Postcard Image

Postcard Image
As the Victorian era passed into the Edwardian and Roaring Twenties, a market developed for bisque and china bawdy novelties and figurines of women in revealing outfits. Although now most of these figurines seem more coy and cute than ribald and risque, in their time they symbolized the casting off of the perceived restraints of the Victorian era.

These little lovelies included bathing beauties, who came clad in swimsuits of real lace or in stylish painted beach wear, as well as mermaids, harem ladies, and nudies, who were meant to wear nothing more than an engaging smile. Also produced were flippers, innocent appearing figurines who reveal a bawdy secret when flipped over, and squirters, figurines that were meant to squirt water out of an appropriate orifice.

Most were manufactured in Germany from the late 1800s through the 1930s, often showing remarkable artistry and imagination, with Japan entering the market during World War I.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

All in a Bustle

This beautiful belle hides a secret under her hinged bustle. . .

. . . which, when lifted, reveals a brown beetle crawling up her bare bottom. The beetle is actually molded, not merely painted on. The painting on this high-quality porcelain piece is of the finest, with delicately hand painted floral designs alternating with decorative designs and gilt touches. Not visible in the picture is the dangling garter ribbon at her raised left knee. The quality of the decoration is evident in her hair, with its elaborate tiers of curls striated with individually painted gray lines, and her finely painted aristocratic features. This china lady is 7.25 inches tall. She is an uncommon and hard to find figurine. However, she is also being reproduced. The new piece has lost the many fine painted details of the old, especially the hair, which lacks the delicate striations, and the facial features, which are very simply and blandly painted. The elaborate handpainted designs on the dress are reduced to alternating stripes in the new version, which carries a mark with cyrillic (Russian) lettering. The repro also does not have the garter ribbon. But perhaps the most important detail missing from the reproduction is the bug on her buttocks!

A previous owner helpfully looked up her mark. Carl Thieme did establish a porcelain factory in Saxony in Germany in 1872, and used this mark, along with several others. Thieme died in 1888, and in 1901 the factory began using an "SP Dresden" mark for the Saxonian Porcelain Factory. The factory is still in existence and their current figurines certainly resemble this elegantly erotic lady. I have also seen this figurine with a beehive mark that was also sometimes used by Thieme.

Another lovely lady whose hinged bustle lifts up to expose a rather voluptuous pair of buttocks. I have never seen this particular bustle belle before. She is superbly modeled, from the ruffles in her cap to her gracefully gesturing hands. There is an applied rose, carefully built up of tiny porcelain petals, tucked into her bosom and at her feet are a variety of bright applied flowers. Her light brown hair has darker fine striations, giving the appearance of individual tresses, and the floral design on her underskirt is all hand painted. Her face is particularly pretty, with finely painted features, including brown eyes and parted lips.

Although this piece is marked with the gold anchor used by Chelsea porcelain factory from 1756 to 1769, this mark was widely copied by porcelain companies throughout Europe. While she is beautifully modeled and decorated, the coloring and style are not that of a 18th century figurine. The main indicator that this piece is NOT Chelsea is that it is not modeled of the soft paste porcelain produced by that factory. China first produced what is called hard paste or true porcelain, a mixture of a white clay called kaolin and feldspar. The resulting slip is plastic and can be modeled or molded into intricate shapes or the thinnest vases and, fired at high temperatures, produces a hard, bright white porcelain with smooth, fine grain. The Chinese guarded the secret of their porcelain, which was highly sought after by Europeans, who referred to it as “white gold.” Europeans tried to discover the formula for porcelain, and in the late 1500s, in Italy, soft paste porcelain was created. Soft paste porcelain does not vitrify like hard paste porcelain and must be fired at lower temperatures. It has a more creamy background and is more porous and appears less glassy than hard paste. Soft paste porcelain is also not as plastic as hard paste porcelain and is more difficult to model. Hard paste porcelain was first produced at Meissen in the early 1700s (for the fascinating story of the discovery of the formula for hard paste porcelain by an imprisoned alchemist, check out the book the The Arcanum by Janet Gleeson). Although most people now use the terms china and porcelain changeably, some collectors argue that porcelain should be applied only to the finest, most translucent, high-fired wares.

If she is not Chelsea, who made her? One possibility is the French company of Samson Edmé et Cie was established by Edmé Samson, also known as Samson the Imitator, which produced high quality copies of early Meissen, Dresden, Chelsea, and other famous porcelains, up to the early 1900s. However, I suspect she is a fine quality piece produced by a German manufacturer, sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900s. But, I did not add her to my collection because I thought she was a rare piece of Chelsea, I acquired her because she is NAUGHTY!

The is a Japanese copy of the first bustle belle. Although unmarked, the facial painting, the orangish blushing, and the decal flowers and painting all point to a Japanese manufacturer.

Anyone lifting her bustle hoping for a peek at some callipygian charms will be sorely disappointed, because she is hollow!

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