A contemporary Meissen originalImage courtesy of www.meissen.com
This year in Spring I was entrusted with buying some typically Czech souvenirs for a trip abroad, we have all been in this situation .After ruling out Becherovka,Carlsbad wafers and Bohemia crystal which I had bought previously I was left with porcelain. At first I was not sure what kind of local porcelain I should get given that the present was for a young couple, but after a chance visit to Bistro 19 in the Old Town I saw what could fit the bill. The restaurant sells a new modern take on classical Czech cibulák or zwiebelmuster porcelain.
The pattern which is a stylized rococo interpretation of the Chinese original depicts pomegranates, peaches, asters, peonies and bamboo. I personally would never have guessed, no wonder it is mistakenly called the onion pattern.
Initially hand painted only on Meissen porcelain which is still the case today, although most Czechs view it an original Czech invention, the pattern was adopted in Bohemia in the mid 19th century. Production started at the end of the 19th century in Dubí a small community on the border with Germany which has recently become better known for its assortment of "ladies" rather than as the centre of production of this epitome of middleclass respectability. Thanks to a simplified mechanical production process Onion Blue china became accessible to people who would hardly have been able to afford the Meissen original but still wanted to have a decent looking plate on their Sunday table. Production flourished in the new Czechoslovakia but was interrupted by the Second World War and industrial developments in the 1950’s.
A 19th century Bohemian exampleImage courtesy of www.aron-antik.cz
Velčovský’s facial tattoos
Image courtesy of www.prague-art.cz
While one can look at both these objects and laugh they also have a more sarcastic interpretation, the vase in the form of wellies was often worn under communism by the asp rational collective farmers who saw cibulák as a status symbol. By further splashing the pattern on Stalin’s face he simply tried to maybe elevate him to a Czech favourite, the result is definitely interesting. Maxim Velčovský is known for taking everyday disposable items such as plastic cups and reproducing them as crystal wine glasses or turning dolls heads into candle sticks. It is not surprise then that he has used the “white gold” of the 18th century as a subversive material.
Waterproof Onion 2001Image courtesy of www.qubus.cz
More recently Jiří Pelcl updated the Onion Blue pattern in a more “official” way while working with Bohemia Porcelain in Dubí . He was asked to create a contemporary kind of cibulák which would appeal to a young audience.
What I am eyeing next
Image courtesy of www.facebook.com/tosemilibiaprotototadyje
With a line called Bohemia Cobalt ,Pelcl came up with completely new shapes from salad bowls to sugar spoons. Most importantly he abstracted the pattern making it minimal, unconstructive and interesting. Crucially, he also succeeded in creating china which is not just for display but rather for everyday use. Purity of form and pattern are key. His creation stands in stark contrast to the recent other new takes on the old classic which the company sells.
My little shopping trip ended with a tea set and medium size bowl both of which were well received and I came off with a cup for myself just big enough for a small Sunday espresso