Bordallo Pinheiro was founded by Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro in 1884 as Fábrica de Faianças das Caldas in Portugal.
As the factory’s name suggests, the company specializes in production of Faience ware, which is now known primarily as tin-glazed earthenware based on production from Faenza in Northern Italy during the Renaissance. Due to later marketing purposes, however, the terms ‘faience’ and majolica (or maiolica) are often interchanged. To make things even more confusing, the derivation of the term majolica/maiolica appears to come from Majorca/Maiolica, the largest island in Spain’s Balearics, and a trading hub. Adding to this, of course, is the probability that the ‘Faience’ of today is more closely related to bright tin-glazed ceramics produced by Della Robbia of Florence in the 15th century and Bernard Palissy of France in the 16th century.
The production process for majolica dates back hundreds of years. The resurgence of majolica ware in the late 19 century is due primarily to the work of Brit Herbert Minton and one of his chief designers, Joseph Francois Leon Arnoux in the 1850s. The Victorian Era in Britain (1837-1901) was a period of artistic, scientific, and financial growth. Wealth defined trends in production; during this period the wealthy consumer collected symbols of wealth from the past. This demand lead to re-interpretation and re-introduction of technical skill in production. An example of this is the Portland Vase, a 1st Century A.D. Roman Cameo Glass vase that was re-introduced by Wedgwood (in Jasperware, c.1790) and reproduced by John Northwood at Red House Glass Works in Britain (c.1876).
Minton used the Great Exhibition of 1851 to introduce the new production. The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations (also known as The Crystal Palace Exhibition) may be considered the first World’s Fair. An estimated six million people visited the exhibition; for perspective London had an estimated population of 2.5 million at that time. Minton’s was awarded a medal at the Exhibition, and the display made their production an immediate success. Additional exhibitions in Europe and New York with subsequent medals increased the prestige of both brand and product With prestige and awareness comes demand; with demand comes competition.
Competition lead to changes in design to develop and feed the additional demand for product. This growth of the majolica market pushed new design introductions away from the neo-traditional motifs. Motifs on majolica began to range widely, from historical reproduction and re-introductions to novel motifs. The true Victorian additions to the market included a high degree of whimsy and additional patterns based on trending influences such as Japonisme and Egyptian motifs.
The U.K., European, and American exhibitions had a great influence on demand as well as production of new product, not just in ceramics. For example, famed decorator Louis Comfort Tiffany was highly influenced by the Emile Galle and Loetz art glass product shown at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle International- his company was shortly re-born as an art glass manufacturer. In majolica, Wedgwood, Jones, Holcroft, Etruscan (Griffen et al.), Massier and numerous smaller firms began production in the two decades following Minton’s lead.
Which brings us to Portugal. Portugal has been a hub for ceramic production for centuries. Indeed, much of the finer dinnerware product currently available in the United States (as well as the more durable stuff) originates in Portugal. The lack of awareness of the quality of Portuguese wares is because the majority of imported product is being made for other brand names- not to mention the continued Anglo/Francocentric status of the American market.
Bordallo, as previously stated, hailed from Caldas de Rainha, about 60 miles from Lisbon. Caldas has a history of ceramic production, including majolica. In 1853, Mafra and Son opened their factory in Caldas specializing in the reproduction of Palissy Ware. Palissy (mentioned above) produced complex naturalist scenes using molds from real life. This local production no doubt influenced Bordallo in his designs when he began production in 1884.
Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro (1846-1905) was primarily a cartoonist and illustrator. Considered one of the first Portugeuse comic creators, he is perhaps best known for his depiction of the everyday man, Ze Povinho, who criticized the rich and powerful.
Influenced by Mafra’s production, Bordallo’s production specialized in naturalist themes, albeit in his own hand and style. He exhibited at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle International. Despite initial financial hiccups, the firm survived and, like many others who attended the Paris show, Bordallo began to incorporate Art Nouveau styling in his work. Bordallo kept a great deal of whimsy in his work, however, and the firm became known for its larger fantasy naturalist works, many of which are still available and populate the garden at the Museu Bordalo Pinheiro in Lisbon.
Since Bordallo’s death in 1905, the firm has continued to produce quality majolica at fair pricing, keeping many of the original molds in production while adding new patterns and design. The firm’s primary production, dinnerware, adds a unique aspect to dinnerware/tabletop design- much like the success of the product during the Victorian Era. The growing popularity of the firm is its uniqueness in a field of modernity- as well as being reasonably affordable in consideration of such a grand effect for guests.
The firm’s most popular introductions remain the Cabbage pattern and the series of whimsical naturalistic pitchers which were more than likely influenced by Minton production. More recent introductions include the Watermelon (shown in the header) and Maria Flor collections (shown below).
For a look at Bordallo’s current production- updated, lead-free, and dishwasher-safe, see amusespot.com
Suggested additional reading:
Majolica: A Complete History and Illustrated Survey by Marilyn G. Karmason with Joan B. Stacke, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1989, ISBN 0-8109-1534-0
Majolica by Nicholas M. Dawes, Crown Publishers, New York, 1990, ISBN 0-517-57757-7
Both titles are out of print but reasonably priced. There are numerous specialty publications on majolica but we found the majority of them of primary value for collectors only (at best).
The Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro Museum and Garden
Located in Lisbon, Portugal, the Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro Museum and Garden features the work of Raphael Bordalo Pinheiro, Portuguese artist, political cartoonist, and ceramicist. Bordallo was heavily influenced by his father, the painter Manuel Maria Bordalo Pinheiro. His brother, Columbano was also a noted artist.
Bordallo (1846-1905) is known as the first Portuguese cartoon/comic artist. Specializing in political humor, Bordallo developed the character of Ze Povinho (loosely translated as ‘John Doe”), a peasant who represented the general population at large.