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Main Marks Page: Unmarked Handpainted Antique Porcelain & Vintage China

Unmarked Antique Handpainted Porcelain

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Unmarked Handpainted Antique Porcelain and Antique Handpainted China

China painting was a very popular hobby in Europe in the 1800's and made its move into the US in the late 1800's. You will find many beautiful and well executed handpainted plates and assorted pieces of porcelain and china at reasonable prices at garage sales and flea markets. If you like them, buy them. And think about the wonderful woman that painted the pieces. As for value ... not much, shape dictates the value more than anything on these pieces. Usually, $12.00 - $25.00. If you find an entire chocolate pot set or tea set then the price will of course be more, as much as $125.00. Some pieces are signed with the artist's name but most are not. The signature does not add to the value unless the artist is a person of note.


An important pioneer in introducing porcelain painting in the United States was Edward Lycett. In 1861 he moved to New York and opened up his own business for porcelain art. His studios produced elaborate designs and monogrammed china services for hotels, clubs, wealthy individuals and for the White House. With china painting becoming a favorite pastime and popular diversion for women from 1877 to 1879, Lycett became a prominent instructor of the art in St Louis and Cincinnati. The majority of the amateur American china painters were those women who were allowed creative occupations, and those who considered it a hobby.

Woman played significant roles in the birth of the china-painting movement in America. In 1873 in Cincinnati, Karl Lagenbeck, an immigrant ceramic chemist, and his neighbor, Maria Longworth Nicols (1849-1932) experimented with overglaze china paints. Maria, a student at the McMicken School of Design, placed some of her decorated pieces on display at a student exhibition. Several classmates, specifically one Mary Louise McLaughlin (1847-1939), was so smitten by the beauty of Nicols' work that she requested their instructor, Ben Pitman, to purchase the necessary supplies to paint on porcelain. With so much interest in this new art form, Pitman engaged Marie Eggers, an immigrant who had studied the art of china painting in the Dresden factory, to teach a class in 1874. This group of students entered their wares in the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and were responsible for exposing
millions of Americans to this new art form. It is Marie Eggers who is credited with igniting the passion for china painting by teaching her craft.

By 1877 there had been several books published in Europe on directions for painting on china for amateurs, but it is student Mary Louise McLaughlin who published the first book in America – "China Painting - A Practical Manual for the Use of Amateurs in the Decoration of Hard Porcelain." McLaughlin's infectious enthusiasm for this art form spread throughout the United States, and she is credited with educating the general public and those who could not attend classes on the art of china painting. Her book included information on tracing on china, china painting techniques and directions for gilding, firing, etc. In 1879 McLaughlin formed the Woman's Pottery Club. By 1881, there were major china painting studios in Boston, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and New York, including The Osgood Art School established in New York City by Adelaide Harriett Osgood (1842-1910). But it is McLaughlin who is credited with influencing the entire nation and setting the standards for porcelain clubs established throughout the United States.

By 1882, Maria Longworth Nichols had established the Rookwood Studio in Cincinnati. It is there that Pauline Jacobus went to study in the fall of 1882. Pauline and her husband established The Pauline Pottery Co. in Chicago. Pauline Pottery ware was more like Italian Majolica ware than the hand-painted pieces likened to those of Mary Louise McLaughlin. But it was Wilder A. Pickard's role as a salesman or manufacturer's representative for Pauline Pottery that set the foundation for later success for Pickard Hand Painted China. 

The biggest influence on porcelain art in America during the early 1900s was Adelaide Alsop Robineau (1865-1929). Wanting to be independent at a time when independence and individualism for women was unacceptable, Robineau was a role model for women of the early 20th century. Teaching herself the art of painting on porcelain, she soon became known as a decorator. In order to expand her skills, Robineau studied watercolors with the American master, William Merritt Chase. In May 1899, Robineau and her husband published the Keramic Studio. Her goal was to meet the needs of china painters who were "…struggling in their efforts to reach high ideals…" Her publications spurred on the interest in china painting and coincided with the large shipments of blank Limoges porcelain arriving from France. 

Women in American history tend to be forgotten and their roles secondary to their male counterparts. In the early 1900s there were hundreds of unnamed and unknown fine female china painters and artists who lapsed into obscurity because no one felt their lives needed documentation. Allowed creative occupations and hobbies, they were never allowed to achieve professional status like their male counterparts. The art of painting on porcelain would be a lost art if not for the approximately 3,000 talented china painters in the world today.

A drastic reduction of china painters in the United States can be attributed to the changes brought about by World War II. During the war the importation of white porcelain from Europe and China came to a standstill. Munitions factories needed every able body available, and American housewives stepped into occupations historically held by men. The roles of women forever changed; careers took the place of hobbies. If it was not for a handful of enthusiastic woman, specifically Nettie Pillet who began publishing The China Decorator in 1956, the fine art of china painting may have become a lost art in America.

Source: "Decorative Painting Through the Ages"

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