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Exhibit traces vase motif in design

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP   |   Aug. 15, 2004 at 12:03 PM   |   Comments

NEW YORK, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- One of the most persistent motifs in design is the classic vase form that gained favor when ancient pottery vases were excavated in Greece and Italy in the 18th century and remained popular through the mid-19th century.

An exhibit at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts focuses on the revival of classicism as the result of archaeological discoveries at Herculaneum in 1738 and Pompeii a decade later. These antiquities influenced painting, sculpture and interior design, especially the design of ceramics and silver in the shape of vases and of furniture and textiles decorated with vase designs.

On display through Oct. 17 are 100 objects culled from various collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of a Bard program to give advanced students experience in organizing exhibitions. Sumptuously displayed in the West Side Manhattan mansion where the graduate center is headquartered, the show is a must for lovers of the decorative arts.

The antique vase became a popular craze after the vase collection of British diplomat-archaeologist Sir William Hamilton (who lost his wife Emma to Admiral Horatio Nelson) and the collections of various other antiquarians were published in lavishly illustrated catalogs, several on view in the show.

Ceramics manufacturers such as Josiah Wedgwood in England and the Sevres porcelain company in France were quick to cash in on the public's fancy for classical vase forms bearing such Greek names as the krater, amphora, hydria, oenochoe, kylix and kantharos. Fine examples in the show are Wedgwood's 1786 blue-and-white Pegasus Vase, made of vitrified stoneware called jasper ware, and its 1840 cameo glass Portland Vase.

The Pegasus Vase was inspired by an etching in Hamilton's vase catalog and is decorated with a man playing a harp in the presence of the goddess Nike. The Pegasus horse finial on its cover gave the vase its name. The Portland Vase is a copy of the celebrated black-and-white Roman glass vase in the British Museum and has been issued by Wedgwood in limited editions as recently as 1977 for Queen Elizabeth's silver jubilee.

Wedgwood also reproduced more typical Greek vases with red figures on a black field, all-black vases in what was called basalt ware with molded and applied decoration, and earthenware vases with surface decoration imitating hardstones such as agate and porphyry.

There also are examples of English mahogany sideboard pedestals topped by vase-shaped urns containing wine cisterns and a pair of Sheraton chairs whose form was influenced by vases and have classical vase figures inlaid in the back splat. These are only a few of the vase-inspired furniture designs that might have been included in a show on a larger scale.

The French had their own approach to the vase motif, lighter in touch and livelier in color.

The Sevres Manufactory led the way with extremely graceful soft-pace porcelain vases in its celebrated blue, green and turquoise colors set off by generous gilding on the base, handles and cover that reflected the 18th-century rococo tastes applied to classic forms. A 1775 gilt-tasseled dark-blue vase decorated with a dockside scene painted by Jean-Louis Morin is one of several splendid examples of French neo-classic ceramic art.

There also is a generous display of English and French silver inspired by the classic vase form. An imposing handled tureen presented in 1808 to Englishman William Murdoch by an admirer, U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall, and a tea urn decorated with lion and satyr masks are fine examples of the simplicity and refinement of English silver design.

France's Empire design style, which flourished under Napoleon, was perfectly suited to use of the vase motif in the manufacture of silver-gilt serving pieces with elaborate cast ornament made separately and applied to the vessels. One of the most impressive examples is an 1809 egg-shaped coffeepot on three legs decorated with winged goddesses and the Greek anthemion design.

The show is rounded out by French upholstery silks with vase patterns, exquisite drawings by porcelain and silver designers, overmantel and overdoor paintings including vases, designs for the wall and panel decoration of rooms with vase motifs, and decorative etchings of vases. German, Spanish and Italian designs are included.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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