When Minton & Company of Staffordshire exhibited a new line of ceramics at The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, the firm called it Palissy ware. The name came from a 16th-century Frenchman named Bernard Palissy, whose vividly colored, high-relief, lead-glazed plates, platters, and pitchers had inspired Minton’s new, French-born art director, Léon Arnoux.
The word majolica was also used to describe the ware, since it had some commonalities with the tin-glazed 16th-century Spanish and Italian earthenware of the same name. But even though Palissy ware was a more accurate description of Minton’s new line, the work quickly became known as majolica.
Before long there was a majolica renaissance in Europe and the United States. A great deal of it was made in Italy by firms such as Ginori and Cantagalli. In Germany, the Royal Porcelain Manufactory was known for its majolica.
What these companies shared was a vocabulary of images and style that was at once exuberant and uniform. All used bright colors splashed on reliefs of plants and animals. This was fun ware for the common man, and it sold as quickly as Minton and others could produce it.
Naturally Wedgwood and other Staffordshire stalwarts wanted a piece of this action, even though Minton had about a 10-year head start. Predictably, Wedgwood majolica was more formal than Minton’s and used humor with restraint. While some potteries were producing teapots in the shapes of cauliflowers, Wedgwood stuck mostly to basket-weave patterns and relief foliage on the outsides of its standard shapes.
In the United States, a similar fascination with majolica took hold around the same time as the Minton debut. As in England, potteries coated their ware with clear glazes, so that the pieces positively shined. Griffen, Smith & Hill was one prominent Pennsylvania manufacturer, who sometimes marked its pieces with “G.S.H.” or labeled them as “Etruscan Pottery.”
Other American companies known for their majolica in the second half of the 19th century were Morrison & Carr, Chesapeake Pottery, and Edwin Bennett. They produced relish dishes,...
One of the most popular majolica forms was the pitcher, which was sometimes designed to appear as if it had been formed from vertical slices of wide bamboo, with more slender bamboo branches employed for the pitcher’s handle. Other pitchers resembled ears of corn, while syrup containers were routinely festooned with fat sunflowers or clusters of lily leaves and flowers.
There were platters and plates, or course, with leaf-shaped plates being a collectible subcategory all its own (begonia leaves were especially popular). Sardine boxes and cigarette holders were also produced—many were topped by African-American figurals, known then as now as blackamoors. And animals from bulldogs to pigs were deemed the perfect shapes within which to store tobacco.
If there was a dark side to the sunny look of majolica it was the process of making it. In 19th-century America, young girls did much of the painting, usually earning as little as 25 cents for a 12-hour day. This was well before child-labor laws, so the idea that these children were expected to work long hours and handle lead glazes was not seriously questioned until the first part of the 20th century. Not surprisingly, the difficult conditions produced work that was often sloppy, as anyone who has seen a majolica vase with colors radically out of register or running down the side can attest.
By the 1890s, the majolica craze was ending in the United States—the technique looked a bit too baroque compared to the ascendant Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles. While majolica persisted in Europe, pieces from the 20th century are generally thinner and feature less dramatic relief than those from the century before, which makes them less interesting to collectors.
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Review of Dickinson's Real DealNorthampton Herald and Post, February 6th
I do not collect any of the items I learn about but I have more knowledge and I know the difference between, say, Royal Worcester and Majolica. If you have not seen Dickinson's Real Deal then press the record button as it is on weekdays at 3pm and...Read more
The Max Mara Art Prize for Women goes to Emma HartContenuti opinionistici, February 5th
The jury was impressed by the depth and breadth of reference, from the Milano School for family psychotherapy to novels by Elena Ferrante, to the Italian tradition of majolica”. As part of the award, the thirty year old artist, whose project focuses on...Read more
Museum to host ceramicist, woodworker William BrouillardHuntington Herald Dispatch, February 4th
Courtesy of Facebook Cleveland, Ohio-based artist William Brouillard is pictured with some of his ceramic pieces. Brouillard is recognized for his vibrantly colored earthenware pottery, which is executed in the 16th century Italian majolica tradition...Read more
Push to protect more local productsThe Slovak Spectator, February 1st
The EP has identified, according to Mellak, more than 800 products that a new list could help; in Slovakia, this could concern golden onyx from Levice, lace from So?ná Ba?a, Majolica from Modra, Slovak magnesite and Pieš?any mud. In the European Union, ...Read more
De Luna settlement discovered in PensacolaSplash Pensacola Beach, February 1st
Tom Garner with assorted pottery sherds he originally found on the surface of the Luna settlement, including Spanish olive jar, lead, lead glazed coarse earthenware, majolica, and incised and plain Native American pottery. Photos | Lauren Smith The ...Read more
Betty Woodman and her vast body of work in ceramicsFinancial Times, January 29th
The colours of Renaissance art and the confident, exuberant decoration of Majolica pottery has influenced her ever since. Once she married her husband George, a philosophy student-turned-fine artist, the pair would travel to Italy yearly, finally...Read more
Antiques Considered, January 20, 2016Journal Press - King George, January 19th
Majolica is an art form that has remained popular in America for the past century and a half. The pictured vase belongs to a collector in the Northern Neck, who purchased it at a local antiques shop many years ago. The condition is excellent, and the...Read more
Majolica masterpieces buck the trendantiquestradegazette.com, November 30th
Two versions of a celebrated German majolica tureen appeared for sale in a matter of weeks – both bringing sterling prices in an otherwise soft market for 19th century ceramics. The 'frog and foxes' game pie dish by Hugo Lonitz & Co. is considered the ...Read more