The Ceramic Art: A Compendium of The History and Manufacture of Pottery and Porcelain

Author Jennie J. Young
Author Name Variants Jenny J. Young.
Publication New York: Harpers & Brothers,1878.
Link to Text
Genres Textbook, History
Keywords Education, Fine Arts
Contributing State New York
Research Notes  
Digital Source Notes  

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Olivia Simkins

Tulane University, December 2015

Advertised by its publishers as “one of the most complete and well-arranged books on ceramics issued since the subject began to attract attention,” Young’s 500-page “compendium” presents diligent research on the pottery and porcelain of more than 25 countries (“Miss Young’s Ceramic Art”). Skillfully combining text with 464 woodcut illustrations, the book was favorably reviewed throughout the US and England, praised for its accessibility and practicality to novices and connoisseurs alike. As interest in the fine arts gained popularity among the general public, The Ceramic Art “supplied a distinct want” of the times (Monkhouse), providing the “history of the art in the country under consideration, an account of its progress and methods in the several departments, and a description of some of the most notable artists and their works” (“New Publications”).

A primary goal of Young’s was to provide knowledge for intelligent conversation about and increase the value ascribed to ceramics. However, many reviewers noted that in striving to achieve this, she relied heavily on other sources, her pages “filled with information derived from other books,” without her own integration or paraphrasing (“American Notes”). While this approach places a bit of a burden on the reader, the book’s style is generally pleasant and clear, imbued with a passion that confirms the author’s authority on the subject. The book also largely omits personal commentary or opinions from Young herself, opening with factual chapters on classification, the composition of wares and glazes, manufacture and decoration, and technologies before delving into specific histories. While her self-erasure as an author may feel like a shortcoming to modern readers, it was appreciated by reviewers of its day; The Art Amateur commended the fact that “the author’s personality is never intruded upon the reader… we are given the facts, and allowed to draw our own conclusions.”Though some early reviewers pointed to factual inconsistencies in The Ceramic Art, the book’s value in instructing those wishing to collect pottery or produce it themselves ensured its overall success (Pierson 64). Moreover, the inaccuracies were said to reflect the “limited connoisseurship knowledge [of] the time” rather than the fault of the author. Despite any criticisms, Young’s devotion to her subject reveals her enthusiasm and leaves the reader feeling that she is a trustworthy guide. She “happily blends strong industrial habits and the true artistic sense, and her book is a happy reflex of the combined characteristics” (“Current Literature”).

It makes sense that The Ceramic Art was included as part of the Women’s Literary Department at the New Orleans World’s Fair. In 1884 the book was still popular, interest in ceramics was surely prevalent, and the beauty of the book as an object – combined with its provision of useful information – would have attracted visitors to it immediately. Nor is there any doubt that the work would have been relevant to women, who may have been interested in decorating their houses with pottery and porcelain, or perhaps in getting involved in decorating ceramics like the women who would soon come to study pottery at New Orleans’s Newcomb College for women. Furthermore, Young’s substantial research on cultures from locations around the world would have been celebrated at the World’s Fair, where visitors coming from other nations might be looking for mention of their own histories.

Works Cited

“American Notes.” The Publishers Circle and General Record of British and American Literature, vol 41, no. 987, 2 Nov. 1878, p. 831.

“Art Publications.”The Art Amateur, vol. 1, no. 3, 1879, p. 65.

“Current Literature.” Rose-Belford’s Canadian Monthly and National Review, vol. 11, 1879, pp. 123-25.

“Miss Young’s Ceramic Art.” Harper & Brothers List of Publications,1879, p. 237.

Monkhouse, Cosmo. “Fine Art.” Review of The Ceramic Art: a Compendium of the History and Manufacture of Pottery and Porcelain.The Academy, vol. 16, 23 Aug. 1879, pp. 145-46.

“New Publications.” New England Farmer and Horticultural Reporter,19 Oct. 1878, p.2.

Pierson, Stacey. Object to Concept: Global Consumption and the Transformation of Ming Porcelain, Hong Kong University Press,2013, pp. 63-65.