The Victoriana Collector's Challenge

The decorative arts of the Victorian Era (1837-1901) challenge those who idealize modernism, yet they wholly embody several different cultural or artistic currents present at the time. Not fully appreciated either in the art world or in the antiques trade, some wares can be had for pennies on the dollar (when compared to the boom in Victoriana that flushed the American market from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s), but other pieces will hold their value due to a good maker or their mint condition.

We recently received a late 19th century KPM porcelain plaque depicting the central scene from Raphaels Sistine Madonna in perfect condition and which includes its original gilt frame. Square, hand-hewn nails hold the plaque in place. These plaques by KPM are always desirable to collectors due to the masterful painting done by in-house artists and because of the smooth regularity of the porcelain work. The example we received is enormous by KPM standards, the visible image at the front measures twelve and three-quarters inches by sixteen inches. It is expected to sell in the $4,000 to $8,000 range.

[From Kovels on Antiques and Collectibles: (http://www.kovels.com): KPM refers to Berlin porcelain, but the same initials were used alone and in combination with other symbols by several German porcelain makers. They include the Konigliche Porzellan Manufaktur of Berlin, initials used in mark, 18231847; Meissen, 17231724 only; Krister Porzellan Manufaktur in Waldenburg, after 1831; Kranichfelder Porzellan Manufaktur in Kranichfeld, after 1903; and the Krister Porzellan Manufaktur in Scheibe, after 1838.]

Viennese bronzes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are rife with idealization of oriental cultures contemporary to their manufacture. Art such as Fumee d Ambre Gris by John Singer Sargent and literary works by Coleridge, Shelley, Emerson and Poe (among others) regaled the public with tales and images of the alluring and erotic Middle Eastone that has existed only in the imagination of the artists. Later, this impulse trickled down to the popular decorative arts; an example that we have received for auction include a lamp with a cold-painted spelter base depicting two men praying below a Moorish dome. It is German in origin rather than Austrian, but certainly is in the Austrian style, and it typifies the feel of these conflicted pieces of popular culture.

Due to the cobbled-together nature of t he presentation, Aesthetic Movement silverplate can also be difficult to love at first. A teapot we have for auction is a mishmash of animal parts stuck onto an egg-shaped body, with a sphinx-form finial, and which typifies an early form of the style that has not yet embraced the so-called Japonisme that later styles exhibit, (the Aesthetic Movement began in 1868, and this piece dates to 1871-1873). Due to its origin I England, the makers, Redfield & Rice of New York City, had likely not full absorbed Aestheticism at the time this piece was made. Later in the century, Tiffany & Company (founded by Charles Lewis Tiffany and Teddy Young in New York City in 1837) produced arguably the finest silver they made in a refined version of this style.

Resources you may wish to explore include:

Orientalist Art of the Nineteenth Century:

Western Michigan University TextsOrientalism:

PBSAntiques RoadshowPorcelain Paintings: