Massier Cockerel Head
There are features that distinguish one type of lead-glaze majolica from another to a great or lesser degree which we mention as we go along. The main types are English majolica, which we will cover in more detail including sections on English Style, Makers and Marks; Continental majolica; Palissy majolica; American majolica; and Green.
They were commercially inexpensive to produce as many colours could be applied to the biscuit, then fired just once, ideally without running into each other though this was not always possible. The process of applying coloured lead glazes to the biscuit, then firing, is known as 'majolica glazing'.
These decorative and inexpensive dessert/salad services should, strictly speaking, be known as 'green glazed leaf molded earthenware'. Lead glaze coloured green had been around for many years before Minton’s Arnoux used his own glaze formulations to great effect in the new majolica wares. Green glazed leaf plates rely on the 'intaglio' effect where glaze accumulates in the depressions of the mold as a stronger color.
Minton’s new range of coloured lead glazes were tough, hard-wearing, could be utilised in varied applications, and excitingly new thereby, increasing decorative potential. The new majolica was simultaneously boldly decorative and useful. It became hugely popular with the rapidly emerging merchant classes of Victorian England. Some established households also approved, including Royalty.
Within a few years many pottery firms had moved into lead-glazed majolica. New contenders strove to establish their own businesses, George Jones being one of the latecomers, to some collectors the finest of them all. Lead-glazed majolica enjoyed a heyday. But by the 1880's in England the passion was fading. By 1900 majolica manufacture in England was at a low ebb, many artisans emigrating to the US where interest in majolica was alive and well.
Style reflects the interests and fashion of the day, all the while stimulated, if not always led, by innovative design.
In the early years, vases, stands and flower pots were made with Minton’s tin-glazed majolica in Italian Renaissance maiolica style. Garden seats and jardinieres needed to be more heavy-duty so were made with Minton’s hard-wearing lead-glazed majolica in a variety of styles. Within ten years the lead-glazed product was pre-eminent, copied by potteries world-wide, mass-produced and in many styles, formal or informal, classical or naturalistic. (Captions on the pictures below tell which style they are.)
By the 1870's, with majolica production at its peak, 'informal' naturalistic design reigned supreme. The very English passion for nature and for the English garden was reflected in majolica décor brilliant with color, depicting shells, plants, flowers, birds and other animals.
Monkey designs reflected ongoing interest in the ‘evolution debate’. Charles Darwin enjoyed considerable notoriety.
With the British Empire at its greatest and proudest, its peoples’ interest in the world at large continued also to broaden. Booming trade with the East brought everything 'oriental' suddenly back into fashion. A further flush of national pride following Petrie's excavations in Egypt also found expression in majolica.
The ‘big three’ English makers: Minton, George Jones and Wedgwood, are for some the most highly sought after. The best of their output was of wonderful quality combining innovative contemporary design with technical perfection - sharp, crisp, bright colors, and excellent color control.
The MINTON factory is where our popular Victorian majolica was pioneered and developed. Minton was also at the forefront in design. In addition to talented in-house designers, they commissioned famous names for special pieces. Paul Comolera (peacock, stork, heron), Hugues Protat (heron, putti) and Henk (stork, cockerel & hen), to name a few.
Wedgwood eventually acquired the desire and the technology for producing quality majolica, curiously with help from Minton. Their designs came from their own artists and from freelance modellers. Their white ground pieces were marketed as Argenta Ware. A series of table services are among our personal favorites.
GEORGE JONES, a favourite with some collectors, started from nothing. Apprenticed to Minton, employed for a short while by Wedgwood, his opportunity to move up from merchant to manufacturer came in 1862. Concentrating on naturalistic designs he and his sons produced a series of stunning patterns, which by various means were got to market both in England and the USA.
OTHER ENGLISH MAKERS
Producing distinctive high quality merchandise, but in less quantity, and fewer patterns other English makers are represented below.
UNIDENTIFIED ENGLISH MAKERS
The combined output of small enterprises that never identified their wares was enormous. Frequently delightfully rustic, their wares, still relatively inexpensive today, form the backbone of many collections. Though sometimes of lesser technical quality than the top makers in terms of sharpness, color control and color brightness they produced quantities of original designs a number of 'look alikes', and some copies - sometimes made with 'borrowed' molds discarded by the bigger factories.
Marks that are occasionally found on English majolica: Impressed or printed 'ENGLAND': When present, tells the piece was made after 1891. However, as marking was haphazard and inconsistent, the absence of an ‘ENGLAND’ mark does not necessarily mean ‘pre-1891’.
A diamond shaped registration mark, when present, tells the date the pattern was registered. The diamond shape mark molded into the item testify the registration of the pattern. Letters and numbers in the four corners specify the exact date of registration. The system was sufficiently successful that its use continued throughout the majolica period and beyond. Note: The year of pattern registration is not necessarily the year of manufacture but does indicate a ‘circa’ date.
Impressed maker's manufacture date code, when found, most often on Wedgwood and Minton wares, tells the year the piece was made if you have the charts to look them up. Impressed or applied makers monograms/names: ‘GJ’, ‘JH’, 'MINTON', 'WEDGWOOD', etc
Please Note: All the marks mentioned above appear inconsistently, even those of the top makers. Tableware services were frequently unmarked except for the main pieces.
Continental (European) factories produced majolica initially for their own home markets and for export to the UK, later to the USA, most of them continuing after the English market waned in the 1880's. Asparagus/artichoke ware was a speciality of some French makers. Majolica is known in France as 'barbotine'. High quality majolica was produced throughout Europe. Colors varied from one maker to another. Less familiar to collectors of English majolica was the use of deep red, teal, blue, and pink.
Palissy is an ultra-naturalistic type of majolica, characterized by three-dimensional modelled snakes, fish, lizards, frogs, snails, etc.
Arranged on grassy or aquatic backgrounds, reborn circa 1843 in France, with main centers in Paris and Tours; and circa 1880 in Portugal, centered on the town of Caldas da Rainha.
Bernard Palissy (1510-1590)
A gifted, obsessive naturalist, author, and potter, first produced the Palissy style circa 1548. For the first time in history molds were taken from actual specimens. Colored lead glazes were formulated to fuse onto an earthenware body
The story according to W.P.Jervis, a historian, penned a couple of centuries later, goes like this:
Bernard Palissy’s friends and neighbours looked upon him as a madman. In vain his wife pleaded. The kiln swallowed up everything and direst poverty stared them in the face. For sixteen years he struggled on, enduring the reproaches of his wife, the death of his children, the pathetic look of hunger in the faces of those spared to him, and the reviling of his neighbours. Undaunted by failure he sacrificed his furniture for fuel, his wife and remaining children, hungry and ragged, in vain imploring him to desist.
If this failed it was of necessity his last experiment. The very last stick of furniture had been thrust in the kiln, and the house stripped of every vestige of woodwork, and who shall attempt to portray with what emotions Palissy awaited the result... With trembling hands he drew the few pieces from the kiln - for a moment he dared not trust his senses - he looked again - THE GLAZE HAD FUSED. This changed everything and he lived happily ever after.
Palissy majolica was made mostly in France and Portugal, each in their own distinctive style.
French makers were less helpful, marking few pieces, and many makers producing pieces of similar style and glazes, making attributions difficult. Makers include:
From 1870 to 1920 majolica production in the US boomed. We see very little US majolica in the UK so this topic may be left to those better qualified than Madelena. Perhaps the most famed maker is Griffin Hill Smith & Co (Etruscan), usually with a distinctive impressed mark.