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Poorly designed or cheaply made decorative objects, usually mass produced for ordinary people. Hated by tradionalists, but loved by ... me!

Kitsch has so many themes that it is difficult to define; but you know it when you see it. Unlike retro, which refers to a specific time period (1950s - 1970s), kitsch is timeless. Nonetheless, it was a particularly common feature of popular culture in the 1950s and 60s. And while retro is admired, even cool, kitsch is most often used in a negative sense. Art snobs use 'kitsch' as a negative judgement not only of the object itself, but also of its owner.

Kitsch is usually poorly designed and cheaply made, and palettes often contain clashing colours that don't work well together. Interiors of Chinese restaurants are kitsch.

There is some snobbery involved in definitions of kitsch, because it is typically a decorative art for ordinary people, like them wot likes the kind of stuff on this website (i.e. me). Kitsch is looked down on by many academic design 'experts' because it stands in such contrast to rarefied Scandinavian and other 'International' styles.

 

  Parisienne, unknown maker. Typical of French styles in mid 1950s English ceramics.

Types of kitsch

 

Cute or pretty kitsch

makes you go 'aaah!' with its playful puppies, fluffy kittens, pink ribbons and sweet children being slightly naughty. Quaint cottages and rustic landscapes also belong here. Pink is used to heighten the feminine and sugary aspect. Cute kitsch is very close to sentimental kitsch:

Sentimental kitsch

brings a tear to your eye with its pathos. Doe-eyed children and Saints, sad puppies, kittens and bunnies with doe-eyes, and teddy bears with 'I Love You' stickers. Many religious paintings by Old Masters, some works by the Pre-Raphaelites, and maybe even some portraits by Gainsborough, Reynolds and Lawrence, are sentimental or cute kitsch.

Macho kitsch

Lions, tigers, black panthers.

Luxury kitsch and high-art kitsch

imitates wealth (or the trappings of wealth, such as high culture and fox hunting). Zebra prints, over-the-top rococo decoration, plush velvet and fake gilding all belong here.

The high-kitsch wishing well pattern by J & G Meakin has a ballet dancer gliding towards a well (this series had pink hollow-ware, naturally). Gaiety Days by Empire (1957), ballet by Wade (1957-8; black silhouette with yellow ground), and Beswick's Pavlova (Ballet) range, are also illustrated with dancers, as is Giselle by Swinnterton.

  Ballet by Beswick

Alfred Meakin's Tally-Ho was one of the many fox-hunting scenes produced by English factories. These include Duchess Bone China, Hornsea, Portmeirion, Royal Worcester, Crown Victorian and Wedgwood (Crown Staffordshire and Coalport). Another rural theme is a graduated set of three or four flying ducks (Beswick, SylvaC, Falcon Ware, Keele Street Pottery, Rye Pottery). We can't leave flying birds without mentioning the three flying Guinness toucans by Carlton Ware.

Tourism kitsch

In the sixties and seventies, cheap package flights meant that many Brits could holiday in the Mediterranean, USA, and Caribbean.

French scenes were popular in the fifties and early sixties, and reflect the styles of popular tourist destinations such as Paris and the Mediterranean coast. Examples include the non-kitsch Riviera and Cannes by Midwinter, the Frenchy-poodle Springtime by Swinnertons, and Parisienne, possibly by Ridgway or Alfred Meakin, but I don't know (marked on the back: "Parisienne. Made in England"). Parisienne was a monochrome Paris scene with a restaurant and lady with poodles shown in front-view, and is seen in various tableware items. A similar monochrome pattern is Wedgwood's Bois de Boulogne (c. 1957) designed by Albert Wagg. Crown Clarence made a Paris Holiday design showing a couple on a park under a lamp, with a poodle trotting past.

Alfred Meakin's Montmartre was a pink-highlighted drawing of a winding road, with a caf? of the left and a woman, in pink, walking her dog in the distance (and occasionally seen with embossed lattice pattern near rim). It carries a coloured backstamp. Meakin's Down by the Seine is similar, but the woman and dog her are on the river bank near a boat and with a bridge in the background.

One of the colourful Riviera patterns by Crown Devon  

 

Crown Devon produced Fifi, a range depicting a clipped French poodle carrying an umbrella past a caf?. Foley made a standing poodle with white body and frilly fifties decoration. Springtime by Swinnertons combines various of these elements: a girl walking her dog meets a young man in the process (as in 101 Dalmatians); they end up in a caf? together. Fortunately, the next stage is not illustrated. One Alfred Meakin pattern shows a Dutch Windmill with a couple in front.

Siesta by Alfred Meakin shows a man in sombrero sleeping in a Spanish or Mexican landscape, with blue hollow war. Matador by Broadhurst shows a bull fight. Hispanic themes are continued in the colorful Mexican style vases by Crown Ducal, featuring a boy with a donkey, wine or oil jugs, and of course, cacti (Little Pedro). A related style from Crown Ducal was Petit Pierre (boy with grey hat, baskets of apples, no donkey).

  Rio by Lord Nelson Potteries

Cacti and sombreros feature in Beswick's Mexican madness range, and Burleigh produced a range of vases shaped like cacti. Lord Nelson's Rio includes Mexican holiday motifs. Barker Bros produced some colorful ranges, such as The Gondoliers(blue hollow ware and Venetian gondoliers) and South Pacific (palm trees, etc.). SylvaC and Royal Doulton also produced Venetian scenes. Beswick produced a palm trees range (1946 onwards). Related tropical themes include South Seas by J & G Meakin (with palm trees backstamp), Masons South Seas (colourful plants and seashells), and the strong abstract pattern of Royal Albert's South Pacific. Calypso by Royal Winton shows Caribbean dancers under a palm tree and has bright red edging.

  Unnamed cactus pattern by Alfred Meakin. This range is too nice to be real kitsch!

Food, barbecues and restaurant kitsch

The growing enthusiasm for European cuisine was acquired on holidays, and through the influence of cookery writers and TV chefs. It was also a response to a new trend towards informal and outdoor (patio) dining, as well as a reaction against the years of food rationing during the war. In the decade 1950-1960, Elizabeth David published a series of highly influential food books, including: A Book of Mediterranean Food (1950), Italian Food (1954) and French Provincial Cooking (1960). These three are illustrated with wonderful drawings that closely resemble the food illustrations on British ceramics of the period.

Many ceramics depicted fish, olives, mushrooms and vegetables (as in the Hors-d'œuvre dishes of Poole, Shorter and Sons, and the cloisonné range of Denby). Other examples include Saladware by Midwinter, inspired by designs by Piero Fornasetti (1955), Salad Days by James Kent, barbecue by Ridgway and Panache by Crown Devon and a wonderful coloured design of food items on a squared grid by Washington Potteries. Gaiety Grill by Crown Devon shows humorous anthropomorphic vegetables. The Picknick range designed by by Marianne Westman in 1956 for R?rstrand had attractive and colourful patterns of stylised fruit and salad vegetables (manufactured until 1969).

Barker Bros. produced a colourful Chianti range with wine bottles and grapes. The hollow ware carried the same pattern, or was yellow. Kelsboro Ware also got in on the act with coloured vegetable patterns. Johnson Bros. Seafare has fish and crustaceans, as does Oceania by Crown Devon.

Movie kitsch

Alfred Meakin's ultra-kitsch Oklahoma shows a couple picking fruit, or in a carriage with a fringe on top, and presumably released after the film Oklahoma (1955). They also produced a coloured design of costumed figures called My Fair Lady. The South Pacific patterns of Royal Albert and Barker Bros. might have been influenced by the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical of the same name, or the spin-off movie South Pacific (1958).

Plants and gardening

The wonderful designs of Eric Ravilious for Wedgwood in the 1930s may have influenced the 'garden' and 'household implements' styles that became common after the war.

Garden themes are seen in Arizona by Crown Ducal, which has cactuses and other pot plants arranged around a central plant table with striped awning. The terracotta red and Lincoln green colour scheme is similar to that used in Alfred Meakin's seaside patterns, and both seem to be early post-war, judging by the traditional body shapes used. Crown Devon produced a cruet set with pieces shaped like flower pots, the tops painted brown to represent the soil. Two have moulded plant buds on top, and one has a trowel. Crown Clarence made a spring pattern in the 1950's, where the tableware is decorated with squares containing potted plants and trowels.

Beswick's Green Fingers shows young ladies and a gentleman tending a garden - or rather the 'gentleman' leans nonchalantly and coyly against his spade while the ladies do all the work. Alfred Meakin had a series with pictures of cactus pots (with gold trim, possibly pre-war?). Midwinter's plant life shows house plants in beautiful fifties plant pots.

Hello, sailor!

A note on patterns with 'gay' in the title. In the fifties and early sixties, 'gay' had the innocent meaning of happy and brightly coloured. Hence ceramic styles called Gaytime by Lord Nelson Potteries, Lady Gay by Royal Albert, Gay Meadow, Gay Moments and Gaylord by Myott, Gaywood by Ridgway, Gay Meadow by Crown Ducal, Gay Gobbler by Midwinter, Gayday by Wade and Palissy, Gay Day by Wood and Sons, Gay Morning figurine by Royal Doulton, Gaiety Days by Empire Ware, Apple Gay, Gay Stripes by Susie Cooper, Gay Nineties by Foley, Gayline by Ellgreave, Gay Fantasy by Johnson Bros and also by Alfred Meakin, Gaiety (by Hornsea, Johnson Bros., Royal Doulton, Clarice Cliff, Royal Albert, Broadhurst, Burleigh, Crown Devon and Pyrex) Gaiety Ware by Gray's (mid-50s - 1960) and Gaydon by British Industrial Plastics. J & G Meakin's Gay Paree had a can-can dancer backstamp. Lawley's Go Gay ceramic range from the 1930s or 40s, must have the last word in innocent misunderstanding.

Bonjour, matelot! Lomonosov Sailor Cadets (late fifties or early sixties). See USSR page.

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