“Majolica Mania: Transatlantic Pottery in England and the United States, 1850–1915,” an exhibition and accompanying publication, will create new awareness and appreciation for nineteenth-century English and American majolica. Colorful, wildly imaginative, and technically innovative, this ceramic ware was functional and aesthetic, modern and historicizing. Its subject matter reflects a range of Victorian preoccupations, from botany and zoology to popular humor and the macabre. The exhibition will explore the considerable impact of majolica, from wares used in domestic conservatories and dining rooms to monumental pieces displayed at world’s fairs.
As the first major exhibition of this material in nearly four decades, “Majolica Mania” will present the diverse output of the originators and major manufacturers in England, such as Minton, Wedgwood, and George Jones (a subject that has been championed by a few scholars and many collectors), as well as the other British potteries that emerged to capitalize on the craze. The migration of English craftsmen to the United States and the increasing demand for majolica, in turn, encouraged production of this ware by important makers in New York City, Trenton, Baltimore, and the Philadelphia area.
Approximately 350 objects will be drawn from major private collections in the United States as well as from leading public collections in America and England, including the Maryland Historical Society, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, and Victoria and Albert Museum. Loans to the exhibition will elucidate the following themes: the introduction of majolica by Minton at the Great Exhibition of 1851; an exploration of how majolica was made; design sources, including historical styles and Asian art, as well as the natural world; the importance of botany and conservatories in the Victorian home; new foods and fashions of the table; important artists and sculptors who designed majolica; the progression of majolica as shown at the great World’s Fairs of the second half of the nineteenth century; major producers of majolica in Britain and the United States; humor and popular culture; and the end of majolica in the early twentieth century resulting from reforms related to limiting lead poisoning in the workplace.