Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hand Painted Works of Art

by Miriam Randazzo

I recently had a one of my auction listings ended early by a large online auction company, not just once, but twice!  The reviewer reasoned that the item I had listed was a duplicate; identical to another I had listed and in serious defiance of their duplicate policy.  The merchandise in question was this beautiful, hand painted Limoges cup and saucer. 


The whiteware blank with swirl design was manufactured by Charles Field Haviland of Limoges, France, and the decoration, hand painted by a china painter during the late 1800s to early 1900s. 

Had the reviewer been keen enough to catch the word, "hand painted," he would have, or at least should have realized, that any hand painted item, cup and saucer set included, is a true one of a kind.  Every brush stroke individually made by a human hand is no different than an autograph, similar, but never a duplicate. 

I sat perplexed; clearly the reviewer was a Limoges novice and just didn't understand that this work of art was not a mass produced dish identical to hundreds, thousands or millions just like it.  Clearly, the reviewer didn't understand the basics difference between "hand painted" and "transfer" decoration. 


Close inspection of any hand painted porcelain ware will reveal that the texture and technique with which the paint is applied is individual and varied.  A good painter, even a master, can  replicate their painting but will never duplicate their work.  

To the novice and visually challenged, It can be quite difficult to ascertain brush strokes with a naked eye.  You should inspect all items in bright natural light with a high powered loupe or magnifier for assistance.  As you look closely at a piece of hand painted porcelain, you will see a variety brush strokes with sometimes obvious and other times subtle thickness or texture variations, made as the paint brush was pushed or pulled along the porcelain surface.  Every petal and every leaf of a painted flower was made with at least one brush stroke, often several; and every petal and leaf is unique. 

You may find it helpful to browse through some "How to Paint" books.  By identifying how certain flowers are painted, you can more readily identify the brush stroke technique on a piece of porcelain.  These books can be found at most craft stores and are generally categorized according to subject: flowers, trees, animals, etc.


Not all French porcelain was hand painted during the Victorian and Edwardian Eras, in fact, most was not.  Factories that wished to mass produce their dishes used "Decalomania," a method of applying or affixing printed decorations to a porcelain ware.  Under magnification, you will notice a dot matrix look to the design, similar to newspaper print but a much better quality.  Sometimes, if the decal bunched together during application, you'll find a clump of color that can be confused with a brush stroke, so  be sure to carefully inspect the whole decoration. 


This process of identifying hand painted wares verses transfer wares does take practice, but there is one major clue to identifying a painted piece of porcelain.  Like an artist signs his paintings, so did china painters.  Although not all are signed, many are.  This particular example is artist signed on the underside of the cup and saucer initials, "R.W."   

One of the best places to learn the difference between hand painted porcelain and transfer decorated wares is at an antique shop where a dealer specializes in antique dishes.  Most dealers will gladly help you differentiate. 

As for this beautiful, antique Limoges, porcelain cup and saucer, I give up.  I'm not fighting to re-list it a third time only to have some antique porcelain illiterate cancel it again. So if you'd like to buy it, it's only $24.99 plus shipping and insurance.