Decorator M. Louise McLaughlin American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 741

Louise McLaughlin of Cincinnati was a pioneering figure in the history of American ceramics. Like many women of her time, she began her artistic career as a china painter. Throughout her career—as a leader in china painting, underglaze slip decoration, and porcelain making—she embraced technical challenges. One of her earliest innovations was her discovery of the barbotine technique, a method of decorating ceramics with colored clay slips. While this technique had been developed centuries earlier, it was rediscovered by the French ceramist Ernest Chaplet around 1871. Chaplet sold the secrets of his method to Haviland & Co. of Limoges, France, who featured the technique in their display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876. McLaughlin visited the exhibition and was inspired to discover this sensational technique. She acquired the proper coloring agents in September 1877 and fired her first successful piece in January 1878. This was a remarkable event at the time, as refined women were discouraged from working with wet clay. By the mid-1880s, largely as a result of McLaughlin’s activities, underglaze slip decoration was widely practiced and became synonymous with pottery decoration in Cincinnati.

As a founding member and first president of the Cincinnati Pottery Club, McLaughlin produced and decorated two monumental vases of the same size and shape for the club’s first annual exhibition in May 1880. At the time, the vases, more than three feet in height, were the two largest pieces of art pottery ever produced in the United States. McLaughlin called one vase, now residing in the Cincinnati Art Museum, the “Ali Baba Vase.” The second vase, seen here, is renowned for its size and underglaze slip decoration. Exceptional in both its decoration and monumental size, it features bold white calla lilies that reveal a gentle Japonisme in their slight asymmetrical composition. The Japanese influence is further enhanced by the vase’s network of fine gold lines painted on the rich blue ground in the manner of an enhanced glaze craquelure. McLaughlin's rival, Maria Longworth Nichols (1849–1932), founder of the Rockwood Pottery, made her own monumental vase as a response to McLaughlin’s, which Nichols called "Aladdin", a version of which is in the Metropolitan’s collection (see 1981.443).

Vase, M. Louise McLaughlin (American, Cincinnati, Ohio 1847–1939 Cincinnati, Ohio), Earthenware, slip decorated, gilding, American

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