Monday, 11 October 2010

Ginger jars and flowers, Part I

Ginger jars and flower still life. Part I

Anke Brokstra
Contemporary Dutch opera singer and painter.
Nasturtiums in old blue ginger jar

I’ve had for a long time the wish of doing a posting on this subject, one of the most pleasing and aesthetic combinations for over a century in still life art. I find. What better time than autumn to enjoy the ginger jar filled with autumn flowers: anemones, nasturtiums, chrysanthemums, Chinese lanterns, a branch with red berries or rose hips?

A survey into the historical context and wondering about this composition, endlessly repeated by Dutch painters, to be perhaps a local affair or an international recognized theme.

There are, but not ma
ny, examples on woodblock prints. So a selection of paintings in oil will have to do the illustrations.

It is told that a student of Jan Voerman sr. (1857–1941) on her way to the studio lessons saw on a boat a large soda-filled pot with the “most exquisite blues and grays” and telling her teacher about it. On his advice she went back and she was allowed to buy the pot from the woman on the boat and she brought it to the studio where it served as a painting ornament in floral still life lessons. The pot later came in the Voerman family and Jan sr. painted it. (above)

His son Jan Voerman jr. (1890-1976), from the Verkade Albums (see the earlier posting) also contributed a wonderful ginger jar composition. (left).
They were among the first of the modern Dutch painters to use the decorative strenght and beauty of the ginger jar. And Vincent, and many others ofcourse.

The classic Quin dynasty (1644-1912) glazed pots were both used as storage and gift pots. Holding and storing preserved vegetables, herbs and spices, not only ginger. And used as New Year gifts. Chinese New Year, not parallel with western N.Y. but later so often decorated with spring symbols.

Or wedding gifts decorated with the Chinese “double happiness” symbol (right).
Or just plain, rural storage or export pots. With a few strikes of blue glaze only

I think two main and plain types, regularly seen, can be distinguished. Besides the luxury and richly glazed and decorated pots.

The deep green glazed 6 sided jar and the classic round grey-bluish glazed and sometimes with a rougher grey/blue/green glaze (picture)

Bertha Plekker-Müller (1883-1968) Narsturtiums in Ginger jar (right)

The 6 sided green type is very widely spread and around in huge numbers. In the Netherlands. I hardly see them in other countries. They must have been more related to some export products. There is not much literature on this matter to be found. Many paintings were produced (1880-1940) with this type of jar, fairly exclusively by Dutch turn of the century and Arts and Crafts period painters.

Who hasn’t started a collection of these jars, the nicest ones to find are the green-bluish ones, with chunky and fat glazes. Many have an age old feeling and often are really quite old (18/19th century) You can pick them up at any carboot sale for next to nothing.

The bluish grey classic Chinese pot is also a characteristic but not an exclusively Dutch find. I see them in England but hardly if ever in France or Germany. But maybe I am wrong.
This type of decoration and or motif often is seen in Dutch pots (right)
They are regularly and often offered as findings in 18th/19th century city dumps and archeological excavations. Having a matching lid raises prices considerably. But who needs a lid?
The extra patina from their stay in the ground even enhance their decorative value. (left)
These type of jars/pots are still affordable but never dead-cheap fleemarket finds.

Closing this Part I is again a contemporary and internationally renowned Dutch still life painter: Henk Helmantel (1945- ) and his Autumn Jar with rose-hips composition.

I can understand readers will feel that after reading this posting they cannot live without such a decorative necessarie in the autumnal house and will immediately start hunting for a nice specimen.

To be continued soon...............

Octobert 17th:

The artist Anke Brokstra who kindly gave permission to use the lovely first picture of this posting told me the original painting in oil is still for sale at € 600.


  1. Arthur Rigden Read made a colour woodcut of a ginger jar in the twenties when they were popular in the UK. In fact, it came up on ebay about a year ago.

    I remember buying a very plain one in the seventies when they were out of fashion. Alot of them here are repro or modern. I assume some of them had lids. The green one you have here is - well, I want it.

  2. Charles, I would love to know which print you mean. Let me know when your new computer constellation is in the air again. And trying to find an old one as a bargain is part of the joy too ofcourse.

  3. It's interesting that as props in paintings, the ginger jars are all open jars, but Haji baba is right that they were often made with lids. Mine - 100 years old? - has a broken and repaired lid, and also a carved wooden stand - so definitely made as a decorative not utilitarian object. Thanks for such a fascinating (and continuing) visual theme.

  4. Neil, I think originally they were not often but always with lids being what they are: storage and transport objects. Once in the West, not used using them that way what else can you do with them but put your flowers in ? "We" have the Cologne type of storage pots btw, used with a cloth and stone to preserve salted vegetables etc.. My granny did.
    Thanks for the compliments and stopping by.

  5. Hi Gerrie,
    You're right . . . now I want an old ginger jar. Lovely blog.