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Ceramics Collector

Ceramics Collector: Stars in alignment at University City

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Written by KARLA KLEIN ALBERTSON   
Monday, 26 January 2015 14:53

This 4-inch vase with a crystalline floral glaze and carved neck was made by Adelaide Alsop Robineau. Marked with her logo and dated 1919, the work brought $35,600 with premium at Treadway Toomey Auctions in December. Treadway Toomey Auctions image

ST. LOUIS – When a single art pottery vase by Frederick Hurten Rhead was sold in April by John Moran Auctioneers for a record-breaking $570,000, collector attention again focused on the University City pottery and porcelain works. Production at the studios lasted only a few years and never achieved commercial success. Yet, for one shining moment, the project united the talents of three luminaries of the ceramics world – the British-born Rhead, America’s premier woman potter Adele Alsop Robineau, and French porcelain master Taxile Doat.

Around the turn of the 20th century in St. Louis, wheeler-dealer businessman E.G. Lewis was constantly on the lookout for new commercial opportunities, although he had a history of not finishing what he started. No doubt encouraged by his wife, Mabel, he got into the specialty magazines-for-women field. By the time of the famous Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, he had purchased 85 acres for residential real estate development and built his publishing headquarters there. University City, where he invested, still exists as a separately governed town within St. Louis and the beautiful Woman’s Magazine Building is now its City Hall.

Women’s rights and women’s education were the viral topics of the day. Seizing the moment, Lewis set up what he called the American Woman’s League and conceived a grandiose scheme to establish a university curriculum of correspondence courses to sell to his magazine subscribers. He began by hiring well-known teachers for an Art Academy to offer instruction in drawing, painting, sculpture, and above all ceramics. The time between Lewis’ proposal of the idea in 1909 and the last kiln firing in 1914 was short, but the pottery and porcelain made by the faculty in that brief period remains as a breathtaking tribute to a dream that was never quite realized.

Collectors face two difficulties in their study of University City’s output. Little of the output of the ceramic studios was offered for sale, and there is no distinct, easily recognizable unifying style. Fortunately, the entire complex story of Lewis and his educational venture is explored in the excellent catalog University City Ceramics: Art Pottery of the American Woman’s League by David Conradsen, curator of decorative arts, St. Louis Art Museum, and Ellen Paul Denker, written to accompany a 2004 exhibition.

An archival photo reprinted in the catalog documents Lewis’s initial success in staffing the Art Academy ceramics division with internationally recognized talent. The occasion was the first kiln firing at University City in April 1910; the production is displayed on tables in the front. At center stands Adelaide Alsop Robineau (1865-1929), one of the most influential American ceramists of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Based in Syracuse, New York, she was a brilliant studio potter devoted to creativity not commerce. In 1899 with her husband, Samuel, she had founded the magazine Keramic Studio, which explored ceramic manufacture and decoration.

Standing on the right in the 1910 photo is Taxile Doat (1851-1939), the venerable French master with a snowy beard, who arrived in St. Louis from France in 1909 to head the ceramics department at University City, where he remained until its closure in 1914. While working in porcelain at Sevres, he had specialized in delicate pate-sur-pate decoration using classical themes, but he also experimented in his private studio with Japanese forms and glazes. The Robineaus had published a translation of Doat’s book on porcelain technique, Grand Feu Ceramics, which had influenced Adelaide to become an expert in that medium.

At left in the photo is Frederick Hurten Rhead (1880-1942), who arrived at University City to write the correspondence course in pottery making and to teach advanced students, while he made exquisite works of his own, which would further the reputation of the school. Born and trained in England, Rhead and his wife, Agnes, had been in the United States since 1902; he had worked in many of the Ohio potteries and eventually continued his career in California after leaving St. Louis in 1911. He was already well-known to American potters through his articles in Keramic Studio.

The St. Louis Art Museum is fortunate to retain works by all three of these notable University City ceramists in its permanent collection and examples can be viewed online at www.slam.org. In an interview with ACN, curator David Conradsen noted, “Doat had published the secret of how to make porcelain, which was the province of national manufactories like Sevres. Businessman E.G. Lewis seized on the idea of hiring Robineau and Doat. If she can teach herself how to make porcelain using this formula as published by Doat, any American woman can do it. And then he added Rhead for good measure, an artist who was published almost weekly in Keramics Studio.

“He brought this extraordinary group of talent to University City, and it’s unfortunate that they didn’t have a longer run. But what we’re left with are these extraordinary objects and the story of these fascinating individuals. There’s the problem of what Lewis said he was doing and what he actually did. He talked big, but I do think he was kind of a visionary. He just had too many balls in the air and he never stuck with anything long enough to see it succeed. It’s easy to second guess Lewis but when you look at the objects, they speak for themselves. The ceramics are his lasting legacy.”

Each of the three artists under discussion had distinguished careers before and after the University City venture, so collectors must consider what pieces were made there and what was manufactured elsewhere. An index on marks in the Conradsen catalog is a guide to possible variants. The record-setting Rhead peacock vase had an impeccable provenance beginning with its purchase in St. Louis in 1910 and ending up several generations later in Southern California, and Rhead did some his best work while in residence at University City. A 1910 panel of tiles with peacock design is a prize possession of the Two Red Roses Foundation, which is planning a new Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement scheduled to open in Florida in 2017.

Adelaide Alsop Robineau also was at University City for only about two years, yet it was there that she created her masterpiece, the intricately carved “Scarab Vase” now at the Everson Museum of Art. This vase and several others created for the American Woman’s league were part of the presentation that won her the grand prize at the international exposition in Turin, Italy in 1911. One mark she used was her monogram with an incised UC and a date.

Although much of her work is now in museums, Robineau’s forms and other ceramics by the University City artists do show up at auctions. Don Treadway of the Treadway Toomey Galleries said recently, “I’ve actually sold a good bit of Robineau and University City privately. I have two clients in the St. Louis area who like it because of the local connection. I have had numerous things through the years by all of these people, but it’s pretty difficult to find most of it. In terms of the more important artists in American art pottery, these were some of the best and some of the most elusive. You can have all the money in the world but you can’t always find pieces.” Treadway was fortunate enough to sell a rare Frederick Rhead vase in 2007 which had been consigned from a California collection.

Taxile Doat had a long and prolific career, principally in France, so his work shows up at European auction houses as well as in American sales. He arrived in University City with a large study collection of his porcelains, and then – as was the case with Robineau – went on to do some of his most spectacular exhibition pieces while working at the school. Another archival photo shows him at work in the studio on a monumental porcelain charger commemorating the first convention of the American Woman’s League. Collectors can choose from wide variety of Doat styles ranging from classical works for Sevres to simple Japanese forms with stunning glazes.

University City Ceramics catalog is available for $29.95 from St Louis Art Museum bookstore; call the shop at 314-655-5249 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

This 4-inch vase with a crystalline floral glaze and carved neck was made by Adelaide Alsop Robineau. Marked with her logo and dated 1919, the work brought $35,600 with premium at Treadway Toomey Auctions in December. Treadway Toomey Auctions image 

Perfectly suited to the form, a multicolored peacock wraps its tail around a slender vase signed by Frederick and Agnes Rhead, which sold for a record-setting $570,000 at John Moran in California last year. Dated 1910, the masterwork was created by the artist and his wife during their brief residency at the University City ceramics school for women in the St. Louis area. John Moran Auctioneers image 

This diminutive vase topped with yellow phlox demonstrates Adelaide Alsop Robineau’s mastery of the porcelain process. Made at University City in 1910, the elaborately carved vase features cutout reticulations filled with translucent glaze. St. Louis Art Museum image 

The Rheads also created architectural tile patterns for interior decoration. A fireplace surround with landscape frieze was created in 1911 for the home of John J. Meacham in University City and is now permanently installed in the St. Louis Art Museum nearby. St. Louis Art Museum image 

Taxile Doat, who came to University City directly from the Sevres factory in France, had literally written the book – ‘Grand Feu Ceramics’ – on porcelain manufacture. Among his works now in the collection of the St. Louis Art Museum is this variation on a traditional Japanese sake bottle covered with a crystalline glaze. St. Louis Art Museum image 

Although he produced art pottery and tiles both before and after his residency at University City, important works by Frederick Rhead seldom come on the market. This small vase with an incised organic pattern was hammered down for $21,000 at Treadway Toomey in 2007. Treadway Toomey Auctions image 

Once again, Frederick Rhead demonstrates his ability to unify form and design in this 12-inch vase wrapped with an incised pattern of winter trees, made circa 1911 during his residence in University City. 

When Taxile Doat arrived at University City to teach porcelain techniques in 1909, he brought with him a study collection of examples he had produced while working in the Sevres factory or his French studio. One of hiss favorite forms was a glazed circular charger with a classical pate-sur-pate medallion at its center. Similar examples have sold on the American and European auction markets in the $3,000-$7,000 range. St. Louis Art Museum image 

 

Last Updated on Monday, 26 January 2015 16:44
 

Ceramics Collector: Christopher Haun, patriot potter

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Written by KARLA KLEIN ALBERTSON   
Monday, 15 September 2014 15:48

The pottery prize of the Case auction was this rare ring bottle by Christopher Alexander Haun (1821-1861), which sold for $30,680. The important example of East Tennessee pottery is headed for MESDA in Winston-Salem, N.C., where it will go on display in October 2015. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – In America’s early history, skilled artisans supplied consumers’ demand for utilitarian and luxury goods to fill their homes. While making the objects we cherish as antiques today, these craftsmen – potters, cabinetmakers, silversmiths and glassblowers – were also the backbone of our young democracy. They stepped out of their workshops to vote, enlist as soldiers, and run for local office. The best known example of the active artisan/citizen is probably Revolutionary patriot Paul Revere.

In July, a superb earthenware ring bottle marked “Haun” sold for $30,680 (est. $16,000-$18,000) at a Case Antiques estate auction in Knoxville, Tenn. As fresh as the day it was made, the form was glazed in a bright snake green produced by copper oxide and covered in complex impressed patterns. Purchased with a purpose in mind, the unusual form is headed for the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C., where it will go on display in the William C. and Susan S. Mariner Southern Ceramics Gallery scheduled to open in October 2015.

The maker’s mark is that of Christopher Alexander Haun (1821-1861), another artisan with an interesting history of leaving his workshop to fight for what he believed in. Case is well-known for its finds in the field of regional painting, furniture and decorative arts. The ring bottle turned up at a local appraisal fair and was consigned by a family who had carefully preserved it because they knew it had a connection to the Civil War. Catalog entries at the firm frequently go beyond aesthetic description to make important contributions to our understanding of the historical background of the objects.

Christopher Haun belonged to a related group of potters in Greene County, which also included other established makers such as William Hinshaw and J.A. Low as well his younger brother Lewis Haun. Like many people in eastern Tennessee, Haun was strongly Union in his sympathies when the Civil War began. Several potters were among the raiding party who burned a Confederate railroad bridge at Lick Creek, an act for which five men including Haun were executed in 1861.

He wrote a letter to his wife from a Knoxville jail telling her to contact his potter friends about finishing off his current wares and then to sell the equipment in his workshop. John Case credits East Tennessee pottery expert Carole Wahler for her detailed research on the craftsman which has led to a better understanding of his work; an entry on the Haun Pottery appears on her website www.cwahlerantiques.com.

Case stresses the importance of Haun and his work: “We’re talking about this extraordinary potter, who I think is one of the finest potters of the 19th century. In a few short years, a number of pieces have surfaced that would be considered masterpieces of the ceramic art.” He stresses that only recently have these facts about Haun’s life and career emerged to provide a background for his beautifully crafted pots. In May 2010, the auction house sold a rare pitcher decorated in lead glaze with manganese or iron oxide loop designs for $9,988 (est. $3,500-$4,500). In the fall that year, they offered a well-shaped redware jar covered in cream slip and decorated with a bold green loop pattern that brought $36,800. Both were marked “C.A. Haun.”

The circular form of the ring bottle allowed it to be tied to a saddle or hooked over an arm for carrying. After the auction, Case noted that this was the only known example of the form from the Haun pottery works: “And I’m afraid it will be for the future – it’s unbelievably rare. This green bottle is so elegant in form and perfectly crafted. It was difficult to make these ring bottles; two halves of clay had to be joined at a seam so the section is perfectly circular. On top of that, he ran a band around the outer circumference and then added the stamps – surely he was showing off. I don’t know of a finer example in the South or in the North. And it’s redware on top of which he put down these amazing glazes of lead and copper oxide; you can’t really do that with stoneware. It looks like it was made two weeks ago.” Collectors attending next February’s Williamsburg Antiques Forum can look forward to a lecture on Haun and his pottery by John Case.

Skillful execution and excellent condition naturally led to the purchase of the Haun rarity as an important exhibit for the new gallery planned for MESDA. Robert Leath, chief curator and vice president, collections & research, at Old Salem Museums & Gardens wrote: “With the addition of the ring bottle to the Mariner Collection, we are delighted that both he and his pottery will be represented in the Mariner Gallery when it opens next year in October 2015.”

A recent MESDA announcement about the gallery noted that the installation “will be the first permanent museum gallery of its kind devoted solely to early southern pottery, combining masterpieces from both the museum’s public and the Mariners’ private collections. … Together, these objects will tell a more complete story of the southern ceramics traditions and how it evolved from the early 18th century to the mid-19th century than has ever been told before, detailing the lives of individual potters from Duche to Aust to Chandler, and all the major centers of southern ceramics production from Baltimore to Edgefield to western Tennessee.”

Currently, Case presents two large estate auctions a year at their headquarters in the historic Cherokee Mills building in Knoxville. The next major auction will be held in Jan. 24. For more information visit www.caseantiques.com.

To follow the activities of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and the Old Salem Museums and Gardens, visit www.mesda.org. On Oct. 23-25, the eighth biennial MESDA Conference with presentations on Southern material culture and decorative arts will be held at the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

The pottery prize of the Case auction was this rare ring bottle by Christopher Alexander Haun (1821-1861), which sold for $30,680. The important example of East Tennessee pottery is headed for MESDA in Winston-Salem, N.C., where it will go on display in October 2015. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

The potting skill of Christopher Haun can be clearly seen in the graceful shape of this 13-inch high jar with attached loop handles. The jar, covered with cream slip decorated with an abstract design in green, sold for $36,800 four years ago. Courtesy Case Antiques

The stamped mark of C.A. Haun appears on the jar’s shoulder underneath a splash of copper oxide glaze. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

Although missing its handle, the redware pitcher clearly bears the stamp of C.A. Haun by the compass star on the upper rim; the lot brought $9,988 at Case in 2010. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

John Case shows off the perfect condition and circular form of the Haun ring bottle. An elaborate impressed pattern enlivens the vessel’s green-glazed surface. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

This decorated lead-glazed earthenware dish attributed to Gottfried Aust of Salem, N.C., circa 1775-1785, will be another exhibit in the new Mariner Gallery at MESDA. Image courtesy Old Salem Museums and Gardens.

Destined for display in the Mariner Gallery, this simple crock bears the signature “Mary Adams” and was made 1810-1830 in Hagerstown, Md. This is the earliest signature of a female potter on a Southern piece. Adams was the daughter of potter Jonas Knode and widow of potter Henry Adams. Image courtesy Old Salem Museums and Gardens.

Last Updated on Monday, 26 January 2015 14:55
 

Ceramics Collector: Newcomb Pottery

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Written by KARLA KLEIN ALBERTSON   
Friday, 11 April 2014 12:11

Neal Auction Co. set a world auction record for Newcomb Pottery in June 2009 when this high glaze vase, decorated in 1904 by Marie de Hoa LeBlanc with an incised design of Jackmanii Climbing Clematis, brought $169,200 after spirited bidding (est. $35,000-$50,000). Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

NEW ORLEANS – “Women, Art, & Social Change: The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise” presents the largest comprehensive exhibition of arts and crafts from the famous New Orleans college workshop to tour the country in thirty years. The highly sought-after art pottery is placed in the context of other crafts practiced at Newcomb – textiles, metalwork, jewelry, bookbinding and works on paper. At the same time, the traveling exhibition focuses on the transformative role art education played in the lives of Southern women.

The exhibition was organized by Sally Main, senior curator of the Newcomb Art Gallery at Tulane University, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Following an initial run in New Orleans, the show will be on display at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens May 17 to Aug. 31 and continue touring to other institutions for the next three years.

An added bonus for collectors was the publication of a groundbreaking new volume, The Arts and Crafts of Newcomb Pottery (Skira Rizzoli 2013) with contributions from Sally Main, Ellen Paul Denker, Martin Eidelberg, David Conradsen, Adrienne Spinozzi and Kevin W. Tucker. The attention focused on Newcomb by the book and exhibition resulted in strong prices for the art pottery in recent auctions and encouraged buyers to seek out other decorative arts made at the college.

In an interview with ACN, Sally Main explained, “This Newcomb show introduces people to the other crafts. Everybody knows the ceramics, but the other pieces are just as beautiful - these women were amazingly talented. The textiles were important to me, to get them out and introduce them to people, because the textiles were second only to pottery in sales, and they’re absolutely beautiful. The juxtaposition of colored threads makes them glow. The textiles look like pointilliste paintings.”

She continued, “Then the metalwork and jewelry were stunning. The proficiency with which they executed these things belied how new they were to the craft itself. They were doing extraordinary things.” The metalwork classes were so successful that they went coed, when Mary Williams Butler allowed male students from the Tulane School of Architecture to take instruction. At the time, William Spratling was teaching architecture at Tulane; he learned skills there that he later used in his famous silversmithing project in Taxco, Mexico.

Founded in 1886, Newcomb College was an experiment in educating women side-by-side with the male students at Tulane. The curator pointed out, “Another experiment was the idea that you educate women in the arts to give them an opportunity to achieve economic independence. Women could get married, or become teachers, or open their own shop. The college opened a door that wasn’t there before.” Newcomb arts and crafts were sold to the public then, and the objects created – led by the desirable art pottery – continue to appeal to the public today.

Newcomb students looked around them for inspiration when they picked up their brushes; the pottery emphasized the flora and foliage of the South as well as evocative moonlit landscape scenes. The appeal of these designs was demonstrated when the Neal Auction Co. sold a 1904 vase decorated by Marie de Hoa LeBlanc with an incised design of Jackmanii Climbing Clematis for a world record price of $169,200 in 2009 and a 1908 vase with a circle of pine trees decorated by Leona Nicholson in 2007 for $67,000.

At Neal’s Louisiana Purchase auction last November, shortly after the Newcomb exhibition’s opening, a large high-glaze vase, decorated with calla lilies by Mary Williams Butler in 1902, brought $35,850, and a 1902 vase with stylized foliage by LeBlanc sold for $21,510. Entry-level collectors were able to pick up smaller vases from the 1920s and 1930s for prices in the $2,500-$3,500 range. Interest in Newcomb art pottery extends far beyond New Orleans. Rago Auctions in Lambertville, N.J., has sold many examples in the past 15 years for five-figures including an 1902 LeBlanc vase circled with stylized rabbits for $84,000 in 2006.

Amanda Mantle Winstead, senior appraiser of Fine Arts at Neal, also runs her own art consulting firm and is a graduate of Newcomb College. She emphasized that prices depend very much on what comes up for sale: “You have different levels based upon the very distinctive periods of Newcomb. You can talk about the early high-glaze pieces, then you have a sort of transitional period when they’re going into the landscape design that is so identified with Newcomb, then you get into a period of floral decoration when they’re really producing a lot of pottery. The high-glaze period is at the forefront of the Arts and Crafts Movement and stylistically is different from later periods – different glazes, different designs, different palette. There was not as much produced so there is not as much in the marketplace. That is still your high point in terms of value.”

She noted that the record price in 2009 for the clematis vase by Marie de Hoa LeBlanc resulted from a combination of factors: “It was beautifully carved and modeled – it had a lot of dimension to the surface of the pot. And then the glaze coupled with that made it so strong aesthetically. The size was big, the condition was perfect – everything came together. And that day you had the right people bidding on it – an institution, a dealer in New York, and a very aggressive private collector in New Orleans. It was definitely an A+ vase.”

“It’s all about the collectors and what they’re looking for,” she added. “I’ve worked with many collectors over the years, and they seek out certain designs and periods. Some want the best examples of landscape vases from the 1910s and 1920s. They don’t even look at the high glaze – that’s not the aesthetic they’re interested in. These vases are also very desirable, so the bottom range is $2,500-3,000, while a great large landscape vase might be $15,000-$20,000. There are variations in the designs, for example, palm trees with the moon is really unusual.”

Winstead concluded, “The exhibition absolutely has increased interest in Newcomb works. The installation at the Newcomb Art Gallery was gorgeous, fabulously presented with the textiles, and the metalwork, and the china decoration all in one exhibition. And the book is incredibly well done. Anytime you have this kind of exhibition, it can only help, and we’ve seen new registered bidders. Looking to the future, the more exceptional the pot, the more money it will bring.”

Search catalogs for past and future offerings of Newcomb Pottery at www.nealauction.com or at the Live Auctioneers website.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

Neal Auction Co. set a world auction record for Newcomb Pottery in June 2009 when this high glaze vase, decorated in 1904 by Marie de Hoa LeBlanc with an incised design of Jackmanii Climbing Clematis, brought $169,200 after spirited bidding (est. $35,000-$50,000). Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

'Women, Art, & Social Change,' a traveling exhibition organized by the Newcomb Art Gallery, unites the famous art pottery, such as this exquisite palm vase by an unknown decorator, with the textiles and metalwork created by women at the college. Courtesy Newcomb Art Gallery; collection of Don Fuson.

From the exhibition, this rare plate was decorated with an overall cactus design around 1903 by Newcomb College student Harriet Joor. As usual, resident potter Joseph Meyer created the clay form, which was incised, painted, and finished with a glossy glaze. Newcomb Art Collection, Tulane University

The resurgence of the market for Newcomb was apparent last November when this large high-glaze vase, decorated with calla lilies by Mary Williams Butler in 1902, brought $35,850. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

A 1908 high-glaze vase with a circle of pine trees decorated by Leona Nicholson is an excellent example of how carving and modeling was used to add depth to the painted design; this vase doubled its estimate to bring $67,000 in 2007. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Sisters Amelie and Desiree Roman were members of the Saturday drawing classes for women, which began at Newcomb in the 1880s. Amelie enjoyed considerable success as a decorator – she painted this delightful rabbit mug around 1902 – and went on to teach at the college. Courtesy Newcomb Art Gallery; collection of Caren Fine.

A rare form, this high-glaze handled tyg, decorated circa 1900-1901 by Amelie Roman, sold for $22,325 in 2005. The inscription reads: ‘One Sip of This Will Bathe The Drooping Spirits In Delight Beyond The Bliss of Dreams.’ Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

A Newcomb Pottery floral vase decorated by Anna Frances Simpson, 1911, will be among the offerings in the April 25-27 auction at the Neal Auction Co. in New Orleans. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Last Updated on Monday, 26 January 2015 14:55
 

Ceramics Collector: Historical Staffordshire tableware

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Written by KARLA KLEIN ALBERTSON   
Monday, 11 November 2013 14:21

Rare views bring top prices. This Clews plate with the Mount Pleasant Classical Institute in Massachusetts, one of three known examples, brought $21,330 (est. $4,000-$6,000). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

With holiday entertaining just around the corner, everyone is asking, where are those dishes? The very concept of a matching set of dishes goes back to Roman times, and by the 18th century wealthy consumers were ordering extensive porcelain services with unifying patterns from Chinese, English and European sources.

Middle- class households had the same desire for attractive services—at more affordable prices. Spurred on by the popularity of blue and white Chinese porcelain, British potteries developed a method of transfer-printing complex designs on ceramics. During the early decades of the 19th century, a repertoire of Oriental designs was quickly expanded with patterns based on scenic contemporary prints.

For American collectors, the most important patterns are those defined as Historical Staffordshire, transfer-printed pottery with views of American patriotic figures, national buildings, and scenery created to appeal to buyers in the newly formed United States. The early October sale of the Goldberg & Brown Collection of Historical Blue Staffordshire at Pook & Pook featured an illustrated catalog of almost 600 lots, which celebrated the intricate patterns and complex forms of this desirable ceramic specialty.

Henry Francis du Pont was an enthusiastic and influential collector of transferware with American views, buying examples during the 1950s to furnish the Blue Staffordshire Room at Winterthur. Leslie Grigsby, senior curator of ceramics and glass at the museum, says, “I think he was interested in it all through his collecting career. He often was collecting to furnish a particular room, and there are over 180 pieces of underglaze blue in that one room.”

Perhaps England had been on the losing side—not only during the War of Independence but more recently in the War of 1812—but savvy British businessmen quickly geared up to produce patriotic designs that could be sold through American merchants. For example, the Staffordshire firm of Enoch Wood & Sons created a pattern call “Commodore Macdonough’s Victory,” celebrating his defeat of the British on Lake Champlain. Commercial advantage obviously trumped any lingering hard feelings.

As can be seen in the Pook catalog, most designs for the American market feature views of important buildings or attractive landscapes and seascapes based on prints made by artists who had visited the United States. Fortunately for collectors, many bear the printed or impressed name of the maker on the back as well as a scene title. In the Wood & Sons series of Erie Canal views, the maker specifies the scene, such as “Aqueduct Bridge at Rochester,” providing valuable historical information.

Unlike our modern “service for 12” in a single pattern, Staffordshire transferware sometimes features different central views, united by a common decorative border. American designs are printed a strong saturated cobalt blue which ranges from bold to almost inky dark, so we can assume that was what sold best in this country. Following these rules of supply and demand, the rare views that bring top prices today were surely the least popular sellers when new. Collectors will also pay a premium for rare forms that seldom appear. The same dignified designs that were applied to coffee pots also covered chamber pots and pitcher and bowl sets for the bedroom.

Hayden Goldberg and his partner Curtis Brown were especially fond of the Boston State House pattern by John Rogers & Son. While a useful 17-inch platter brought $830, a decorative reticulated serving basket and tray with the scene sold for $4,740 (est. $1,000-&2,000). An even rarer form—a 4-inch-high ladies spittoon—brought $7,110.

The rarest pattern in the entire sale was a plate with the Mount Pleasant Classical Institute in the Connecticut River Valley, one of only three known, which sold for a stunning $21,330 (est. $4,000-$6,000). The plate was impressed “Clews” for the James and Ralph Clews works in Cobridge, Staffordshire.

Lots which combined a spectacular form with a desirable view also did well. There were two reticulated baskets with a view of the West Point Military Academy as it appeared in the first quarter of the 19th century. One with a matching undertray sold for $4,977 (est. $2,000-$3,000) and another with an undertray with a scene of the Catskill Mountains sold for $5,688 (est. $2,500-$3,500).

Lafayette (1757-1834), the French nobleman who had fought by Washington’s side in the Revolutionary War, became America’s first pop culture hero when he returned to the United States for a visit in 1824. Staffordshire were quick to produce transfer patterns with portrait busts, scenes of his activities, and even views of his ancestral home in France. A large platter with the legend “Landing of Gen. Lafayette at Castle Garden New York 16th August 1824” made by Clews sold for $2,673 (est. $300-$500).

An even rarer feather edge platter with a transfer-printed image of Gen. Lafayette taken from a well-known portrait brought $6,518 (est. $3,000-$5,000).

Designs featuring founding father George Washington were equally popular. One of the highest prices in the sale was realized for a pearlware plate with bust of Washington and the Great Seal sold for $8,295 (est. $1,500-$2,500). Clews produced a pattern labeled on the front “America and Independence,” which featured a bust of Washington and the names of fifteen states in a surrounding border. A platter, 17 inches by 14 inches, with the design was a good buy at $1,778. The entire catalog can be viewed online at www.pookandpook.com and print copies are still available from the auction house.

After the auction, Jamie Shearer, Pook & Pook vice president and American decorative arts specialist, commented, “Anything that was special or in excellent condition, private buyers were adding those to their collection and were willing to pay extra for those lots. The color is so vivid and bright.”

He also emphasized the breadth of this collection: “Goldberg was not focused on any one series. If it was blue and he didn’t have that form or pattern, that was what he bought.” The catalog opens with a tribute and brief history of the collection. Hayden Goldberg purchased his first piece of historical blue Staffordshire in 1963, a good time to be buying in the field.

Asked what means most to collectors today, Shearer noted, “In today’s world, most advanced collectors are more condition-oriented because they have access to so much more through the Internet. In the past, you might see 50 pieces at shows and auctions in a year. Now you can see 50 pieces in any given hour. So now with that access, people feel they can wait for an example in excellent condition.”

At Winterthur, Grigsby is spreading the word about the online exhibition “Patriotic America,” which can be accessed through www.winterthur.org or at www.americanhistoricalstaffordshire.com. The introduction explains: “Patriotic America offers a comprehensive set of images of America in the 1820s, documenting a time of great celebration in the country. In 1815, when trade between America and England resumed following the War of 1812, Staffordshire potters were eager to regain access to one of their most lucrative markets. This virtual exhibition brings together the production of more than twelve British potters who created an aesthetic that would be desirable to Americans eager to purchase objects highlighting their growing nation. Many of the images were inspired by paintings and engravings depicting the new nation’s remarkable landscape and notable architecture. Succeeding generations have treasured these wares, and they survive as a testament to the skills of the Staffordshire potter and the patriotism of his American consumer.”

The exhibition was a joint project of Winterthur, the Transferware Collectors Club, and Historic New England. Collectors can mark their calendars—the Transferware Collectors Club will be coming to Winterthur on Oct. 17, 2014 as part of their annual conference, which will be held in Pennsylvania next year. For more information on the organization’s activities and history of transfer-printed Staffordshire wares, visit www.transcollectorsclub.org.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

Rare views bring top prices. This Clews plate with the Mount Pleasant Classical Institute in Massachusetts, one of three known examples, brought $21,330 (est. $4,000-$6,000). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

Henry Francis du Pont was an enthusiastic collector of transfer-printed American views, which he used to create this impressive display in the Blue Staffordshire Room at Winterthur. Courtesy, Winterthur; photo by Lizzie Himmel.

Large tureens remain the show-stoppers of any set of dishes. This example stamped J. & W. Ridgway, which features views of the Alms House Boston and the Deaf and Dumb Asylum Hartford, sold in October at Pook & Pook for $5,214. Courtesy Pook & Pook.

Reticulated baskets with lacy cutout borders are another desirable form. Decorated with scenes of the Upper Ferry Bridge over River Schuylkill and Woodlands near Philadelphia, this example brought $9,480 (est. $1,500-$2,500). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

Part of the Beauties of America series by J. & W Ridgway, this strainer for a platter features a desirable early view of the Capitol in Washington, which brought $3.081 (est. $800-$1.200). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

The Staffordshire firm of Thomas Mayer produced a series featuring the arms of the American states. This attractive leaf-shaped serving dish with the Arms of South Carolina sold for $3,081 (est. $1,000-$1,500). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

A true souvenir plate, this feather edge platter with printed portrait at center celebrates the 1824 visit of Revolutionary War hero General Lafayette and brought a final price of $6,518 (est. $3,000-$5,000). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

The Boston State House pattern was a favorite in the Goldberg-Brown collection. The same dignified scenes were applied to tableware and personal items such as wash sets, and this diminutive ladies’ spittoon, which brought $7,110 (est. $1,200-1,800). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

Last Updated on Monday, 26 January 2015 14:56
 

Piero Fornasetti porcelain: classic themes, fantastic variations

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Written by KARLA KLEIN ALBERTSON   
Tuesday, 10 September 2013 09:31

Ceramics specialist Paul Vandekar has added Fornasetti’s 20th century designs to the inventory he exhibit at major antique fairs, where they sell in the $200-1,500 range. The dealer particularly likes the trompe l’oeil twist of this Tema e Variazioni plate. Courtesy Earle Vandekar of Knightsbridge.

CHICAGO – Surrounded by the glories of Italian art, Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988) possessed a magical talent for transforming classic themes into brilliant contemporary design. Very much the Renaissance man, he was painter, sculptor, craftsman and decorator who applied his creativity to everything from an ocean liner to a porcelain plate.

Richard Wright heads a Chicago auction house specializing in modern and contemporary design and says, “I love Fornasetti. His work is a refreshing breeze in what can be an austere modernist aesthetic. A Fornasetti piece in an interior can add a note of surrealism, a more decorative flourish.”

He clearly values the past. It makes complete sense that he is an Italian designer,” continues Wright. “Also there is an element of humor to Fornasetti that is refreshing to see in the modernist tradition.”

Fornasetti spent most of his life in Milan, where he pursued formal studies at the Brera Academy in 1930-1932 but was expelled for “insubordination,” an indication that his artistic life might not follow a traditional path. Early projects included everything from printed designs for silk scarves to frescoes in a Padua palazzo. In 1940, he met Gio Ponti (1891-1979), a noted Milanese architect and designer, with whom he would collaborate on furniture and interiors.

In an Italian Masterworks sale last December, Wright sold an ash Ponti/Fornasetti bookcase design, for $50,000. He said, “We’d love to get more. Those are really sought-after. Ponti being at the top of the Italian design market, he’s known as being a rationalist but it’s wonderful that he let his pieces be decorated on every surface.” Fornasetti adds a flourish of joy to the purity of Ponti’s designs.

Fornasetti continually experimented with trompe l’oeil decoration of the sort that covers the Palladian cabinet, circa 1955, which brought $43,750 in the same sale. The case piece is modern in form, yet sports the façade of a classical building.

More tricks of the eye cover the surface of Fornasetti’s screens, such as one Wright sold in 2008 for $7,200 which appears to reveal the inside of a country gentleman’s dressing room. He notes, “The screens are great, they’re one of his most famous designs. There are many variations.” They are tremendously popular because they add such a decorative pop as a room accent.

Wright is delighted to be able to offer one of Fornasetti’s curvaceous Musicale chairs in the Living Contemporary sale coming up on Sept. 26 (est. $2,000-$3,000). The form was originally designed in 1951, and this example is from an edition of 20 issued in 1991. Although Piero Fornasetti is gone, his son Barnaba continues to operate the family studio. On the inventive website www.fornasetti.com collectors can find the artist’s designs, biographical details and information on the Milan store.

Wright points out, “I think from a collector’s standpoint it is important to understand how to date the material. Certain designs are still being made. We work directly with the Fornasetti studio. Barnaba is a great representative of the legacy; we pass every piece we get by him. They’re very good about dating and helping us to identify all the work correctly.”

On the website, ceramics collectors will immediately spot an image of Fornasetti standing next a wall of plates, and truly the porcelain plate held such a fascination for the Italian designer that he never tired of creating new patterns for their circular surface. His best-known series, Tema e Variazioni, features more than 350 trompe l’oeil and surrealistic variations on a single woman’s face. The artist saw a photograph of Italian soprano Lina Cavalieri (1875-1944), and he never tired of her beauty.

As pointed out on the official website, “For Piero Fornasetti, a single idea provided enough inspiration to create infinite variations. … By allowing his imagination to roam freely, Fornasetti was able to constantly reinvent or reinterpret an image.” The collection of a lifetime—whether you gather four or 50—a group of Tema e Variazioni plates provides an eye-riveting display for any interior.

Paul Vandekar, who sells fine early English, European and Asian pottery and porcelain as Earle Vandekar of Knightsbridge Inc., has added wall of Fornasetti designs to his display at antique fairs. He says, “We’ve always been very venturesome in what we sell. I like very strong designs—I love things that have an amusing element to them, I love trompe l’oeil.”

He adds, “Changes in taste that have been going on, and we wanted to buy 20th century objects; the Fornasetti porcelain seemed to be a natural progression for us.” Vandekar finds in Fornasetti’s designs the same sort of whimsy he values in English pottery. Also the use of classical and neoclassical motifs makes a connection between the 20th century porcelain and the 18th and 19th ceramics he offers. While many collectors do hang the plates on a wall, Vandekar says that other buyers arrange them as a dramatic table setting for the dining room.

In addition to the Cavalieri face variations, Fornasetti made other assemblages such as sets of a dozen plates that form a Renaissance Eve or Adam when hung in the correct order. A rarer series called Le Oceanidi features surrealistic combinations of pretty women and seashells.

Collectors entering the field should spend some time studying Fornasetti’s porcelain designs, which were transfer-printed on blanks that he purchased. Some designs are rarer than others. Some patterns were reissued by Rosenthal in Germany and bear that mark. The family company has also added some new variations since the designer died. Prices vary widely, and the plates are often sold at auction in assembled groups. Individual examples may still surface at house sales and markets. The designs are hard to resist, however, so the collector may just fall in love at first sight.

An overview of Fornasetti’s work is available in Fornasetti: The Complete Universe by Mariuccia Casadio, edited by Barnaba Fornasetti with an introduction by Andrea Branzi. Other references include Fornasetti: Designer of Dreams by Patrick Mauries and Piero Fornasetti: A Conversation between Philippe Starck and Barnaba Fornasetti by Brigitte Fitoussi.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

 Ceramics specialist Paul Vandekar has added Fornasetti’s 20th century designs to the inventory he exhibit at major antique fairs, where they sell in the $200-1,500 range. The dealer particularly likes the trompe l’oeil twist of this Tema e Variazioni plate. Courtesy Earle Vandekar of Knightsbridge.

Five plates from the Tema e Variazioni series featuring the face of opera singer Lina Cavalieri brought $2,375 at a Rago auction in March. All are 10 1/4 inches in diameter and are marked “Fornasetti Milano Made in Italy.” Courtesy Rago Auctions. 

Fornasetti’s furniture is often ornamented with classical motifs; a Palladian Cabinet brought $43,750 in a Wright sale of Italian Masterworks last December. Courtesy Wright.

Like a large wall puzzle, 12 plates, designed by Fornasetti in 1954, can be assembled to form an image of Eve. The transfer-printed porcelain set brought $2,125 at Wright in 2011. The artist also created a set featuring Adam. Courtesy Wright.

Fornasetti experimented with many trompe l’oeil designs, which decorated not only his porcelain plates but also furniture forms. This folding screen with a sporting gent’s accessories sold for $7,200 at Wright in 2008. Courtesy Wright.

Wright auction in Chicago will offer this Musicale chair design by Piero Fornasetti in their Living Contemporary sale on Sept. 26 (est. $2,000-$3,000). Courtesy Wright.

Less often found, a set of eight Le Oceanidi plates sold for $5,313 at Rago’s in March. All are marked ‘Fornasetti Milano Made in Italy’ and date to the 1950s-1960s. Courtesy Rago Auctions.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 September 2013 10:34
 
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