Figure of a peacock (detail), Minton Ceramics Manufactory, Paul Comoléra. Lead-glazed earthenware, ca. 1876. Loan of Deborah and Philip English, 2018.

The Walters Art Museum announced that it has received a $2.5 million gift from Baltimore-based art collectors Deborah and Philip English to endow and hire a new curator to specialize in the areas of decorative arts, design, and material culture. The Englishes also have made a commitment to donate more than 500 objects in their collection of Majolica to the museum.

The museum will conduct a national search to fill the position, which will be known as the Deborah and Philip English Curator of Decorative Arts, Design, and Material Culture.

“This new position funded by the Englishes gives us the ability to further the study of ceramics like Majolica and other examples of material culture, which expands the types of stories we are able to tell and restores this art to its rightful place in history,” said Julia Marciari-Alexander, Andrea B. and John H. Laporte Director, in a statement.

“We are simply thrilled to have this opportunity to integrate the visionary collection the Englishes have created into the Walters, which stewards one of the most significant collections of ceramics from across the globe and across time in the United States.”

Majolica, a type of molded earthenware known for its brightly colored lead-based glazes, was widely used throughout Victorian society in the form of tableware, decorative objects, and garden ornaments. After debuting at London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, Majolica quickly became ubiquitous in England and America, with works appearing in museum displays, royal palaces, and in the homes of average citizens.

The Englishes’ Majolica Collection contains both monumental pieces created specifically for exhibitions as well as daily ware. According to The Walters, it is one of the largest, most comprehensive, and most significant collections of English and Continental-European Majolica given to any U.S. institution.

“Majolica was one of the most significant ceramics introduced in England in the 19th century,” said Deborah English. “It introduced Rococo, Renaissance, and Gothic design motifs into middle-class homes. From a material culture standpoint, Majolica’s wide popularity and broad acceptance in society made it reflective of the changes in Victorian society brought on by the industrial revolution. Majolica spoke to the politics, culture, and even satire of the era.”

The Englishes have already made significant gifts to the museum from their collection of Majolica and will continue to do so during their lifetimes, with the remainder of the collection to be given to the museum as a bequest.

“We chose the Walters Art Museum to receive this collection because of the long-established relationship between the institution and the English family, and also because of the museum’s superior approach to scholarship and conservation,” said Philip English.

“Along with the collection, we wanted to present the museum with a significant academic resource for the study of Majolica, and we recognized the importance of underwriting a curatorship to ensure the continued study of this important and captivating ceramic.”

Majolica is the focus of Majolica Mania, an exhibition of more than 350 works highlighting the beauty and inventiveness of the ceramic. Taking over all of 1 West Mount Vernon Place, also known as Hackerman House, Majolica Mania features immersive installations on each floor, including a recreation of a Victorian parlor. The exhibition is on view until August 7, 2022.

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.