By Phyllis T. Ritvo Photos by Gene Ritvo
A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR_____________
Before beginning this story, let me tell you briefly about my journey along the Gouda pottery road. It began in the 1960s when I fell in love with and bought a beautifully proportioned and designed comport with the mysterious word "Gouda" on the bottom. Perplexed by the word, I asked myself, "What could this pottery possibly have to do with cheese"? Simple enough question (or so it seemed), but it took a long time to not only answer that question but also to educate myself about the many kinds of Gouda pottery that were produced and the many companies that produced it. Over the years, the boldly designed and colorful pottery became my holy grail. I tracked it down from Boston to New York to Cleveland to Los Angeles, and finally to the original manufacturing town of Gouda, Zuid-Holland, in the Netherlands (and, by the way, still the home of Gouda cheese). All of this without the Internet or eBay!
Trying to research the pottery was a night-mare, because almost nothing had been written in English; however, dealers, collectors, museum curators, articles translated from the Dutch, and my own study of the pottery provided more pieces of the Gouda pottery puzzle. Since I assumed there must be other English-speaking collectors who found this pottery fascinating and were frustrated by not having any information about it, I decided to write a book about it. Fortunately, my husband, Gene, is an accomplished photographer, and the result of our collaboration (10 years later) was The World of Gouda Pottery, published in 1998 by Font & Center Press. Phyllis T. Ritvo
Historical photos courtesy of the Stedelijke Musea in Gouda
It should come as no surprise that Gouda pottery, one of the world’s most exciting decorative art forms, developed in the Netherlands. As far back as the 17th century, Holland produced many of the great Old Master painters, including Rembrandt and Vermeer. And thanks to its early naval and commercial successes, Holland’s traders brought back exciting new types of pottery and china from the far corners of the world, especially from what is now known as Indonesia and also the Asian countries of China, Korea, and Japan. Over time, Dutch artists developed their own innovative forms, color palettes, and glazes. Delftware, sold throughout the world, became one of the country’s largest exports and reason for great national pride.
While many kinds of art, design, and color have always been integral to Dutch life, the ultimate expression of the people’s love for visual beauty is their daily pleasure in growing and giving of flowers. This extensive artistic heritage provided an excellent climate for the development of Gouda pottery in the early 20th century.
Another important element preparing the way for the growth of Dutch decorative arts was the rapidly growing middle class in the mid-to-late 19th century. They paraded their success by conspicuous consumption, especially in the areas of home building and furnishings. Photographs from the period show rooms chock-full of pottery and porcelain along with every conceivable kind of sculpture and painting. In order to en-courage domestic businesses to enter the immensely profitable international home furnishings trade, the Netherlands relaxed its internal tax code. Plateelfabriek (pottery factory) Rozenburg opened in 1883 in The Hague and became enormously successful, even winning the prestigious 1st Prize for its magnificent "eggshell porcelain" at the Paris World’s Fair of 1900.
Other Dutch companies, including Plateelfabriek Zuid-Holland (PZH), entered the expanding world ceramics market. Opening in 1898 (the first major art pottery company in Gouda), PZH later became the largest and most successful art pottery company in the country. Soon other companies (some of which had originally been pipe factories) opened in Gouda and nearby towns. They hoped to ride PZH’s coattails to success, and just as PZH had zealously copied Rozenburg’s and other early Dutch companies’ high-glazed pottery, the newer companies copied PZH’s high-glazed and, even more avidly, its semimatte pottery. Even if the pottery was produced in Arnhem or Schoonhoven, it was usually called Gouda because of the marked similarities in style and color to the art pottery made in Gouda.
____A PLETHORA OF RICHES____
Wherever Gouda collectors gather, they enthusiastically debate the merits of their favorite type of pottery, either high glaze, matte, or semi matte.
Some love high glaze because of its elegant colors and forms. Only PZH, of the Gouda-type companies, produced early (pre-1915) high-glazed pottery. One of its earliest design groups was a blue-and-gray series with patterns influenced by both the Arts-and-Crafts and Art-Nouveau movements. This exquisite series was phased out by 1905 and is especially difficult to find. Two other high-glazed series closely resembled Rozenburg’s turn-of-the-century pottery (not surprising since the two primary designers came from Rozenburg). Porcelain Decor had delicate pastel cross-hatched florals on a white background, while Gouda Decor was covered with mainly green, purple, and tan abstract and floral designs. Whereas early Gouda Decor designs were abstract and free-flowing in the Art-Nouveau manner, later ones were usually symmetrical with carefully outlined pattern areas.
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