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.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Smooth as Monumental Alabaster

Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow
And smooth as monumental alabaster.

Othello,  Act 5, Scene 2, William Shakespeare

This statuesque bathing beauty is sculpted out of alabaster.  Fine alabaster closely resembles white marble, but is a much softer stone, allowing it to be carved into detailed designs (however, the porous stone is soluble in water, making it unsuitable for fountains and outdoor decor).  Italy, where alabaster has been mined and carved for centuries, provided copious copies of ancient carvings or classical subjects for the Victorian home and to the growing population of middle class tourists taking in the sights on their own grand tours.  However, beginning in the late 1800s, Italian artists revitalized their industry by sculpting their own creations in the Orientalist, art nouveau, and art deco genres.  In the 1920s Italian alabaster lamps, both as ceiling fixtures and as softly-lit boudoir lamps, often incorporating a nude nymph or flirtatious flapper, became a popular decorative item.  Although unsigned, this alabaster bathing belle is undoubtedly of Italian birth, probably dating from the 1920s.  This sculpted seaside siren is 12.5 inches long and 9 inches high.            

Her thigh-length tank suit is etched with a floral design and a scarf covers her carved curls.  Alabaster is subject to dings and can break easily; at one point it looks like someone tried to repair a crack in the base with glue.  Oils, including from exploring fingers, smoke, and water can stain or discolor the stone, so cleaning alabaster is difficult.  Unless you want to incur the expense of a professional restorer, is best just to gently dust it thoroughly with a soft-bristle brush and buff it lightly with a microfiber cloth, letting it retain its well-earned patina.

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