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

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Majolica in the Media: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

Ever on the lookout for our favorite esoteric Victorian earthenware, we were pleasantly surprised to see some on one of our favorite TV guilty pleasures: "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." First of all we have to admit we've followed the Beverly Hills gang as long as they've been on television. We believe it was the first of the Housewives franchises and to our mind still the best.

If you've ever watched any of these reality programs part of the enjoyment is vicariously following the lives of these glamor queens and being invited into their homes. We are constantly amazed how one after the other their homes all look like they were decorated by the same design firm. Always against spectacular backdrops, the homes are filled with over-the-top oversized, whitewashed, faux antiques. Everything that is not white or ivory is in muted pastel earth tones. It's as if someone sucked all the color out of their world to keep them from openly expressing any personality. The only color ever shown is in the greenery and the gigantic floral arrangements they just happen to have delivered every day: arrangements that probably cost the equivalent of most people's weekly salaries. 

Into this colorless world where a pair of Dolce Gabanna shoes have more importance to these ladies than their children, Bravo TV periodically stages little road trips to keep the ladies interesting so they can bitch about each other in exotic locations. This season the ladies visited Columbus, Ohio; Florence, Italy; and the Hamptons of New York. The Columbus trip was a bit of a drag, in spite of having a miniature horse in a pink tutu, but the trip to Italy was nice. Of course the Housewives can't be bothered with the artistic masterpieces of Florence. They spent most of their time lying by the pool and shopping for muumuus in a caftan store. On the Hamptons sojourn Bravo set up three of the ladies in a quiet rented oceanside bungalow while the others decided to stay in hotels. It was in this tiny—by Hamptons standards—seaside mansion that the majolica was spotted.

Unlike the ladies' usual haunts this home is decorated in what could only be called Hamptons shabby chic. Filled with country antiques and antique reproductions it is decorated in a mixture of English country and New England summer cottage. Both solid green and full color majolica are sprinkled liberally throughout the house as is furniture that is not whitewashed, making for an unusually colorful backdrop for the housewives Hamptons drama. We think we actually even saw a wall painted a color darker than ivory, making this truly an exotic local for the ladies.

We've included some screen captures from an episode so you can judge for yourself. These are from episode seven of season six.

Erika Girardi makes a glamorous entrance with an English majolica backdrop

Erika Girardi discusses her alter ego Erika Jayne with a majolica witness

Lisa Rinna and Eileen Davidson discuss hurt feelings surrounded by
English and American majolica

Note the Japanese corn on the cob set in the hutch and the 
English majolica begonia leaf on the wall

Eileen Davidson about to confront Lisa Vanderpump. 
Note the previously seen English majolica in a pine cabinet

And so majolica has finally hit the big time, making it to prime time TV.   How exciting can life get!


  1. That's neat how in tune you are to spotting the majolica. I find it ironic she is wearing that lock and chain on her neck.

    May I ask what these Beverly Hills housewives were doing in Columbus??? (I am from the area.)

    1. One of the housewives had planned to purchase a miniature horse for her estate from a horse breeder in Columbus. When she arrived at the farm she noticed that the horse she had reserved had a birth defect. She cancelled the purchase and bought one elsewhere.

  2. Hi, Jimbo, thanks for letting me know about the Columbus trip!

    I have purchased a bit of a mystery. They were very pretty and I think I got a good price for them. The pair are marked Wedgwood and with only a letter M. It was listed as majolica but I don't think they are, they look like the pink pearlware shell plates only in green, although I know, like you said, they used those same molds with the majolica glazes. I used a magnifying glass and still can't tell if it's pearlware, it looks like any glaze pooling on the back is that same green only very faint, it doesn't seem cobalt. But they are very beautiful and will be displayed when the shell plates are up. Here is a picture of one, apparently I cannot add to this album to take a photo of the back. Maybe later when the spouse is home to figure out what's wrong with the upload.


    I'd appreciate any light you can shed on this. Thanks!

    1. Your piece is certainly a Wedgwood form. We have shown this piece before on this blog in our post on Wedgwood Leafage: http://etruscanmajolica.blogspot.com/2012/11/wedgwood-leaf-ware.html
      We think your piece would fit in the catagory of decorated creamware. It is possible that it is pearl ware. Wedgwood did many different types of decorative treatments on their molds over the past 200 years. We have seen this type of decoration on a number of different Wedgwood shapes and have always considered it to be quite an effective treatment.

  3. Hi, Jimbo, thanks for getting back. I looked again, any pooling on the back doesn't look like cobalt, looks like some glaze overrun around the back edges and inside the back rim is some pooling but doesn't look like cobalt still. Also the only other mark is an M. Didn't the pearlware get marked with a P? I don't know if the M stands for the year 1884 or Majolica. There isn't any 3 digit code on this. They are very beautiful, even the fronds were painted with tiny dots.

    I should confess that before Christmas I got some kind of reproduction majolica. I knowingly overpaid I think for what it was, but I was charmed and thought the colors would look good for the holidays! It is a bird dish and has a 4 digit number on the back, no stilt marks. It actually isn't sloppily done or anything. Was hoping it was at least one of those Mottahedehs but I'd think they would have put their name on it. I don't know what the prices were some years ago for the real deals but they are still pretty high up there in my opinion. I won't do it again, though.

    1. Reproduction majolica has its place. We have a set of Sarreguemines fruit plates that we use to serve guests at dinner parties. We purchased them new from a department store in 1987. This particular pattern has been in continuous production for over 100 years. They are still being made. If one is damaged it is easily replaced at minimal cost—quite different from trying to replace a $1000 antique oyster plate from careless handling.

  4. Hi, Jimbo,

    What you say was true for me in that regard, a lot of my motivation in going ahead and getting it was the fact it wasn't something particularly old and irreplacable because I wanted it to brighten up the coffee table during the holiday season. Although I am protective of the things I have acquired, that is a more vulnerable spot compared to the safer places where I display.

    Finally figured out how to add photos but still having problems. I got out the bird dish and here it is in all its glory. Feel free to add it to you reproduction list, I think it looks like the squirrel plate repro picture on another entry. Also, was able to add the back of one of the fern plates.


    1. Your dish is one of the many reproductions available of the George Jones server. Mottahedeh also made a reproduction of the piece but theirs is somewhat closer in design to the original and marked on the underside.

  5. Hi, Jimbo,

    I had decided to email the Wedgwood Museum about the fern plates along with the pictures. This is the reply from them:

    "The dishes are a little bit earlier than the main Wedgwood production period of Majolica. You have a pair of leaf dishes, which, as the name would suggest are naturalistically moulded in the form of a leaf, or overlapping leaves. They were a popular piece of Wedgwood production, and your particular Fern dishes make an appearance in one of our Traveller's Notebooks from the early nineteenth century. It looks to me as if they are Queen's Ware which have then had the details of the fern leaf painted on top of the glaze. They probably date c.1810-20"

    I didn't think they were that early, still wonder about the M stamp which they didn't acknowledge, but you were right about the creamware vs. pearlware. They are beautiful dishes and are treasured.

    Mottahedeh seems like a good brand for reproductions, like you've related in the past. I think there are some worthwhile reproductions. I don't know if you have heard of Don Carpentier, I think he worked on earlier wares, but I am actually honored to be receiving something he had made. I've seen some videos of him doing engine-turned work. He did excellent work and did a lot for the study of ceramics and early American history with his Eastfield Village he put together. He had sadly passed away a couple of years ago. Actually, I feel a bit unworthy being such an amateur newbie at this.

    That Chinese repro bird dish was a bit of a stretch of wishful thinking! If it would get knocked about in its spot, at least it wouldn't be a piece of history tragically lost.