The Girl and Her Vessel: A Psycho-Artistic Examination

While I am not a subscriber to the Freudian philosophy in full, I do find it fascinating and worth looking into from time to time. What most interests me is what I would call proto-Freudianism, a sort of loose and unfocused examination of concepts like the symbolic phallus and vagina in art. The phallus in artistic imagery is well-documented; less so the vagina. When the vagina has been represented symbolically, it generally manifests in two forms: the flower and the vessel. In my post Deflowered, I addressed the latter in a particular context, namely the shattered or broken vessel as it represented the loss of virginity. Here we will examine the same symbol in its purer form, before it is broken. Thus, in Freudian terms we are looking at girls who are still sexually innocent. The symbolism is rarely conscious on the part of artists, but for a Freudian that hardly matters. Of particular concern to us are pieces from the heyday of Freudianism (late 19th to mid 20th century), when artists were more likely to be aware of the sexual symbolism in their work and could choose either to accentuate it or downplay it.

Our first couple of pieces are a pair of objets d’art from unknown artists, Niña con cántaro and Niña llevando un cántaro (Girl with Pitcher and Girl Carrying a Pitcher respectively). In the first, one of the girl’s sleeves has fallen off her shoulder, thus baring one of her nipples. As Journey Darkmoon pointed out in his Chauncey Bradley Ives post, the revelation of the little girl’s nipple symbolizes her innocence, as she is unaware of the deeper connotation of such an act. This, coupled with the vessel at her feet, symbolizes feminine innocence. In the second example, the girl is nude altogether (save for a couple of bows in her hair), but again her innocence is clear.

Artist Unknown – Niña con cántaro (ca. 1920)

Artist Unknown – Niña llevando un cántaro (1)

Artist Unknown – Niña llevando un cántaro (2)

The trend continues with this set from Lladró. The famous porcelain company’s history of producing charming child pieces is unrivaled.

Lladró – Little Peasant Girl (Blue, Yellow & Pink Variants)

A common theme running through all of these pieces is nudity, partial nudity or, as in the case of Bessie Potter Vonnoh‘s Garden Figure, an ephemeral sort of drapery. Again, this is all meant to reinforce the fact that these are innocent young girls. The vessels they bear are unbroken for a reason. Vonnoh’s little vessel bearer was later used as part of the Frances Hodgson Burnett Memorial Fountain.

Bessie Potter Vonnoh – Garden Figure; ‘Garden Figure’ Maquette

Bessie Potter Vonnoh – Frances Hodgson Burnett Memorial Fountain

Art Deco and other modern artists tended to focus on early adolescent models rather than prepubescent ones, such as this lighter/ashtray combo piece, Juan Cristobal‘s Niña con cántaro and Joseph Bernard‘s The Water Bearer.

Artist Unknown – Nude Girl with New Yorker Lighter and Ashtray (1929)

Juan Cristobal – Niña con cántaro (1926)

Joseph Bernard – The Water Bearer (1912)

One of my absolute favorite pieces in this vein is Peruvian sculptor Juan José Paredes Antezana’s Niña A. It’s difficult to pin down the date here but the style seems fairly modern.

Juan José Paredes Antezana – Niña A

Here are two rare examples in which our young water carriers are fully clothed. They are by Ramon Martí Alsina and Ricardo de Madrazo y Garreta respectively.

Ramon Martí Alsina – Niña con cántaro

Ricardo de Madrazo y Garreta – Regreso de la fuente (1878)

V. Marseille’s topless adolescent water bearer is a fine modern exemplar of the trend.

V. Marseille – Girl with Water Jug

Our sole photographic entry in this subject is a piece by Rudolf Lehnert and Ernst Landrock. Judging by the iconography on her vessel, this little girl appears to be Arabic or North African, possibly Egyptian. Lehnert & Landrock really deserve a dedicated post of their own on Pigtails. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable on the pair will do us the honor.

Lehnert & Landrock – (Title Unknown)

This sculpture of a boy and girl retrieving water, which I’ve posted here before, is one of the most blatantly Freudian pieces I’ve ever come across. Here we have two vessels, the water jug, which has a spigot and is held up by the young boy (one of the rare times when the vessel takes on a masculine aspect rather than a feminine one), and the cup in the little girl’s hand. Take note of the almost wanton look on the thirsty girl’s face as she raises her cup to be filled by the boy. Note too how uncomfortably close her cup is to the boy’s genitalia. The boy also sits above the girl, reflecting his sexual dominance of her. Clearly the artist who created this piece (Edme Marie Cadoux) did so with at least some degree of awareness of all these cues. That this would all be accidental seems rather unlikely to me.

Edme Marie Cadoux – At the Fountain (1887)

Otherwise, even when the vessel is borne by a male, it still retains its feminine attributes, which subtly suggests homosexuality. The context is certainly relevant in this piece by Neoclassical sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. In this image we see the goddess Hebe, formerly the cup bearer of the gods, passing her serving vessels on to Ganymede, the boy who replaced her in this duty, while Zeus in his eagle form looks on. If you know your Greek myths, then you are well aware that young Ganymede was also one of Zeus’s lovers.

Bertel Thorvaldsen – Hebe and Ganymede

Speaking of Ganymede, he was the original representative for the zodiac sign Aquarius. Over time a girl or young woman tended to replace Zeus’s catamite in artistic representations of the sign for perhaps obvious reasons. Eduard Steinbrück‘s Die Nymphe der Düssel could’ve been the prototype for modern images of Aquarius. (See also the Deflowered post linked above for symbolism surrounding the adolescent girl dipping her toe into the water.)

Eduard Steinbrück – Die Nymphe der Düssel

Finally, we have a pair of candlesticks, a boy and a girl, by Edward Francis McCartan. Again, even the boy is rather feminized, all the more so for holding an amphora. These are certainly eroticized portrayals of youth, which McCartan was no stranger to.

Edward Francis McCartan – Children Holding Amphorae (early 20th cent.)(1)

Edward Francis McCartan – Children Holding Amphorae (early 20th cent.)(2)

Edward Francis McCartan – Children Holding Amphorae (early 20th cent.)(3)

Edward Francis McCartan – Girl Holding Amphora (early 20th cent.)(1)

Edward Francis McCartan – Girl Holding Amphora (early 20th cent.)(2)

Lladró’s Beach Babes

As summer nears an end (in the Northern Hemisphere), I feel compelled to cover something of the beach scene. As you may already know, I am fond of Lladró figurines and feel their style captures the essence of demure feminity. There are plenty of interesting Lladró pieces that I have yet to cover on Pigtails and I share some of them now.

One piece in particular, I feel comes out of left field. It belongs to a series of children with a day-of-the-week theme—one for girls and one for boys. Monday’s Child (girl) (6012) is an enigma with its peculiar mixture of elements. It appears to be a bathing beauty with a parasol, holding an ice cream cone near a tempted puppy. It illustrates very well the way the company molds and then assembles each piece separately. What is perplexing is that I cannot determine the place and time the design is supposed to represent. The frilly parasol suggests an upper-class girl of perhaps the Edwardian period, but the outfit is a kind of two-piece bikini. The skirt, however, looks like it belongs to a cheerleading or other dance uniform rather than a bathing suit. I find it a charming piece, but I can’t help wondering if this kind of outfit ever existed or if it is just a bit of clever fantasy?

Lladró - 6012 Monday's Child (girl) (1993) (1)

Lladró – 6012 Monday’s Child (girl) (1993) (1)

Lladró - 6012 Monday's Child (girl) (1993) (2)

Lladró – 6012 Monday’s Child (girl) (1993) (2)

Lladró - 6012 Monday's Child (girl) (1993) (3)

Lladró – 6012 Monday’s Child (girl) (1993) (3)

Lladró - 6012 Monday's Child (girl) (1993) (4)

Lladró – 6012 Monday’s Child (girl) (1993) (4)

Perhaps the most important rule for caring for one’s precious collectibles is: never expose them to direct sunlight. The temptation is to show them off in a prominent place, but that will expose them to long-term damage. Here is an example of a Monday’s Child whose colors were slightly bleached because of this.

Lladró - 6012 Monday's Child (girl) (1993) (5)

Lladró – 6012 Monday’s Child (girl) (1993) (5)

Another Lladró beach classic is Sandcastles (5488) and I am always impressed with any piece where the hat is not an unwelcome distraction.

Lladró - 5488 Sandcastles (1988)

Lladró – 5488 Sandcastles (1988)

Free as a Butterfly (1483) illustrates the southern European convention of allowing girls to appear topless up to a certain age or level of development.

Lladró - 1483 Free as a Butterfly (1985)

Lladró – 1483 Free as a Butterfly (1985)

Lladró official site
Other Lladró posts: ‘Fantastic Creatures’, ‘Young Blossoms’ and ‘An Exercise in Composition’

Lladró, Part 3: An Exercise in Composition

Every piece of art can be subjected to analysis, but true art cannot be said to be strictly one thing or another; there are subtleties, intentional or not, that contribute to its visual impact. When one begins to study art, one learns how to recognize the ways in which each part shapes the whole. Lladró is an excellent illustration of this because each component is literally constructed one at a time and then assembled. On the one hand, each part is produced from a mold facilitating mass production, but each one is polished, painted and assembled individually by hand. A particular painter will specialize in certain pieces to afford consistency. The result: a set of works appearing visually identical, yet each subtly different. The typical figurine is composed of 15 to 20 molded parts. However, one particular high-end piece, 18th Century Coach, required about 350 molded parts!

Lladró – #1485 18th Century Coach (1985)

Peggy Whiteneck, in her excellent book Collecting Lladró: Identification & Price Guide (Second Edition), makes the very apt point that Lladró tends toward the feminine and female children are particularly well represented. The fact that all the designers have been men is instructive; they recognize at least some of what visually appeals to us about young girls—not only their physical appearance but their personality and manner as well.

Sometimes when I look at a piece, its existence seems to defy explanation. I am not speaking of the technical difficulty in producing the work but the mere fact of its composition. I find myself asking over and over again, “What possessed the artists to design and actually produce this work and then who would buy it?” To me, Mischievous Mouse is such a piece. At first when I saw it, it seemed like just another cute Lladró, but every time I came across it again, it would catch my eye. Finally, I asked the seller for pictures from other angles to get a better idea of why it appeals so much to me. Most commercial sculptures for home display are only interesting from one angle—the so-called hero’s view—but this one was different.

Lladró – #5881 Mischievous Mouse (1992)

Overall what is impressive about this piece is that even though the figure is covered head to toe in a mouse suit, it nonetheless shows off the girl’s figure. Notice the curve of her back that can be seen from the side. A compositional analysis is quite easy because there are no tiny elements like flowers and the work can be fully appreciated without an extreme close-up.

Lladró – #5881 Mischievous Mouse (detail) (1)

The most obvious separate components are the cat and ball and the girl is teasing the cat, hence the name.

Lladró – #5881 Mischievous Mouse (detail) (2)

The curl of the tail strikes me as sensuous and the almost gaudy bow gives added interest to the rear end to help counterbalance the busy front end. Though visually compelling, constructing such a tail for a life-size costume would seem almost impossible.

Lladró – #5881 Mischievous Mouse (detail) (3)

Again, the form-fitting suit shows off her frame, especially the calves and straining left foot, but the crinkling at the joints gives the impression of a comfortable fit.

Lladró – #5881 Mischievous Mouse (detail) (4)

There are three figurines in this mouse and cat series; the second is called Restful Mouse. Because of the figure’s posture, the suit this time shows off the shoulders, chest, thighs and once again the calves and feet. Lladró’s construction methods really hit home when I accidentally knocked this piece over, breaking off a few pieces. One of those was the cat which came off in one piece. In fact, I toyed with the idea of not gluing it back but it created an odd gap and I replaced it.

Lladró – #5882 Restful Mouse (1992)

The third figure, Loving Mouse (#5883), did not quite have the sensuous quality of the other two, so I don’t own this one. I hope you have enjoyed this exhibition of my favorite Lladrós. Others may grace these pages as they apply to a particular theme.

Lladró (official site)

Lladró, Part 2: Young Blossoms

I shared a personal story in my last post, but now I would like to highlight some of the interesting story of Lladró itself. There is something about a Lladró that makes it instantly identifiable. This makes sense when one considers that the founders and their company developed many methods independent of the conventional channels; so, the result was bound to be distinctive.

The history begins with three brothers: Juan, José and Vicente Lladró. Like their father, they were expected to pursue careers in agriculture, but their mother wanted them to develop their potential in other ways and enrolled them in a school for arts and crafts. Inspired by what they learned, the brothers built their first kiln in 1951, producing floral ornamentation for lamps. The quality of their work was quickly recognized and within two years, they they were encouraged to get a loan and establish a proper company and plant, Lladró Porcelains. They teamed up with a Polish chemist Adolfo Pucilowski who helped them work out the details of reliable and consistent production. By 1969, the current factory was established and the company was exporting regularly to the U.S. By then, the collectability of these works was already apparent in catalogs of the time.

As an homage to the Lladrós’ beginnings, I present here figurines that illustrate some of this floral detail. The first is a closeup of Demure Centaur Girl (#5320) discussed in an earlier post.

Lladró – #5320 Demure Centaur Girl (1985) (detail)

No matter how small the detail, each little fragment is placed meticulously by hand. Another series of lovely girls has a tropical island theme.

Lladró – #2382 Island Beauty (1998)

Lladró – #2383 Paacific Jewel (1998)

Lladró – #2385 Tropical Flower (1998)

Notice the texture of the torsos. These are in the Gres style, which are made using a different ceramic formula. Much of the surface is unglazed, giving it the look of pottery, and whatever glazing there is has a different finish than the main production pieces. I have to tip my hat to Lladró for their ability to express female beauty in such a variety of styles and media.

Each girl here has only a single flower, but a closer examination reveals a remarkable delicacy and detail. One can easily imagine the time and effort it took to assemble these pieces and even the design of the boxes required considerable imagination: to ensure they would arrive at their destinations intact.

Lladró – Tropical Flower (detail); Island Beauty (detail)

Lladró (official website)

Lladró, Part 1: Fantastic Creatures

Looking through any book or catalog of Lladró figurines is an overwhelming experience, but as this was my first love, I felt it important to show the few lovelies that grace my display shelf.

I served in the U.S. Army in the late 1980s and was stationed in what was then West Germany. Of course, there were a lot of wonderful collectibles right there in German shops, but soldiers could see many of the more popular ones in shops on military bases as well. The first of these shops I ever walked into had quite a few figurines. Suddenly, I looked down into one of the cases and saw this centaur girl:

Lladró – #5320 Demure Centaur Girl (1985) (overhead)

I stared at this beautiful thing for a long time, but not long enough for anyone to notice. Every time I was at that base, I’d make a point to go in and look at her again. I could afford to buy it if I wanted, but I felt weird about it. I lived in barracks with a bunch of young macho guys and so I wouldn’t have the guts to display it anyway. In such small quarters, it could easily get broken and a single soldier’s lifestyle made such pleasures impractical. I never forgot about it and wondered why this figure should have this kind of affect on me.

Years later, when I got used to navigating the web, I decided to search “centaur girl” and a tingle went up my spine when one of the images was of that very same figurine. I then learned that it was a Lladró called Demure Centaur Girl and had a similar companion piece Wistful Centaur Girl (#5319) which I remember being displayed in the case as well.

Lladró – #5320 Demure Centaur Girl (1985)

In a little while, I found one for sale and purchased it. I remember waiting what seemed like forever for it to arrive. It was the busy time for postal service and I did not receive it until after the New Year. I had heard of and seen other Lladrós before but was never that impressed so it was a revelation that some of their work could be like this. I decided to see if they made anything else that might appeal to me or if this was just a fluke of aesthetics. Lo and behold, there was an even older centaur girl called appropriately enough, Centaur Girl.

Lladró – #1012 Centaur Girl (1969)

Being an older piece, it did not have the delicate ornamentation seen on later Lladrós, but the delicacy and attitude of the figure struck me even more than the first one. I have studied it many times since and discovered how it achieves its dynamic charm. The girl and front legs of the filly are sweet and proper and serene while the hind quarters give the impression of excitement. The hind legs are in a tense open posture as though ready to spring and the tail is curled like a whip suggesting a frisky demeanor. This piece has its complement as well: Centaur Boy (#1013). I still find it odd that the centaur form is so appealing to many; it seems so front-heavy, but somehow talented artists manage to pull it off.

It turns out that Lladró produced a lot of fantasy pieces over the years, far too many to ever discuss adequately in this blog (stay tuned for Lladró, Part 99!), but I was sufficiently charmed by two of the three Butterfly Girl figurines to purchase them. The third one (#1402) has a distracting feathered hairstyle that gives it an unfortunate dated appearance. I was surprised to discover that the latter centaur girls and butterfly girls were all designed by José Puche but given their similar aesthetic sensibility, it makes perfect sense now.

Lladró – #1401 Butterfly Girl (1982)

Lladró – #1403 Butterfly Girl (1982)

As I share more of my collection, I will also reveal some of the remarkable things that gives Lladró that instantly recognizable style.

Lladró Porcelain (official site)