Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Warm Weather Treat: Majolica

A majolica pitcher of Rubeckia tribola (Brown Eyed Susans), courtesy of
A Passion for Flowers.
Now that spring is here, it's time to fantasize about summer evenings and outdoor entertaining. Majolica earthenware, with its bright colors and naturalistic themes, is particularly suited for this time of year. This perennially popular form of pottery can be quite pricey in boutiques, particularly if one is in the market for the better quality Englishware, rather than contemporary Chinese imitations. Fortunately, one of the largest annual majolica auctions is coming up next month.

Holdcroft stork in marsh pitcher. At Strawser on April 13th, estimate $200-300.
 Majolica is an invention of the Victorians--who, of course, were imitating another country's famous wares, because that how it goes in pottery, if not art in general. In this specific instance: Mintons, the legendary English manufacturer, was inspired by artistic efforts stemming from two different parts of Europe. The first was Italian maiolica, the colorful earthenware grounded by a white opaque glaze that remains popular. The second influence was a French potter named Bernard Palissy. Palissy had actually lived nearly two centuries before: 1510-1590, but his artistic creations, which he termed "rustique" due to the abundance of plants and animal forms, were enjoying a 19th century resurgence. 
French Palissyware from the mid 1500s, tentatively attributed to Bernard Palissy
Minton exhibited his Victorian majolica ware at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1855 and caused a sensation, with every single exhibited piece sold by the end of the show. Within a few years,Wedgwood was making majolica, and several other manufacturers followed suit: George Jones and Sons (Trent Pottery), Hanley and Furnival, to name a few. Several European manufacturers, including Choisy le Roi and Boch Freres became popular. Majolica was produced in the United States as well, perhaps the most famous manufacturer being Griffin, Smith and Hill of Pennsylvania, which made Etruscanware from 1880-1890. 
The famous GSH Etruscan shell and seaweed pattern. At Strawser on April 14th, estimate $75-125.
By the time Queen Victoria died in 1901, majolica had fallen out of favor, with the trend moving toward more streamlined Art Nouveau pieces. But everything old is new again. Majolica is a popular collectible today, as is Palissyware. The 16th century Palissy pieces are out of reach for most of us, of course; look instead for Victorian versions and Portuguese Palissy--still expensive--or even well-crafted contemporary versions. The first place I'd look? The Strawser Auction House (famous for its collectible auctions) is having a two day majolica auction on April 13th and 14th. But I'm warning you: the biggest challenge is deciding what to bid on! Good luck...happy bidding...and most of all  happy spring!

In A Passion for Flowers, Carolyne Roehm writes that she has collected majolica for years.
Part of her collection appears above. Get an instant collection --or a ton of birthday presents with one stroke of the hammer--below.
Lot of eight pitchers, including Holdcroft and Wedgwood. At Strawser on April 13th, estimate $200-400.

Majolica is particularly well suited for bright summer blooms. Dalias, zinnas and Carolyne Roehm's majolica collection, from A Passion for Flowers.

Etruscan cobalt pair of sunflower pitchers. At Strawser on April 13th, estimate $100-150.
Royal Worcester pike pitcher, at Strawser on April 13th, estimate $200-400.

 Bright glossy green, with all its vegetal associations, is one of the most frequent and popular hues in majolicaware. Charles Faudree, the self-proclaimed "King of Tablescapes," adds a green touch to a table, above, and surrounding a mirror, below. From Details.
Set of six majolica plates, including Wedgwood. At Strawser on April 13th, estimate $200-300.
Wedgwood green grape pitcher. At Strawser on April 13th, estimate $75-125.

Lot of 10 majolica plates. At Strawser on April 13th,  estimate $100-150.
A beautiful place setting by Carolyne Roehm. From A Passion for Parties.

The family room of Lauren King's Hollywood mansion features a collection of Palissy ware. From Architectural Digest .

Jose A. Cunha Palissy ware. At Strawser on April 14th, estimate $300-400.
Portugal Palissy ware hanging planter. At Strawser on April 14th, estimate $200-400.

Barbizet French Palissy ware. At Strawser on April 14th, estimate $1,200-1,500.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Refining the Tablescape, Part Two

A Michael Smith tablescape, from Elements of Style.
So, after a long break, which involved a nice vacation, I have returned...to the topic of tablescapes! Last time, we saw how the master did it--decorator David Hicks, who coined the term. Today, I will show you more contemporary examples.

Attractive tablescapes come in myriad forms, of course. If you collect and display things you truly love, you can hardly go wrong. That said, there are a few simple rules that can help your collectibles coalesce into something visually pleasing.

Rule #1 Go Tall
The first rule of thumb is that, as with any attractive landscape, there must be some variance in height, or else the tablescape will be flat in every sense of the word.  One tall object can provide a welcome focal point, serving as a beacon of sorts, that encourages people to walk over and take a look, thus giving your table long distance eye appeal. Often, your tall object will be a lamp, but in lieu of a lamp you can use an obelisk, a candlestick, a print on a stand, a plate, a plant...use your imagination!

Bunny Williams uses a lovely pierced obelisk to enliven her tablescape, above. Below, a cream lamp and shade make a nice graphic statement against the screen, as do all the silvered objects on the marble table.
Courtesy of An Affair with a House.
Silver spice tower, at Arus auction on April 15th, estimate: $200-400.

William Lasansky, bronze of a head, at Susanin's in Chicago on March 24th, estimate $200-400.

Continental papier shell ornament. At Abell Auction in Los Angeles on March 18th, estimate $600-800.

Gilt bronze standing Thai buddha, at John McInnis on March 18th, estimate $200-400.

Two American painted models of airplanes. At Christie's on April 3rd, estimate $500-700.
Chinese carved glass vase. At Christie's on April 3rd, estimate $1,000-$1,500.

Stoneware bulldog pitcher At Fox Auctions on March 14th, estimate $150-250.

Rule #2 Create a Backdrop

A Michael Smith tablescape from Houses.

If your tablescape is against a wall, a propped up piece of art is a great way to help frame and highlight your decorative objects, filling in the empty space like a theater backdrop.

Thomas O'Brien layers it on. From American Modern.
Now, I used to look at these perilously perched pieces of art and cringe: great for photo shoots, maybe, but what about real life--wouldn't those things knock over the minute the table was hit? Well, yes, probably--especially if you don't use museum putty. A good putty can be used against the wall as well as along the base of a picture to really secure it. My favorite kind is Collectors Hold Museum Putty. It has a much stronger bond than the clear versions, yet still lifts off easily. (Note, I wouldn't try this technique with delicate wooden top though, particularly if it's painted, since, as good as this stuff is, it still might lift off some of the surface.)
A table in Albert Hadley's dressing room, above, and a tablescape in his home on the Hudson River, below.
From Albert Hadley: The Story of America's Preeminent Interior Designer.

 Rule # 3 The easel is your friend

Vincente Wolf

Pottery and porcelain plates can look terrific in a tablescape, particularly when displayed on an easel or stand. Not only do plates add height and work well as a backdrop, as per the preceding rules, but they also give you the opportunity to display inherited china that might otherwise be hidden away in your attic. Plates are excellent for a burst of color. I love them in unexpected places, such as the bedroom. Small easels can also displaying smaller pictures and calendars. Designers love using easels and examples abound...

Mary McDonald decorates a bedroom with strong colors and plates on easels, above, and below. From: Interiors: The Allure of Style.

A painting on an easel (and against the bookcase too!). From Timeless Elegance: The Houses of David Easton

  I've done it too, in my own, more modest, home...

I bought the Imari plate at auction last fall, below. It wasn't expensive (the estimate was $50-75, I paid $30). I  love the colors, though. It looks great with my Persian rug.

Japanese Cloisonne crane charger, at William Jenack on March 11th, estimate $250-400.

Palissy-type majolica lobster charger. At Dumouchelles in Detroit on March 17th, estimate $400-600.

A Chinese Famille Rose charger. At Leslie Hindman on March 16th, estimate $100-200.

Blue and white Delft charger. At Hartzell's on March 23rd, estimate $25-50.

Rule #4: Get Started!
Some auctions just lend themselves to collecting. The upcoming auction at Susanin's in Chicago is one such auction. I've included a few tablescape-friendly lots below, but be sure to look at the whole catalog for more, as there are a lot to choose from. I hope all this has inspired you. Happy bidding everyone!
Set of four quill boxes. At Susanin's in Chicago on March 24th, estimate $100-200.

Set of jade green pottery, at Susanin's on March 24th, estimate $100-200.

Collection of leather boxes. At Susanin's on March 24th, estimate $75-125.

Collection of horse brasses. At Susanin's on March 24th, estimate $75-125.