Barbra’s Art Nouveau Majolica Jardinière

This stunning Art Nouveau Majolica jardinière came from the personal collection of Barbra Streisand. 

Majolica was first introduced in England by Herbert Minton and French ceramic chemist Leon Arnoux at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.

Hulton Archive

At the time it was called “Palissy ware” in honor of its inspiration-the Renaissance designs of Bernard Palissy (1510-1589). The characteristics of this earthenware pottery are its lead opaque glaze, vivid colors and a high gloss finish. Eventually Palissy ware was renamed Majolica ware. This was derived from Italian Maiolica, which was tin-glazed pottery featuring colorful detailed painting over a white background. The name Maiolica is thought to have come from the medieval Italian word for Majorca, an island route for ships bringing Hispano-Moresque wares from Valancia to Italy. Majolica ware rose in popularity after 1851 and began to be manufactured by many pottery makers including Copeland, George Jones, Wedgwood, Bendigo Pottery and John Campbell in Australia. 

Though English Majolica popularity began to dull in the mid 1870’s, it took on a whole new life in 1879 in America when shell and seaweed dinnerware Majolica began to be manufactured by Griffen, Smith and Hill.

A shell and seaweed dinnerware set

This was a welcome change from the boring white and blue and white dinnerware most had been using. Other companies followed suit and Majolica was soon being widely produced across America. Majolica manufacturers produced everything from small bud vases, candlesticks, sardine boxes and trays to massive jardinières and other pieces which could be seen in nearly every Victorian home.

Majolica was decorated with birds, shells, fauna, cherubs, and classical themes. Many of these pieces were extremely whimsical and were meant to be conversation pieces. 

Majolica jardinières were typically filled with flowers and displayed on tables, floors and porches. Like Barbra’s piece, these pieces often featured painted flowers.

A similar vintage majolica jardinière

In Victorian society during the reign of Queen Victoria the language of flowers was extremely important. Flowers were used to convey feelings and messages which were deemed inappropriate to be spoken aloud. The term jardinière is derived from the French word which translates to gardener. In 1907 horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll wrote that “There are some English words which have no equivalent in French, but then there are a great many more French words … for which we have no English. One of these is jardinière. Even in French it does not quite rightly express its meaning, because the obvious meaning of jardinière is female gardener, whereas what we understand by it … is a receptacle for holding pot-plants.”

Majolica production had mostly come to a close with the end of the reign of Queen Victoria in 1901. Manufacturers had suffered from the rise of lead poisoning in its workers and could not resolve their demands. 

A Minton majolica cat milk jug

Today, authentic Victorian Majolica remains the most coveted to collectors. Many reproductions of original Majolica designs have been made but are spotted by the inaccurate colors, less graceful designs, lighter weight, or lack of glaze on the outer rim and undersurface.

Barbra’s Majolica jardinière features paintings of a pale purple opium poppy and two pink poppies and is glazed with a brownish olive hue. It was likely originally used as a planter or candy dish. Barbra has often said she loves colors that can’t quite be described which may be why she was attracted to this piece. There are several chips to the glazing which is probably why it was sold at auction in 2009 where it brought in $500.00