Pot(tery) Tales in Victorian Painting and Literature

Rachel Gotlieb, Adjunct Curator at the Gardiner Museum
James Campbell, Girl with Jug of Ale and Pipes, 1858. Oil on panel, 30.7 cm x 30.5 cm. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.
LECTURE
THURSDAY, JANUARY 18
12 NOON
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Panelists/Speakers: Dr. Rachel Gotlieb

There is a wealth of information to be gleaned by deciphering ceramics in Victorian art and literature. This richly illustrated presentation shows that English Genre, Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic artists, as well as novelists Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Anthony Trollope charged their pottery and porcelain with deep metaphorical meanings to heighten the narrative for the public to interpret. Crockery in the cupboard, on the mantel, the table or the floor represented popular motifs exemplifying topical issues touching upon hygiene, faith, temperance and etiquette. Broken and empty vessels stood for despair, neglect, and personified ‘fallen’ women; or alternatively platters and cups filled with food, drink and flowers signified happiness and domesticity. Specific objects, especially jugs were coded by color, size, form and location to demarcate gender and virtue, while the ubiquitous blue willow plate ignited the social divisions of the time: on the one hand serving as a lightening rod of bad taste and lower class and on the one hand embodying national pride of English manufacturing, nostalgia and domesticity, only to be embraced and adopted in the mania for blue-and-white china. This talk explains how depictions of ceramics played a central role moralizing and decorating Victorian society.

Dr. Rachel Gotlieb is Adjunct Curator at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto. She was previously the Gardiner’s Chief Curator and Interim Executive Director. She is the 2017 Theodore Randall International Chair in Art and Design at Alfred University in New York. Gotlieb is presently writing a book, “Ceramics in Victorian Literature and Painting: Meanings and Metaphors.”