One of my all time treasured wedding gifts in the 70s was the most incredible set of hand painted china. Dishes, serving pieces and even a matching tea pot ~ everything hand painted by my husband's great grandmother. I learned it was a talent shared by three generations of women in his family.
We all have admired a dish or a hand painted item, and most likely never realized all the time and work involved in that one little piece of art. From the tiniest miniature oval pendant to a large serving platter; hand painted and signed and usually dated by the artist, often very vintage. Porcelain doll faces are even a form of this beautiful art.
Fascinated, I decided to research porcelain painting. It seems it is truly a lost art, and entirely different from ceramics. It has a most fascinating history, it seems each country claims to have its own history for originating it.
No one knows for sure who first started hand decorating vessels, there are reports of Egyptians painting as early as 7000 BC using minerals as color, China experimented with crushed rock and decorated bowls in the 1500s, their methods kept secret. The French favored little miniatures in later years, decorating tiny delicate plain items.
The most famous seems to be from Germany, where the most delicate and beautiful porcelains in the world were made of local clay unlike any other in Dresden and Meissen. Artists flocked to that area to decorate the amazing local porcelain in the 1700s.
By the late 19th and early 20th century, porcelain painting was a popular hobby for women.
Great-Great Grandma Letty's Covered Bowl painted with berries:
A china painter works on beautiful porcelain, already glazed white from the manufacturer, most pieces so fine and delicate you can see your hand through it when held to the light. Entirely different paints are used instead of glazes, then fired at a low heat in a kiln.
Plate by Great-Grandma Fern of Roses on Openwork
Even more painstaking is the amount of painting and firing. Each piece of porcelain is hand painted and low fired at least three times to acquire depth and dimension, often more if gold or black "outlining" is used.
Pedestal Serving dish of Holly by Grandma Joann
Fortunately for me, one of only three (to my knowledge) sources for china painting supplies was in Hazel Park, MI. My aunt took very little persuasion and went with me for years to classes. Aunt Janie eventually went on to teach classes herself and is often found at highly selective jurried art shows her work is that beautiful.
Decorative Deer plate by Aunt Janie
Me? Well, after one attempt at trying to paint the same identical matching pattern on 12 plates, 12 cups, 12 saucers ~ I thought I would scream of boredom. I'm afraid I'm just not cut out for "repetition" but instead prefer unique single design pieces for decoration, or my favorite ~ hand painted tiles and ceramic tile murals.
A Hand Painted bell with raised paint I painted:
Almost any line of fine china is available to work on as your pallet, from Hutschenreuther to pretty little Japanese coupe plates from scrolled edges to trendy square; as well as vases, little decorative pieces for display, jewelry, lamps and even light switch plates to paint..
If you are not inclined to paint any porcelain yourself, you can enjoy the beauty of other artists, from tea cups or tea pots to vases. The next time you do look at a piece, just remember the hours of work, the time firing and repainting involved and when you see that tiny little signature and often date at the bottom know it was a true labor of love by that artist!
The ironic part of all this ~ as I was inspired to do this blog while dusting it I noticed the dates ~ most of my pieces were done in the 80s are vintage already!