Blog: Quite a dish . . .
9th May 2018
According to contemporary reports, nowhere were the 'fruits of South Kensington culture' more visible than in the 'art-pottery' exhibitions held in the 1870s and '80s at Howell & James in London's Lower Regent Street. 'South Kensington culture' was a reference to the Female School of Art, which was established partly to give instruction in painting, &c. to women wishing to find suitable employment.
Howell & James, the department store with an established reputation for selling the best in up-to-date jewellery, clocks, ceramics, dressing cases and art metalwork came to the fore in promoting painting on china following the 1875 fire which destroyed the Mintons Art Pottery Studio in Kensington Gore. The management at H&J decided to display such work executed by amateur and professional artists.
These annual three-month exhibitions, patronised by royalty, were a success. In 1878, just two years into the series, visitors topped ten thousand and the number of exhibits were around 1,700.
Flowers, children, animals and birds were favourite subjects for painted plaques. So too were pretty young women of the decorative sort, including well-known actresses like Ellen Terry (1847-1928). The example illustrated here is of the young English prima donna Violet Cameron (1862-1919) after a photograph by W. & D. Downey as she appeared as Alice in Rip Van Winkle, an operetta which opened at the Comedy Theatre, London, on 14 October 1882. Before the public from a child, she later enjoyed an adulterous affair with the 'Yellow Earl,' Hugh Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale (1857-1944).
Main image: A painted pottery plaque of the actress and singer, Violet Cameron, probably shown at the Howell & James art-pottery exhibition of 1883, diameter 37cm. (14in.)
Above: Printed label on reverse: 'HOWELL & JAMES' / SPECIAL MAKE'
Above: A carte de visite photograph of Violet Cameron in the role of Alice in the operettaRip Van Winkle(W. & D. Downey, 57 & 61 Ebury Street, London, S.W., 1882.)