So I paused in London, surveyed my empty purse and thanked the Lord that the V and A always pulls me off the
shop floor street…
There in the furthest reaches of the 6th floor is the smallest exhibition you ever did see, Deception: Ceramics and Imitation….
Why bother? Because they are an extraordinary visual feast from perfect posies à la Madame Pompadour to a charming rabbit turreen ready to hop off the table. I am fascinated by these complex labours of love, designed to amuse and surprise they exhibit their maker’s technical skill and creative humour, alongside the eternal inspiration that is ‘Nature’.
Crudities have never looked so good as chez Minton c. 1825, complete with blossom-garnish.
Do you remember the story of how Madame Pompadour striving to entertain the Sun King showed him delicately scented flowers wondrously out of season, which only when lifted to the ofalcotary regions, revealed their visual deceit: they were porcelain.
These ‘Trompe L’oiel’ effects became fashionable at the dinner table around the same era, mid 18th Century. A tureen’s fantasy exterior contained a real purpose: keeping food warm, but with an eye on delighting the diners. There could be layers of deception within this practise: the stuffed swan had been the star turn in medieval banquets and here it was once again, but now masking something else.
In this instance, despite my swan fetish, I am swayed towards the humbler rabbit…
he could bounce home with me ANY time. Those colours, the snail, his ears….moving on obviously.
It turns out ‘vegetable’ tureens were brought out for desert, naturally accompanied by ‘fanciful confectionary’ shaped as vegetables, fruit and rather oddly fish (but nothing’s odd at this stage right? the rules are broken).
Perhaps a sustaining ceramic-treat for good measure. crunch.
After someone had put me back on my feet, I left the V and A, left London, headed to the dreaded Heathrow and wended home. But on arrival I was rather cheered by first investment into the ceramic arts of deception, which looks most at home under my tumbling grapes.
It’s the little things.