Curator of Art, sfmuseum.org
As was pointed out, during the 19th century the middle classes
in America became both more numerous and much more affluent. In emulating upper
class life styles and atmosphere they sought out cultural refinements. Assembly
halls became “opera houses,” meeting rooms “lecture hall”. The walls of their
homes were hung with Rembrandts, VanDykes and Rubens to name a few; albeit these
art works were not originals. The etchings and lithographs however were well
executed and ornately framed.
Another area of emulation was statuary. The middle class needed less expensive
and smaller pieces. To fill this gap Parian wear was developed in both Europe
and America. The name comes from the Greek island of Paros where a fine quality
of marble was mined for countless centuries. The unmatched beauty of classic
Greek statuary was carved on these stones.
Parian ware is a molded clay product that gives the appearance of marble from
The molding took many forms, busts of gods, famous historical figures and
royalty, most notably Queen Victoria. Replications of Greek and Roman statues
were very popular. Perhaps the most cherished were scenes of life depicted in
The size ran from a few inches to several feet tall. The detail work was very
good. The price was modest. The Victorian “sitting room”, more to be seen than
lived in, was adorned with ornately carved furniture with several Parian pieces
displayed proudly. An etching of a gladiator saluting Caesar after slaying his
foe capped off the room that proudly proclaimed, “we have arrived”.
Parian ware turns up today in antique stores; however, because of its fragile
nature most pieces have not survived into the 21st century. Those that have
often have broken fingers and missing spears or a glued on head.