Museum Musings by Amanda–“Exotic” Faraway Fantasy: Exploring the Teapot Collection
Hello readers of the Newark Museum blog! I’m Amanda, a summer intern at the museum. I’ll be posting here sometimes about my adventures around the galleries and all the fun stuff going on here over the next few months. I encourage you to respond to the polls that I will be posting along with my blogs–we love hearing what you have to say and your feedback helps us improve our game!
I felt a bit underdressed walking through the Teapot Collection today! Surrounded by the dozens of teapots of different shapes, sizes and colors made me feel as if I needed to be wearing a more suitable dress to wear to an afternoon tea. The almost-tangible pink taffeta dress that John Singleton Copley painted in Portrait of Mrs. Joseph Scott (hanging in the Early American Portrait Gallery) would be perfect, if only it were real. But perhaps the Ballantine ladies’ closets could be available for some scavenging and borrowing. Please, curator Ulysses?
The Trumpeter teapot (China, for the Dutch market; Porcelain, enamel, 1750-60) caught my attention because of the depicted musician’s bright yellow garb, his deeply expressive face, and by the fact that the musician is actively playing the instrument, not merely holding it. A teapot is often associated with inaction and relaxation, women and domesticity, and purity and natural beauty. This “exotic” teapot, in contrast, is actually the complete antithesis of these preconceived notions. By capturing the essence of what the consumer is not, this teapot might serve one of two purposes: it could be the mode for a fantastical escape from domesticity or a subtle affirmation of one’s superiority over the “exotic” other. The design itself resists the classic context of the teapot, namely of a party of parlor ladies gossiping about their dramatic domestic lives, by depicting a man as the main figure on the art, who is captured during his action of playing music, on a black background. Therefore this “exotic” teapot, could invoke either feelings of resentment at the strictures of a genteel life or feelings of amusement over the oddities of the unfamiliar depending on the consumer’s level of contentment and satisfaction with the domestic lifestyle.
The wonderful thing about any museum is its unique capability to act as a time machine (without a flux-capacitor, nonetheless!) and transport the visitor to different time periods and cultures. Simply by looking at the porcelain Trumpeter teapot I felt as if I were a Dutch lady indulging in an “exotic” fantasy of a faraway land filled with young, handsome musicians. I highly encourage everyone to come explore the Newark Museum’s wonderful and rich collection of Decorative Arts to indulge in their own fantasies. But remember…dress to impress!