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Object Timeline

1910

  • Work on this object ended.

2011

  • We acquired this object.

2012

2014

2019

  • You found it!

Fruit Basket And Cover (Northern Ireland)

This is a Fruit Basket and Cover. It was manufactured by Belleek. We acquired it in 2011. Its medium is iridized, glazed hand-rolled, cut, and assembled porcelain. It is a part of the Product Design and Decorative Arts department.

The Belleek Pottery Works was established in 1857 in Northern Ireland by John Caldwell Bloomfield, who owned the Castle Caldwell estate (which included the village of Belleek), and two partners: Robert Williams Armstrong, an architect from London with an interest in ceramics, and David McBirney, a wealthy merchant from Dublin. Bloomfield was an amateur mineralogist who ordered a geological survey of his land. When he discovered the raw materials for ceramics—feldspar, kaolin, flint, clay, and shale—he decided to found the pottery works for the purpose of helping tenants of the estate who were victims of the potato famine.
Early production centered on high quality domestic ware, from mortars and pestles to washstands, tableware, and telegraph insulators. Bloomfield found local apprentices and also recruited craftsmen from Stoke-on-Trent, in Staffordshire, England, which was home to numerous ceramics companies. From the beginning, the English craftsmen were interested in fully utilizing their skills for artistic creations. This ambition was greatly aided by the development, in 1863, of a type of porcelain that the firm called Parian. As exemplified by this fruit basket, the porcelain was worked with increasing finesse and the firm developed a signature, slightly iridescent high luster.
Belleek’s wares were in demand. As early as 1865, the firm was exporting its wares to the United States, Canada, and Australia, in addition to England. It counted Queen Victoria among its clients. Belleek exhibited in the United States in the 1870s and was a strong influence on American ceramicists. In 1893, Frederick Slater, an English master craftsman who had relocated to Belleek, created a centerpiece that won a Gold Medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris.
This open-work covered basket is a major artistic achievement. It references both 18th-century rococo work, by firms such as Meissen and Chelsea, as well as art nouveau sensibilities, all enhanced by the iridescence of the glaze. The extraordinary detail and ultra-thin elements are finely modeled and combined with artistic tendrils and other naturalistic devices. This basket would have been a major treasure, to be used as a centerpiece or table decoration. The piece provides technical and social commentary on the inventiveness of its era.
The museum has always been interested in all forms of ceramics of every period, and holds a solid-walled Belleek tea set that shows similar characteristic iridescence. This basket is particularly fascinating because it successfully integrates two usually disparate styles from design at the turn of the 20th century.

This object was donated by Suzanne Todd.

Cite this object as

Fruit Basket And Cover (Northern Ireland); Manufactured by Belleek (Ireland); iridized, glazed hand-rolled, cut, and assembled porcelain; 2011-37-1-a,b

This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Making Design.

This object has no known Copyright restrictions.

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url=https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18789757/ |title=Fruit Basket And Cover (Northern Ireland) |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=16 July 2019 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>