Object of Desire
Mintons Dessert Plates:
by Sarah Hall, Director of Curatorial Affairs
|More Objects of Desire can be found here.|
As we prepare to bring in an unusual and beautiful array of Medieval Persian ceramics to the museum, I find myself pulled toward these highly refined, gloriously decorated English plates from the 19th century that are typically at home in one of the glittering Frederick Osterling-designed mirrored cabinets in the dining room at Clayton. Even there, with so many objects to catch and reflect light, the stunning Persian blue and Imperial yellow of the glazes on these dessert plates are eye catching.
I am drawn to the combination of motifs and colors that connect these sophisticated, aesthetic movement porcelains with nearly the entire history of ceramics. These dessert plates exhibit an exotic eastern influence, from the Persian blue ground and beautifully painted stork, to the depiction of ornamental flowering branches in a blue and white pot. The blue glaze, a famous bright turquoise color that Mintons became known for, is often called “Persian blue,“ in recognition of the Persian artisans who first mastered this brilliant coloration hundreds of years earlier. The stork decoration is also reminiscent of works in the Persian ceramics exhibition—in which bird imagery is one of the most popular figural motifs.
Mintons Limited, Stoke-on-Trent, England. Dessert Plate, 1880. Porcelain with overglaze enamels and gilt. Frick Art & Historical Center, 1986.24.
However, the plates are most indebted to the pervasive interest in Japan that took hold in both Europe and America in the second half of the 19th century. The exhibition of Japanese applied arts in London in 1862 and Paris in 1867 sparked a craze which had all things Japanese in vogue, particularly from about 1875-1885. Influential designer Christopher Dresser (1834-1904) published on the aesthetic influence of Asia and Japan, and lectured widely on forms and decoration in Asian decorative arts. One of the most important designers of the 19th century, Dresser created Asian-inspired designs for many firms, including Mintons. Since there are not exhaustive records documenting this, it’s possible these plates are one of his designs.
The 10 plates, dated 1880, were possibly a wedding gift to the Fricks, who married in December 1881, and did not typically make purchases from Caldwell & Co of Philadelphia, the retailer identified on the back of the plates. Mintons Limited, already a venerable firm by 1880, was begun by Thomas Minton (1765-1836) in 1793. Throughout the 19th century it was England’s leading ceramic factory, producing an astonishing variety of fine quality products for high-end patrons. At the time these plates were produced, the founder’s great nephew Colin Minton Campbell (1827-1885) was running the firm and it was a period of great artistic growth and exploration including the production of ceramics in emulation of Chinese cloisonné, Japanese Lacquer, and Middle-Eastern models. Colin Minton Campbell went so far as to create a study collection at the factory that included examples of Persian tiles as well as East Asian, and Middle Eastern ceramics.
Looking to publications of the period helps to put both this taste for Asian design and the techniques required to emulate it into context. The 1873 publication Reports on the Vienna Universal Exhibition of 1873 stated:
From the time of antiquity we find Persia already the seat of a peculiar ceramic industry which was already working for export in the middle ages…It was from thence that the china, charmingly and quietly ornamented with gay flowers upon a peculiar blue ground, came into western trade. …Mintons have brought the Persian blue into fashion in England in the present day and succeed in producing exquisitely pure manufactures.
Perhaps the allure of these plates is best summed up in the words of Christopher Dresser himself, taken from an 1874 lecture Eastern Art, and its Influence on European Manufactures and Taste: I now perceive that one great beauty of Oriental ornament is its poetical significance. What is art without poetry?