Did you know that the Dutch craze for blue and white ceramics was, at least in part, the result of piracy? In 1603, the Santa Catarina, a Portuguese merchant ship, was seized by the Dutch East India Company off the coast of Singapore with over 100,000 pieces of Chinese porcelain on board. Even though Holland was at war with Portugal at the time, there’s no doubt that this was an act of piracy – the crew were vouchsafed their lives in return for handing over the loot. When this cargo was sold in Amsterdam, it caused a great sensation, and blue and white ceramics became the hottest trend in town, not just for the aristocracy, but for everyone.
Although the potters in Delft originally copied the Chinese designs due to the huge popularity of the originals from that ship, they began incorporating Dutch motifs and original designs through the 1600s, and Defltware became the most popular and biggest selling makers of ceramics from 1600 to 1800. The style is still popular today and it’s possible to visit the factory of Royal Delft to see ceramics being the made the same way they have been for over 400 years.
Although I don’t consider myself a true collector, I do have a small number of Dutch tiles from the 17th Century. My favourite are those with white tiles and minimal blue decorations – you can tell they are originals by the small indentations in the corners, where they used to prop them up in the urns. There is a lovely antique shop in the square at Delft where I bought a few of these lovely pieces. My love of ceramics also takes in a lot of contemporary examples, from the Australian to the English to the Scandinavian and Japanese. Here’s just ten of my favourites.
1) Dutch tiles from the 17th century – I bought these in an antique shop in Delft. My favourite is the little dog, although the cute buildings are pretty great.
2) Staying in Holland, Royal Delft is the brand that keeps on keeping on. Next year, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of medieval painter Jheronimus Bosch, Royal Delft will issue two new plates. Royal Delft
3) Mud Australia – launching in London for the London Design Festival, Mud is an Australian brand founded by Shelley Simpson and it has a refined simplicity in such a wonderful range of colours. Mud Australia
4) Marimekko – I have already waxed lyrical about this brand in my earlier post on Australia’s love affair with Nordic design, however, they really are fantastic – they stand for real design and they just keep getting better. My first article for Indesign magazine back in the day was on Maija Isola and the resurgence of the Poppy print, first famous in the 1960s, and I have loved them ever since. Marimekko
5) The Forty-Nine Studio are a Sydney based design collective combining art ceramics with pieces for sale. This piece, called Mountain Range, was designed by Harriett Watts, and the process of the series means no two items are alike. The Forty-Nine Studio
6) Royal Doulton combines classic fine ceramics with contemporary collaborations. If you follow my blog you may be aware that my favourite is the Olio collection newly released with design by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby – robust and refined all at once. Read more on Royal Doulton in my earlier blog post. Royal Doulton
7) Jaime Hayon for Kutani Choemon – a beautiful collaboration combining Jaime’s distinctive illustrations with the traditional Japanese ceramics brand. This was launched in 2011 (read my Artichoke article on all of Jaime’s designs at the Milan Furniture Fair that year).
8) Porcelain Bear by Gregory Bonasera and Anthony Raymond focuses on larger items for the home, such as lighting, all made from beautiful, white porcelain. See more in my earlier blog post. Porcelain Bear
9) Bison – the Canberra-based brand founded by Brian Tunks has a wonderful curve and feels beautiful, like a true potter’s ceramic. Great for everyday use as well as special occasions. Bison
10) Pieter Stockmans is a Belgian ceramicist who I first came across at the Design Museum in Ghent. His work is predominantly in blue and white and is at times very delicate, using repetition to great effect.
Pieter Stockmans wrote a manifesto on the wall of his exhibition which sums up the beauty of ceramics perfectly.
How nice it is to be creative
With a simple material such as clay
I have done it my whole life
And still have new ideas
How wonderful to express myself
With this white gold
As porcelain is called
Always in the same philosophy
Of tactility and vulnerability
And my own harmony.