This pâte-sur-pâte glazed porcelain plaque, made by Mintons Ltd. in about 1909, reflects the humor and creativity of its designer, Marc Louis Emanuel Solon (1835-1913). Pâte-sur-pâte is a complex, time-consuming technique, which requires the designer to apply successive thin layers of liquid clay onto a tinted clay body in order to create a design. The effect is an ethereal, cameo-like, translucent design, appearing as though it were floating above the surface of the body it adorns. Solon was a world-renowned master of this technique, first learning and applying it at Sèvres, and then perfecting it in England with Mintons Ltd., where he relocated after Prussian troops advanced on Sèvres in 1870. Solon was prolific and favored designs of Cupids and nymphs, also occasionally including the goddesses Venus and Minerva. His inspiration was not limited to the classical, however, and he is said to have been fascinated by Japonisme, which might explain the conical hat on the woman holding a watering can in the design adorning this plaque.
In 1993, Bernard Bumpus, a foremost British ceramics scholar, wrote to David Revere McFadden (then Curator of Decorative Arts at Cooper Hewitt) that he believed that the plaque was titled Watering, and was one of the items from Solon’s house at Stoke-on-Trent offered for sale after his death, in 1913. Fortunately for us, the plaque remained unsold at auction and was later acquired by Solon’s son, Léon, who gave it to Cooper Hewitt, where Bumpus was able to admire the plaque in person during a visit.
Catherine Powell is a graduate student in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies program at the Cooper Hewitt, and is a Fellow in the Product Design and Decorative Arts Department.