Intricate art – pictures on porcelain

Those who have visited Pierneef à La Motte Restaurant on the estate might have admired the ceramic chandeliers hanging gracefully from the ceiling. Some might have enjoyed La Motte’s Winelands Tea, presented in the intricately decorated tea service, while others might have noticed the themed bowls and other containers displayed in the La Motte Farm Shop. All these charming items were created by famed etcher and ceramics artist Ella-Lou O’Meara.

Seldom will one come across pieces of art like these that do not convey a specific story or narrative. The origin or influence of such a story would normally be captured mainly within the boundaries of the artist’s field of interest from where it is expanded through creativity, talent and social, political or personal commentary or expression.

O’Meara’s love of etching and ceramic art was already evident during her childhood days in the Western Cape town of Paarl. Items that amazed her most were her mother’s tea services as well as her grandmother’s porcelain set with the famous Willow pattern. Tutored by Katrina Harries, O’Meara studied Graphic Art, with Printing as her major subject, at the Michaelis School of Art, University of Cape Town.

In 2010 La Motte commissioned O’Meara to design chandeliers for Pierneef à La Motte Restaurant on the estate. Her theme of focus was original 18th century export porcelain, an important component of trading at the time, transported on ships of the Dutch East India Company (DEIC). The narrative is depicted on the basis of illustrations executed in accordance with various techniques and styles. Interestingly, the illustrations are different etches (as created by O’Meara) that were transferred onto clay.

While the ceramic items incorporate several closely related styles and inspirations, one can make a distinction by using the following as a frame of reference:

Encre de chine style: Illustrations and decorations are typically rendered in black and gold, so the use of colour is limited. The plates on either side of the fireplace in Pierneef à La Motte Restaurant represent features of this style. It is noteworthy that O’Meara has portrayed sailing-vessels (referring to the DEIC ships) at their arrival at the Cape. The Table Mountain scene (depicted on pieces of the chandeliers) originates from inspiration that was drawn from travellers’ journals and early sketches of the Cape.

Imari style: Typically, the use of the colours blue and red reflects the 18th century cobalt-blue and red enamel-ware exported from Imari in Japan. These items were mainly shipped by the DEIC and were often used as trading goods. The chandelier closest to the outside veranda represents the style through the symbolic use of colour. Some of the pieces in the chandeliers are “broken”. This feature is intentional, serving to symbolise and represent the act of trading.

DEIC porcelain style: The ceramic ware was produced specifically for the Dutch East India Company. It reflects the traditional blue, with symbolic motifs that display flowers, fruit and landscapes. The VOC symbol is mostly placed in the centre of each plate.

The first chandelier, closest to the Pierneef à La Motte Restaurant kitchen, represents this style. Other examples may be seen in the La Motte Manor House.

The following themes or illustrations are significant in examples of O’Meara’s work at La Motte: Table Mountain, sailing-vessels, “fynbos”, botanical sketches, topographical sketches and maps, as well as antique gravures (Nguni bull, Chinese woman on a dragon).

Chinoiserie style refers to iconic as well as symbolic illustrations that depict a utopian image of an area or a land. O’Meara specifically uses the above themes to portray the Western interpretation of the Cape.

Tableware available from the La Motte Farm Shop.

Tea set available from the La Motte Farm Shop.

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