bill, sometimes keeping a popular movie while rotating the second feature. When Saturday rolled around we'd head back to the theatre and watch the old movie with the second film. In this way we got to see some very peculiar double features. I can remember watching What Ever Happened to Baby Jane one week with the sci-fi horror movie The Day of the Triffids and the next week with The Miracle Worker. It was a colorful childhood!

To those unfamiliar with the plot to Baby Jane, Joan  Crawford and Bette Davis play sisters both of who had movie careers in the 1930's. Joan, the more successful of the two, is an invalid from an accident many years earlier, supposedly caused by her sister. Bette has spent her entire life caring for her. The movie is basically a two hour exercise in sadistic mayhem as Bette subjects Joan to one torture after the next as she goes insane and slowly loses touch with reality.
They live in a large, typically California house with faded glamour all around them. Among this faded glamour in a small Minton cachepot. It sits on Joan's bedroom dresser in a rather prominent spot. I recognized the shape immediately as a Minton form. The Dictionary of Minton identifies it as the Thorwaldsen jardiniere.

I only caught a quick glimpse of it so I wasn't sure if the piece in the movie was majolica or not. In a black and white movie like Baby Jane it's sometimes hard to figure these things out. I decided to do an image search on line to see if I could track down a picture of the piece.
It wasn't hard.
With my first search came the photos below.

You can see the jardiniere sitting plainly in the center of the dresser but since the piece was made in other bodies besides majolica there is no way of knowing if the example in the movie is porcelain, earthenware, majolica or even bone. The only thing we can be sure of is that it's Minton.

Still it's a great piece. Who would have guessed that it would show up in a place like that!