Lacemaker by Vande Voorde (1908-1950), Bruges (6-1/4″ high). This is the most famous of the Flemish potteries, and one of the few documented in a published work. Achille Vande Voorde’s work is characterized by great realism in the features. At least seven lacemakers of different sizes were made by this firm. It isn’t known if he was the first to do the lacemaker figure – but it does appear in his earliest catalog. And, his mother was a lacemaker.
For the next few weeks I will post some Collecting notes on what I consider to be the best lacemaker figures for various countries. Starting with Belgium – forget the poor little cloth tourist dolls (although their story must eventually be told). There is a class of figures that does great honor to the Belgian lacemaker, which has been completely ignored in lace literature.
References to Flemish Pottery (information is more commonly found under “Vlaams Aardewerk” in Flemish, or “Poterie Flamande” in French) date back over a thousand years. Bruge was a major center of export. The pottery is a lead-glaze earthenware and is used for household items as well as decorative figures. Note, the lead-glaze is toxic if ingested, but an acceptable substitute that preserves the brilliant colors has not been found. Bruges is known for the ‘Flame method’ glaze, in which colors are painted onto the slip, and form ‘flames’ as they run during firing. A history of this art (in Flemish) can be found at http://www.vlaams-aardewerk-gjm.be/index.html.
Flemish pottery is primarily made in Vlaanderen, the northern part of Belgium in small potteries, often family businesses. Vlaams Aardewerk includes vases, jars, candlesticks, wall pieces, and other traditional forms, as well as many different figures, primarily local crafts people and religious images. The lacemaker is not the only textile-related figure; flax spinning was also modeled. Occasionally the lacemaker and spinster will be made as a pair. The earliest lacemakers were made around 1900, and I don’t think it is possible to find them earlier. The figures come in many different variations, including raised images on plates.
Extremely rare plate design by Willemeyns, Bruges, 1930-1950 (4″ in diameter). There is an accompanying spinster image.
Among the better makers each piece was individually crafted, resulting in slight variations in similar pieces. Sometime the appendages and furniture were done separately and attached to a larger base – not always perfectly. The base is always hollow, with the actual figure formed from a thinner shell – a thinner piece often indicates a higher quality. Look for differences in the detail of the drapery, and in the placement of the feet around the base of the pillow stand. The best pieces have brilliant colors, good modeling around the hands and bobbins, naturally flowing drapery, and openwork in a well modeled stand and chair. Occasionally one can find a dog or cat under the chair. There is much consistency in this genre among various potters – lacemakers often have an orange shawl and blue cap. All place the pins with the right hand. Photography must also be done with care or a perspective problem develops in which the lower part of the figure seems smaller than the upper part. This normally isn’t the case in the actual figure.
Many of these figures are not signed, but a few artists can be identified by marks or by general style (how the rutching on the hat is handled is an excellent marker). Modern copies are being made, but it is difficult to attribute date without a known provenance, and frankly, quality is usually high throughout the 20th century. So far, I have found thirteen potteries making the lacemaker, and I am certain there are more to be discovered.
G. J. Monteyne, modern, one of the few signed pieces I have found. (6-1/2″ tall)
The Flemish Pottery lacemaker is very poorly documented, leading to numerous miss-attributions. Sellers often label them as ‘Majolica’, or simply admit their lack of knowledge. Some attributed examples can be seen in a set of postcards for sale at the Kantcentrum in Bruges: Kantcentrum Postcards. The pottery is very delicate, and the figures are often chipped at the edges, or broken and repaired. The yellow flesh and orange hair takes some getting used to, but overall these figures are absolutely delightful. Count on paying several hundred dollars for perfect examples, less than $50 for ones in poor condition.
Alfons Nosséda, Courtrai, 1914-1937 (6″ tall). A nice change from the usual orange shawl design.
Left: Pieter Jozef Laignel, Courtrai, 1898-1929 (8″ tall)
Right: Unknown maker (6-1/4″ tall). Might be from Turnhout. The Flemish pottery lacemaker isn’t very easy to find, but this particular figure seems to come up more often than others.
Much work remains to be done to identify the makers of many Flemish Pottery lacemakers.