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Blue ceramic jug with olive branch decoration owned by Charles Dickens

Collection

Object

Object number (per part)

DH775, 2019.4.1

Object name (per part)

jug

Production date

1840s

Label

This ceramic jug was owned by Charles Dickens and he displayed it on his writing desk. It dates from the 1840s and was likely picked up as a souvenir in Aix-les-Bains, a thermal spa town in Eastern France, in an area we know Dickens visited in the period. The jug has a short spout and handle, a thick blue glaze on the outside and three-dimensional olive branch and olives, painted in green and brown. The words "Aix les Bains" are painted on one of the leaves. This jug is particularly revealing of Dickens’s sense of taste and his fondness to surround himself when working with items that reflected his travels and adventures with friends. Dickens was an avid traveller to France and wrote to Count D’Orsay about a trip he made in 1844. Dickens noted: “My eyes ached and my head grew giddy, as novelty, novelty, novelty; nothing but strange and striking things; came swarming before me...” (Dickens to Count D’Orsay 7 August 1844).

Physical description

White ceramic jug with a thick blue glaze on the outside and three dimensional decoration of an olive branch with five olives. The leaves are glazed in green and brown and the olives are dark brown. The jug has a short spout and small handle on the side, as well as a larger handle over the top of the jug. Painted on two if the leaves appears to the be words Aix les Bains

Object history note

Aix-les-Bains is near Lyons, France and was known in the 1700s and 1800s as a spa resort for high society and royalty. Empress Josephine famously frequented it, along with other royal dignitaries. During the latter part of the eighteenth century, it boasted a Thermal Establishment (for which the town hall and houses were torn down) which held both sulphurous and alum springs, two cold swimming baths, family swimming baths, 41 single baths, vapour baths, inhaling rooms and foot baths; this Thermal Establishment was kept functioning with more facilities being added. The town also added lodging facilities in the earlier part of the nineteenth century and it became more of a holiday establishment, open to anyone who could afford the treatments (not just the social elite). During excavations, archaeologists have uncovered Roman dwelling remains including a thermal complex and a temple dedicated to the goddess Diana. Romans adopted the cleaning routines of the Greeks which centred on applying olive oil to the body, followed by visiting a series of hot and cold rooms, and ending in scraping the oil off their skin. This jug from Aix-les-Baines is one that would have been available in town shops to tourists, like Dickens, to commemorate the town’s Roman forebears' use of it as a spa retreat. While not used itself to apply olive oil to the skin (as such skin regiments were not practiced in nineteenth-century Aix), it is a lovely tourist object that would have been available to the many tourists attracted to the site. Dickens was an avid traveller to France and wrote to Count D’Orsay about a trip he made in 1844. Dickens noted: “My eyes ached and my head grew giddy, as novelty, novelty, novelty; nothing but strange and striking things; came swarming before me...” (Dickens to Count D’Orsay 7 August 1844).

Inscription content

Aix les Bains

Credit line

Purchased with support from the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund (National Lottery), the Art Fund and the Dickens Fellowship.
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