Sunday, June 01, 2008

Vulgar Victorians and Blushing Edwardians

This picture shows a handpainted charger - bought as a blank (a plain, undecorated plate) and then painted by an amateur artist. It illustrates the Victorian hobby for home Arts & Crafts where Joe Bloggs would have a go at decorating, designing, making, crafting all sorts of things at home in their spare time. This hobby was not limited to porcelain painting, but also woodworking, mosaics, woolwork, cardmaking and decoupage etc.; it was the forerunner of today's MASSIVE home crafts industry and was only possible as people found they had more wealth and time on their hands than they had ever previously enjoyed. Not everyone who had a go at painting ceramics was a talented artist and I wouldn't go as far to say that "E Jacobs" who did this charger was a Harry Pierce in the making, but it's not bad. The colour choice is however rather gloomy and the composition isn't great. The Victorians seemed to have a love of "heavy" and cluttered design and it was only in the hands of rather more skilled craftsmen and women that it was successful.

The small globe vases either side, which sit on very cute bun feet are yet again, another example of how it pays to go by instinct when buying on Ebay. The seller had described them as being "stained" at the tops below the blue and gilt necks. This obviously put off a large number of potential bidders, but my instinct told me that the "discolouration" was actually an intended part of the design and what is known in pottery as a 'Blush' technique. Blush pottery became extremely popular around the turn of the last century and some of the best examples were produced by the Worcester factories. There were several variations of colour available, mainly ivory or pink, but Bisto used the idea of a blush of colour (imagine the look of pink blusher makeup on someones face) and experimented with a sponge-like gilding technique. I have to admit, i'm not a fan of the gilded interpretation, as it tends to make the overall design look messy and accidental, but the ivory blush is quite elegant and the pansies on my vases are rather charming.


Callum said...

I know I've said this to you already but I'm still not convinced. I'm absolutely sure that there were people who made a hobby of porcelain painting in the late 19th century but the way that trend is talked about today seems to me to tend towards overemphasising how widespread it was. I just don't see evidence for porcelain painting being anywhere near as widespread in late Victorian England as say even scrapbooking. I've never seen adverts for paints or materials in Victorian magazines, I've never seen a single contemporary book on the subject, I've never seen an aticle in a contemporary magazine telling you how to do it. There is, obviously, the physical evidence of the objects themselves and, like I say, I'm sure it was done, but I worry that we end up making it seem more significant a thing than it actually was. Nice pots tho... ;-)

bisto boy said...

an interesting comment Callum - and i'm sure you're correct that home crafts was nowhere near as big an industry as say today's QVC generation would know it. But the fact that you've never seen any "how to" manuals or contemporary adverts for materials and supplies may be a red herring as just because the retail industry wasn't advertising specifically to crafters, doesn't mean there weren't the materials available to them - after all, were there manuals and kit catalogues available to prisoners of war who made trench art from bullet casings or matchsticks? No, but they still did it. The truth in the answer maybe that it was around this time that schools and colleges of arts/crafts were springing up around the country and organisations such as the Home Arts and Industries association (started by Eglantyne Louisa Jebb in collaboration with Mary Fraser Tytler in 1881)helped to fund their teaching.

I did managed to track down one quote about someone who contributed a great deal to pottery in America, "Rookwood Pottery was founded by Maria Longworth Nichols (later Mrs. Bellamy Storer, Jr.) in 1880, forming the business in Cincinnati, Ohio in an old abandoned schoolhouse bought for her by her father which she named Rookwood after the family country estate. She was one of a group of talented society women in Cincinnati, Ohio, who painted blank china as a hobby and which prompted her to go into business" This small example doesn't show how widespread the hobby was, but the fact that it is evidenced here suggests that it wasn't some secretive underground Kraftwerk sect who bought materials off the black market. Perhaps there are some knowledgable scholars out there who can settle the debate for us?

Callum said...

Darling, I think your Wiki is showing ;-)

bisto boy said...

meesa tinks u is taking da micky. how wude!

About Me

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Sometimes, life doesn't turn out the way you expected. And sometimes, it is exactly as it was 'meant' to be. But whilst i'm not a believer in fate or fatalism, I do believe that life is a both a learning experience and an obstacle course to be climbed and clambered over in the most creative way possible! In doing so, you'll get to where you should be even if it's not where you'd imagined.