A Very Pretty, Mid 19th Century, Chinese, Blue and White Lamp - Circa 1860
The Chinese invented porcelain and the Persians supplied the cobalt to decorate it. It is the combination of these two elements, from two cultures that have combined to give us “Blue and White”. The world has always had a love affair with blue and white, from all cultures and walks of life. At the earliest period of Chinese blue and white, it was a rare commodity with the same value as gold.
From being only available to the super rich, it is now available to almost everyone. Chinese porcelain was first made in China in the seventh century by combining a naturally occurring china clay, feldspar and flint. This combination when fired in wood burning kilns, with temperatures up 1400 degrees centigrade, fused to produce a true porcelain. The keys to success was the purity of the china clay and the long term development of the kiln technology. The very first blue and white was produced when Persian cobalt was imported into China in the 13th century, this opened the door to the underglaze decoration we now admire.
A Fine, Mid 19th Century, Chinese Porcelain Lamp - Circa 1860
In the following two to three hundred years, blue and white began to be exported to Europe. It was the Portuguese who, soon after making contact with China in the 16th century, began developing concession trading posts and regular shipments of blue and white began. Nothing like this had been seen before in Europe and it didn't take long for the Chinese to realise the enormous potential of the market, with the result being that production was increased.
The first major cargoes of ships containing nothing but porcelain, arrived in Europe in the early 17th century. With the arrival of blue and white, the European perception was transformed. Europe had only known a rather dull earthenware and stoneware, this arrival sparked an event known as “Chinamania”. This led to a complete change to European ceramics. In Holland for example, Delftware changed, almost overnight, when it was quickly realised that only Chinese blue and white would do! The rush was then on as potters realised that they needed to catch up and Delft soon began to look Chinese. This was the early beginning of Chinoiserie, the European interpretation of Chinese decorative art.
Detail "Boys At Play"
Of course, the European potters did not understand the significance of the Chinese decoration and had no idea of the language of symbols that pervades all Chinese art, writing and thought. There are two levels of communication in China: the practical function of speech and writing, and the symbolic meaning that hides just beneath the surface. Chinese decoration was simply seen as purely decorative, producing some very amusing results. From this early beginning, blue and white moved throughout the international ceramics industry with no centre of pottery and porcelain production unaffected.
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Charm is a word we hear very little of these days, although it’s something we naturally look for. We may not often hear the word, but there’s a part of us that seeks it out. Charm can be defined in a number of ways: - to attract, or delight, to enchant. Charm is alluring, or pleasing, a particular quality that attracts and delights and this is exactly the place to find early 19th century, English, blue transfer ware, otherwise known as “blue and white”.
Charm never stops giving; it remains delightful and pleasing to the eye and does not change with the vagaries of fashion, so beautifully defined by Oscar Wilde – “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months”.
English, blue underglaze, transfer printing on pottery was at its peak from the late 18th century when Josiah Spode I, the Staffordshire potter, is credited with the introduction of blue transfer printing on earthenware (1781 – 1784) although printing on porcelain, in a small way, had had a much earlier introduction. The process was probably invented by John Brooks, an Irish, copper plate engraver employed at the Battersea enamel works in London in 1753.
Ceramic printing, like many processes, is simple, after you know how and printing on earthenware was much the same in its development. The majority of the 18th and 19th century English, printed pottery manufacturers were centered in Staffordshire and by the early 19th century potters were producing blue printed pottery both for the English and the export market, with printed wares going to nearly all parts of the English speaking world, America, Canada, India, South Africa and Australia.
The process of transfer printing involved a series of steps with each completed step moving on to the next until the piece was ready to leave the factory. Of great importance was the “artist” or copper plate engraver. It was entirely due to his artistic expertise that produced the quality of the print. The engraver, with a sharp steel point, engraved the pattern on to the surface of a smooth copper plate.
This moved on to the inking shop, where the plate was inked until the ink had filled the engraved plate. Surplus ink was wiped off and the pattern, using a press, was printed on to fine sheets of tissue. The tissue was trimmed to a suitable shape and size and after being dampened, was transferred to the surface of the cream or white, fired, but unglazed, or bisque fired, earthenware shape.
A skillful practiced dabbing technique was used to print the tissue transfer to the surface; the tissue was then gently peeled off, leaving the pattern neatly printed behind. The next step was the glazing shop, where each newly printed piece, now dry, was plunged into a deep tub of glaze. The glaze was actually powdered glass suspended in water and looking a lot like a creamy white soup. The now printed and glazed shape, after drying off, went to the firing kiln. The high temperature kiln melted the powdered glass into a shiny smooth coat over the shape.
The final result was a beautiful sapphire blue image on a white or cream coloured pottery surface, named “cream ware”. During the final decade of the 18th century, it was discovered, that with the addition of a small amount of cobalt to the glaze, a fine, delicate blue luster was produced, this became known as “pearlware”.
Many of the prints can be seen to make social and political comment, humor, rural life and scenery, heroes of the day and royalty. Many were copied from illustrations of India, from hunting and farming. At this period, c1780 – 1830, society was principally rural and unlike today, the world was a much bigger place, with little opportunity to travel very far from home.
As the 19th century progressed, more and more industrial techniques were developed, eventually obliterating the beauty and all the charm of these 18th and early 19th century wares. The shapes lose all their refinement, becoming heavy and purely functional, in fact, the "art" had disappeared! By about 1850, colour printing had been introduced and although blue printed wares were still being made, the general quality has seriously declined. Just like all artistic forms, the further it gets from the original, the less identified it becomes with the original concept.
There are many “charming” aspects associated with early blue transfer ware, which could be referred to as naïve charm. If you look carefully at a blue and white shape, you will very often see where the transfer design ends and continues, leaving the pattern not quite matching. In fact, I have even seen several pieces with finger prints still visible, fired into the glassy glaze, as left by a workman 200 years ago!
© Antique Lamp Shoppe 2019
The name “Wedgwood” is probably one of the most well known associated with porcelain and pottery in the Western world. Josiah Wedgwood was born in 1730 into a family of potters at Burslem in Staffordshire, the great centre of English ceramics. Staffordshire is synonymous with the production of porcelain and pottery, as the county is uniquely positioned with potting clay and the plentiful water supply necessary for the manufacture of fine ceramics.
Potting in Staffordshire has had an uninterrupted history of over 300 years, with many household names originating from, what were often, very small, family potteries. Principals among these are names such as Wedgwood, Minton and Spode, many of these famous names now amalgamated into large international companies.
Josiah Wedgwood was known as a man full of new ideas, a man who experimented tirelessly to develop and refine his product. One of Wedgwood’s most outstanding achievements was his painstaking development of his famous jasper. Jasper would be best described as hard, fine grained, stoneware and was introduced in 1774, but it was not until 1779, that Wedgwood was able to successfully produce plaques and vases in the exquisite range of pastel colours known today as Wedgwood Jasper.
Wedgwood’s years of trial and error with colours and firing techniques, led to the superb range of colours that we know today. With a range of colours such as sage green, yellow, lilac and the famous pale blue, all derived from metallic oxides discovered by Wedgwood. To fully understand and appreciate the position of a man like Wedgwood in his 18th century world, we need to understand a little of "how society worked".
His age was the age of the patron or of one who could "smooth the way" because of his social rank. Society was very clearly classified between the social classes; from the rural working class, the merchant class and the titled, aristocratic land owning class.
It was this upper class to which men like Wedgwood needed to appeal for patronage and support. Wedgwood went right to the top and through connections was received by the Queen, Queen Charlotte, consort to King George III.
The Queen was delighted with Wedgwood’s presentation gift of rather plain and simple cream ware, Wedgwood had done his homework! and knew that both the King and Queen had, what was considered, simple taste, so he knew exactly what to present. His simple cream ware was very quickly renamed “Queen’s Ware” and promptly opened the door to the clients which were able to support his beautiful neo classic, expensive jasper.
Pair Of 19th Century Wedgwood Blue Jasper Candlestick Lamps - Circa 1870
Solid jasper, as the name suggests, is coloured throughout, the various colours produced with different metallic oxides, whereas dipped jasper is a white stoneware, dipped into a vat of metallic oxide receiving a surface colour, technically, an applied slip of coloured jasper.
The white jasper decoration we usually see on coloured jasper, known as “applied relief”, was made separately in plaster moulds from a design and typically carved in solid wax. The cast relief was then “sprigged on”, (a ceramic term meaning “to apply”), to the relief to the surface of the jasper shape, before its single firing. The best known jasper today is the pale blue with white relief decoration.
Josiah Wedgwood died in 1795 and inscribed on his monument in Stoke Parish church are the words “He converted the English pottery industry from a rude and inconsiderable manufactory into an elegant art and an important part of the national commerce”.
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“Classical Greece”, meaning, authoritative: of recognized authority or excellence; "the definitive work on Greece" or relating to the most highly developed stage of an earlier civilization and its culture.
This interpretation of the term “classic” clearly defines the Greece of 500 BC, which has constantly re-inspired the Western world. The well known Athenian Acropolis constructed in 500 BC, the temple to Athena, being a perfect example of classical Greek architecture.
At various periods thought history, revivals of the superb designs of Greek classicism have emerged in art and design and particularly, architecture. Architectural styles have been inspired by elements of ancient Greek temples, with the use of massive marble Corinthian and Doric columns, decorative friezes and grand stair cases.
These revisits are generally known today as periods of “Greek Revival”. These movements were dominant from about the middle of the 18th century, lasting, almost until the close of the 19th century, 1750 – 1890.
When speaking of design and the visual arts, the neoclassical movement or the turning back to the classic, can be dated to about circa 1765 with its introduction generally seen as a reaction to the restraints of the former styles of the Baroque and Rococo, both of which were heavy with form and ornamentation.
The neo classical style can be seen as a desire to go back to the perceived purity and clean lines of ancient Greece. In France, this classical style became known as the style “Etruscan” and was much favored by the court of Louis XV and XVI.
From the late 18th century and up until about 1830, the style greatly influenced designers, peaking through the early years of the 19th century. Interior and furniture designers began to design and produce Greek style tables, chairs, wall hangings, pottery silver and even coaches. These were all designed in the new classical Greek style, with simple lines and decorative elements drawn from the repertoire of Greco-Roman ornament, particularly from Greek vase painting and from classical architecture, i.e. architectural motifs such as the repetitive Greek key, palmettes and Acanthus leaf.
The typical colour range of this neoclassic revival included black motifs outlined against terracotta and Pompeian red, powder blue, puce and olive, these colours sometimes used in a single décor.
With the exception of porcelain and pottery of the period, when we see these colours today, they appear as pastels. We forget that these objects have been exposed to over 200 years of sunlight with original interiors having long since faded.
From about 1800, European archaeology was “discovering” ancient Greece, with new design elements being literally brought to the surface! In 1806, Lord Elgin transported architectural elements of the Parthenon from Athens to London with events such as this having the effect of lifting neoclassicism to new heights. Many artists were now taking the path to Greece and a steady flow of sketches and engravings were now making their way north.
The style swept across Europe, now variously known in France, as the Neo-Greek and Empire style, in England as the Regency style and in Russia as Empire style, with its influence felt not only in architecture and design, but in literature, theatre and music.
The Greek revival had a profound influence on architecture, an influence which lasted well into the 19th century. In fact, it was not until the 1840’s that the term “Greek Revival” was used, believing to have been first used by Charles Cockerell, Professor of Architecture, in a lecture delivered to the Royal Society in 1842.
The style lasted well into the 1860’s, especially in North America. The revival saw the construction of many banks, courthouses and other large public buildings including private houses designed on the grand scale. From an architectural perspective, it was held to reflect intellect, prosperity and stability, with the use of grand porticoes supported by stately columns, reminiscent of Greek temples.
With the decorative arts, the revival was again strengthened in the 1860-1870 period. At this date, of course, we are talking of the high Victorian period, with design now characterised by a Victorian robustness. Throughout this late revival decade, art and design again swung toward the neoclassical, although this time without the early 19th century slenderness and elegant fine lines.
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It was the Dutch East India Company who, in 1650, opened the doors of Europe to the import of Japanese porcelain. Most of this early Japanese export porcelain was decorated as blue and white, much favored by the Dutch and still widely collected in the Netherlands today.
The Japanese Emperor had granted the Dutch a concessional trading port and factory to meet the growing demand for Japanese ceramics. These export kilns were situated at Arita in Japan's Hizen province. Not far from Arita was the great trading port of Imari. All export to the west left Japan through this port and it was from this port that the famous Japanese Imari porcelain takes its name.
This relationship is quite often missed, leading to much Japanese porcelain being attributed to "The Imari" factory. As the export trade increased, the demand for new shapes and colours grew, leading to the bright "Imari” patterns that are so distinctively recognised today.
These patterns, were in fact, derived from the sometimes identical patterns found in Japanese textiles and brocade, the coloured palette of enamels selected by the porcelain decorators in imitation of the silks chosen by the textile makers.
A standard range of colours make up the traditional palette of Imari decoration. A rich cobalt blue combines with a deep iron red to produce the basic colours. These two colours can then be embellished with pale blue, yellow, aubergine, greens and black. These brightly coloured Imari porcelains were much favored by Europeans of the 18th and 19th centuries with their bright brocade-like colours, cheering up the long dark days of winter.
© Antique Lamp Shoppe 2018
The “art” of interior design is generally seen as divided between modern contemporary, eclectic; interiors which include design components from a range of sources and classic or traditional interior design. A definition of classic is “a work of recognised excellence" or one that has stood the test of time.
A classic lamp, by definition, is well qualified, having seen a minimum of 100 years of changes in fashion and trends. Here it stands a century later, as elegant and timeless as the day it was made, having survived them all!
For a classic or eclectic interior, fine antique table lamps will quickly “pull the look together”, adding interest and an overall sense of high style.
Sophisticated interior design requires thoughtful and subtle lighting. To over or under light a beautiful interior is to detract from the finished effect. The great benefit of table lamp lighting is that it is easily portable, allowing for lighting to be re positioned to produce the most satisfactory outcome.
The classic lamp calls for the classic lampshade. Lampshades can be made in many materials with silk being the fabric of choice. For the ultimate in luxurious furnishings, silk can also be used to line a shade ensuring a professional and polished finish. This sumptuous textile is available in an almost endless array of colours and is the last word in elegance and refinement. A full range of shade styles are available in any shape. Soft or bonded, knife, box or diamond pleats or perhaps a ruffling effect.
Our home interiors are an important part of our lives offering an excellent means of self expression and comfortable retreat from the busyness of the world in which we live. Well placed antique and decorative lamps with their gentle, glowing light make a valuable contribution to the feeling of any classic interior.
An antique lamp can be a lot more than just a source of interior lighting; it can also be a work of art with a major contribution to the classic / eclectic interior.
Antique lamps with a “presence” can add to our visual appreciation of life. An antique lamp can be seen and appreciated in just the same way as a picture, which can add so much to enrich our experience.
© Antique Lamp Shoppe 2019