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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Majolica in the Movies: The Normal Heart

Last week the film adaptation of Larry Kramer's devastating play on the early years of the AIDS crisis in NYC won an Emmy award for best TV movie. Currently running on HBO, the TV movie is a sober reminder of the prejudice and political inactivity that greeted the virus in the first years of its appearance in the United States.

As you might expect, it's a sad movie. In the middle of the movie the protagonist, Ned, has a heated argument with his brother over his brother's willingness to spend millions on his home while refusing to help Ned's fledgling AIDS awareness organization. Suddenly out of the blue a familiar shape appears. It's a Minton majolica pedestal similar to the one shown below, but with a brown ground!

The piece totally knocked me out of the movie! Supposedly set in 1981, majolica was hardly the sort of thing you would have found in a prosperous man's home at that time.
Still, I must admit I got a kick out of it

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Majolica Classics: Wedgwood Majolica Napkin Platter

For us, one of the most interesting things about majolica is how the glazing treatment of a piece can wildly affect its character.

Such is the case with the Wedgwood napkin platter. One of the most recognizable of majolica pieces, the napkin platter has consistently been popular among collectors in the 30 years we have been buying majolica.
We have owned this piece in three different color combinations and have seen it in three other combinations as well. We believe it was originally designed as a full color piece with a yellow ground and turquoise and grey napkin. It was later adapted to the Argenta color ways. In between there are a number of other treatments as well, quite successful on their own: a cobalt ground with a white and turquoise napkin; a cobalt ground with a white or yellow napkin; and a turquoise or brown ground with a white napkin. 

Each of these color combinations has it's own unique character. For us the original with the yellow ground is the most joyous and rambunctious of the group. It is loud and garish, calling attention to itself regardless of anything that may be around it. Woe be to the other platters on a dinner table vying for attention around this one.

The one with the cobalt ground and white and turquoise napkin is probably the most elegant of the glazing treatments. The strong contrast of the cobalt ground against the subdued napkin colors makes for a strong but beautiful statement that would highlight whatever the owner decided to serve on it.

Those with the white or yellow napkin and cobalt or turquoise ground are the most subdued of the group, all simple, beautiful backdrops to the food without calling attention to themselves.

The largely duotone Argenta version is garish in its own way with its busy taupe and white checkerboard calling attention to itself while bringing out the abstract texture of the napkin in a way that none of the others do. The yellow and pink highlights bring a studied sophistication in toning down the design so typical of the Argenta ware.

Each of these, as different as they are, have their admirers. Any one would make a beautiful centerpiece to a plate collection.