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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Fruits And Vegetables In Faience

By Ruth Berges

( Article orginally published September 1963 )

When the art of Continental faience reached its pinnacle of achievement in the eighteenth century, the potter's imagination soared to unbounded heights. Whatever his eye saw, his hands recreated in pottery. Thus many forms of life as well as inanimate objects were imitated in exquisitely modeled, carefully glazed and colorfully decorated faience. The potter's art rivaled that of the painter and sculptor.

Among useful wares, frequently modeled after baroque silver and pewter shapes, ranked dinner sets and other objects for the dining room and kitchen. Decorative pieces included figurines, groups of figures, animals, vases, flowerpots and wall plaques.

Ceaseless creativeness in a medium, which after years of experimentation and constant improvement had been triumphantly mastered, aroused keen competition among the faience potters, decorators and factories of different towns and countries. Originality alternated and vied with imitation. A combination of the attractive plasticity of the clay, the variety offered by colorful decoration and the pressure to produce something new to please and attract the public stimulated and spurred the potter. His active fantasy visualized bouquetiers in the shape of miniature baroque commodes or tureens modeled in the form of animals. Roses or artichokes were modeled as tureen finials, eagle-heads as their handles.

Perhaps most popular and attractive. and still highly valued today, were the innumerable objects for which fruits and vegetables served as models. Lifelike and perfect in modeling, artfullv imitating shape and texture, they were usually painted in naturalistic colors. Sometimes, in his exuberance over the palette of colorful pigments at his disposal that could now be successfully fired, the faience decorator slightly exaggerated what he saw and intensified nature's coloring. Whether naturalistic or imaginatively idealized, the finished objects of purely decorative or practical character emerged breathtakingly beautiful.

While some objects became uniquely associated with particular workshops,others were variously copied by several factories. In some instances the manufacture or even the modeler or decorator can be determined from a mark. Some manufactures became known for certain characteristics in modeling or coloring; so that a mark is not necessarv to identify their products. On the other hand, frequently it is nearly impossible to attribute these vegetables or fruits to any particular factory, and one can only guess at a region or countrv-. This does not in any way diminish their value. On the contrary, an air of mystery about an object often holds an especial charm for a collector.

Fruits and vegetables in faience served many purposes. Sometimes in miniature form they were applied as finials to tureens or other covered bowls or boxes. Nearly all the factories produced some vegetables and fruits for purely decorative uses, mainly as table decorations or as showpieces for cabinets. Delft potters excelled in modeling colorful, life-size apples and pears, usually perched on one or several leaves.

Another category of decorative objects consisted of the trompe-l'oeil, for which Delft as well as a number of French factories such as Marseilles, Strasbourg, Niderviller and Moustiers were famed. These were oval platters or round dishes, often with a border decorated with floral motifs, to the center of which were attached various modeled and painted fruits, vegetables and nuts, in beautiful, deceptively realistic, casual arrangements. A Delft trompe-l'oeil might be composed of a grouping of celery, cauliflower and cucumber on a large oval platter with a valanced rim, the border painted with small flowers. A round Marseilles plate with a scalloped border might be enhanced in the center with an arrangement of cherries, plums or olives. A small round dish of undetermined manufacture, perhaps with a latticework border, might be decorated with finely modeled walnuts, so realistic they truly deceive the viewer's eye. Variations were unlimited; many types of fruits and vegetables were used, always eye-catching with their bright fresh coloring.

Most important among vegetables and fruits in faience ranked the useful wares, consisting of covered dishes. Large tureens; small bowls; butter, sweetmeat or jam dishes were all produced in various fruit and vegetable shapes. Magnificent cabbage-head tureens, sometimes with underdishes shaped as a single large cabbage-leaf, were made by all the large, as well as many minor faience factories. Often objects of excellent quality, not identifiable by a mark and perhaps produced by smaller factories, are attributed to the better-known and well-documented manufactures, because their wares are more popular and desired and will command higher prices. There are many German cabbage-head tureens, that pass as French, in particular as Strasbourg. Cabbage-head tureens originated from factories as far apart as Eckernforde (Germany), Hollitsch (Hungary), Marseilles, Brussels and Delft. Sometimes they are highly individualistic in concept. In each instance, while unique in modeling and coloring, the results are esthetically satisfying.

Covered dishes in the shape of apples, pears and bunches of asparagus and grapes were made at various German and French factories. Hoechst in Germany, like Strasbourg in France, produced a large number of highly exceptional fruit and vegetable wares, such as melons and artichokes. A specialty of many smaller German factories including Glienitz, Proskau, Zerbst, Braunschweig and Kelsterbach were large and small covered vegetable and fruit dishes, among them lemons and bunches of grapes. The German factory of Abtsbessingen modeled a covered dish in the form of a melon on a plate. An arrangement of apples, pears, plums, grapes, cherries and leaves surrounded the melon. Delft manufactured an endless variety of butter dishes formed as melons and other fruits, including a basket of strawberries.

Although some fruits and vegetables were repeated again and again, their shapes and positions were amazingly varied. A fruit was modeled upright; lying on its side, balanced diagonally on a small leaf, or placed on a generously large, often leaf-shaped underdish. Coloring was equally diversified. Some models were simply glazed white, presenting a smooth, soft, warm surface and accentuating the vegetable or fruit's contours. Most objects, however, were noted for their vivid coloring. Finials might consist of a stem, a twig and leaves, a few tiny blossoms, or another fruit. Some cabbage-head tureens were decorated with modeled snails and insects, or were fantastically topped by a small dog or frog, or other animal as a handle. Some melons were naturalistically smooth and oval or round in shape with only some molded indentations and bright yellow coloring, others were elaborately decorated with stems, twigs, leaves and blossoms. A lemon in faience might simply emulate the fruit's yellow, uneven skin; or it might be generously encrusted with flowers.

Modeling fruits and vegetables in faience had quickly become an exciting and much admired eighteenth-century art, and potters exploited it to the utmost. These beautiful objects, flawlessly modeled and decorated, which have survived two hundred years and more, still strike us with their beauty. Small wonder that they are highly prized and desired by collectors and connoisseurs everywhere.

Cabbage Head Tureen

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