Welcome to our new MAACM Newsletter! My vision has always been to share my collection and love for the American Arts and Crafts movement and I can’t tell you how proud I am that we are nearly ready to share the museum with you, the greater Tampa Bay area, and the world. In the meantime, we hope to stay connected with you via our new MAACM Newsletter with highlights of the collection, museum updates, and more.
Looking forward to a bright 2021,
In the 1920’s, France experienced a period of economic prosperity, fostering the development of an optimistically modern style, Art Deco. Designers and manufacturers created fashionable luxury goods for clients with money to spend, and stylish items for the home were in demand. Bibelots (French for “decorative trinkets”) such as figurines, boxes, liquor decanters, bookends, and lamps, were highly sought after. The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement has a large collection of exotic and whimsical bibelots, and included among this group are many different artistic interpretations of a clown known as Pierrot.
Clowns have been around for centuries and the original is considered to be Pedrolino, a stock figure in the Italian Commedia dell'arte. An improvised comic theatre of masked characters which flourished from the mid-sixteenth century in Italy, its popularity was widespread across Western Europe through the 18th century. The show thrived in France, where the clown Pedrolino became known as Pierrot. As the youngest character of the troupe and a side-show comedian, Pierrot amused audiences with his mischief. Unlike other cast members of the commedia dell'arte, Pierrot performed unmasked, with a powdered face and an all-white costume. A porcelain bibelot in the collection depicts Pierrot in his classic white attire, complete with a neck ruff, bulky jacket with large buttons, loose trousers, and cap (Fig. 1).
During the early nineteenth century, pantomime became a popular entertainment, and the Bohemian-French mime Jean-Gaspard Deburau transformed the clown into the melancholy Pierrot we know today. His character was a heartbreaking picture of sadness, who hid his feelings through exaggerated facial expressions, mimicking others, acrobatic stunts, and silly pranks. During Deburau's performances, Pierrot was usually portrayed as downhearted over his unrequited love for Columbine, but she in turn loved someone else, Harlequin. Both Pierrot and Harlequin competed for the love of Columbine, but her heart belonged to only one of them.
As interpreted by Deburau, Pierrot's comedic behavior and lovesick attitude provided abundant subject matter for designers. An inventive porcelain lamp (Fig. 2) depicts a solemn, broken-hearted Pierrot outside a red-framed window, watching the silhouettes of Columbine and Harlequin in a romantic embrace. Nevertheless, Pierrot is not discouraged from professing his love for Columbine. Another lamp shows Pierrot sitting on a crescent moon playing a lute, demonstrating that he is still "over-the-moon" in love with her (Fig. 3). Even on a powder box (Fig. 4), Pierrot serenades his love.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought a renewed interest in the Commedia dell'arte. Characters were revived in poetry, operas, films, ballets and decorative arts, including bibelots. Pierrot became such a popular figure that a new clown emerged, a lovelorn female version of Pierrot named Pierrette. Introduced to rival Columbine for his affections, Pierrette was gloomy and heart-stricken from being rejected by Pierrot. A pair of bookends (Fig. 5) show Pierrot with his female counterpart, wearing identical all-white costumes and powdered faces, with similar sad poses.
These beloved Commedia dell'arte characters never really fell out of style. Today, you can find influences of Pierrot and his companions in operas, art, ballets, films, and circuses. In addition to Pierrot and Pierrette, the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement has many striking and unusual bibelots that tell their own stories. You may read the December, 2015 Two Red Roses Foundation newsletter for additional information. You may also view a video on these Art Deco ceramics in the two MAACM 2nd Floor theaters. Be sure to look for them when visiting the Museum’s Art Café or enjoying a drink at the Ambrosia bar.