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
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'
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:
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
Lions, tigers, black panthers.
Luxury kitsch and high-art
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.
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
Many ceramics depicted fish, olives, mushrooms
and vegetables (as in the Hors-d'uvre 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
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.
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.
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
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