Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Family Update: Welcome, Abigail... then, T.A.C. Colenbrander - an excursion

A new family member... a new grandchild
Abigail Eileen Box, our third grandkid, was born last Monday. Tiny, Beautiful. Here's a picture of her. In it, 2+ year old grand-twin Elly has just had her hand grasped for the first time by Gail, astonishing and pleasing Elly. Gail is being held by Grandma. Meanwhile, grand-twin Ben looks into the camera and says, "Cheese!" And father Brian is, like me (taking the pic) highly amused.
 Gail is of course beautiful:

A new painting on a design by T.A.C. Colenbrander
Colenbrander 1, 8 x 10 in. (20.3 x 25.4 cm), stretched canvas Available in my Etsy store. 

I've just finished a little 8 x 10 based on an 1890 (or so) wall charger from the pioneering Dutch art pottery firm, Haagsche Rozenburg Plateelbakkerij (Rozenburg Pottery in the Hague). The design, by Theodoor A.C. Colenbrander, is based in part on Javanese batik designs, in part on Japanese designs. The size of the original isn't given in my source, but it's likely at least 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter.

To extend beyond the round space of the wall plate to the rectangular canvas, I picked up some motifs and treated them in a batik manner, transposing and flipping them. I took the project on for two reasons - the design is magnificent, and I needed greatly to practice making brushes go where I want. There are lots of places to go in this design, and lots of sweeps, curves and jags - hence, plenty of practice.

If the following sounds as though I'm endangering my arm by patting myself vigorously on the back, remember that the design isn't mine. T.A.C. was a genius. Trained as an architect, he became friends with one of the founders of the Rozenburg Pottery, and that friend hired T.A.C. as artistic director, without a lot of previous work to show his metier. He eventually was separated from Rozenburg and drifted to Gouda, where he worked at several Gouda Potteries with more or less success (more artistic success, less people success) until he died in his late 80s.

The Gouda Potteries, really a group of potteries large and small formed around the Dutch town, came into being after Rozenburg. They primarily co-opted Rozenburg designs at first, hiring away designers and painters from the originator. Later, each developed its own patois or dialect and many of the resulting designs are truly wonderful. These companies produced wares from 1900 to around 1935 that are (a) commanding huge prices today and (b) being counterfeited and sold on eBay to record numbers of suckers. For the real thing, here's the best site on Gouda Pottery that I've found: http://www.goudadesign.co.uk/page1.html

Anyway, my work. Or, rather, Colenbrander's work.

At 20 feet, it's a marvelous abstract color study, golds, yellows, greens, blues playing across a grand, dancing composition.

At 10 feet, the plate form suddenly emerges, tightening and resolving the composition. The colors take on new life. But it's still an abstract, even when you know that...

At 6 feet, the incredible natural forms in the design suddenly jump out at you... iris and (?) orchids, a pond, tendrils and leaves, maybe even a tulip or two. At this point, it's clear that the design... well, it's hard to pinpoint who inspired what. T.A.C.'s work is definitely what we now call Art Nouveau (and The Netherlands call Jugendstil), but he was ahead of the curve by at least 10 years. It has Arts and Crafts elements. And some of his designs (not this one) have elements that 20 years later would be called Art Deco.

Close up, you see my brush work, and that's less rewarding. But, hey, the original has brush problems as well.

A sidelight from my past: the plates that T.A.C. designed for Rozenburg were hand-thrown. Most other Rozenburg and (as I understand, anyway) all Gouda pottery was slip-cast in molds. Interestingly, the process of throwing a plate on the potter's wheel is essentially different from, say, a vase or a bowl. Clay just doesn't want to make a vase or a bowl, so you have to control with your right hand while you shape with your left. In contrast, clay moves willingly into a plate... at first. As you finish the plate, you have to be really careful of the margin, the outer edge. The slightest over-working will cause it to slump and the plate is wrecked - after all, it's a horizontal slice hanging out there with no support. So, the process combines easy opening with a frantic, you-gotta-be-quick-and-confident moment at the end.


  1. I have a lovely old plate that reminds me of Gouda pieces. It has the pattern of your wonderful artwork on it, only more details with a lot of use of black. It is unmarked and most likely a reproduction piece, but I would like to investigate further. Can you tell me where you found the pattern? Thanks for your help, Betsy

  2. Thanks for the comment. The design is in a thin picture book that presents more or less random examples of decorated pottery across several centuries. I can't find my copy, but I'm virtually certain it's Dictionary of World Porcelain and Pottery From Prehistoric Times to the Present by Louise Boger, ISBN-13 978-0684149622.

    The caption said only that it was a design by T.A.C. Colenbrander on a charger from the relatively short-lived Delft factory of Rozenburg. It's possible that the museum or collector's name is there as well, but as I say, I can't find the book.

    I've never found the pattern pictured anywhere else, even in a fine monograph on T.A.C. that I luckily bought at a very low price.

    This design is a good illustration of how skilled some of the production decorators were -- and how creative the original designers were, to make something that fits a small, circumscribed space, is highly decorative, yet can be produced quickly by skilled craftspeople.

    If your piece is a reproduction (and even if it's machine decorated), then someone did some real work to re-create a complex decoration.