Saturday, March 19, 2011


A few weeks ago, I stopped by my favorite antique center, and came across this wonderful French basket planter.   I have never seen anything like it, and I have been buying French baskets for fifteen years.   I was fascinated with the flower garland and ribbons that were applied on all sides.  

I had the perfect spot to showcase this fabulous piece.  I have a small fireplace in our breakfast room where the basket could be placed on the mantel at eye level so one can appreciate all of it's detail.   This boxwood wreath has been hanging since the holidays, and I still think it looks great.  

I decided to display this basket without any flowers as I really want to showcase all of its beautiful details.   Can you imagine how much time it must have taken to create and apply all of the garland and ribbon?    

Above is the back side of the basket.  You can see on the right side the bow is missing.

The basket still has it's original zinc tray at the bottom to catch the water from potted plants.  It is always rare to get the original tray or lining when purchasing an antique planter.

I just received a comment from another blogger,, and she told me that my basket was a barbola basket and was quite valuable.  I had never heard of a barbola basket before so I did some research.   The information in bold lettering below is what I found by an ebay seller named avecsavoirfaire who seems to be very knowledgeable on this subject. 

After seeing the prices of barbola baskets that I found online, I realized that I had really scored a great treasure.  It appears to be very unusual and I love that it is all painted gold and has such a wonderful aged patina.   I know all of you other ANTIQUEAHOLICS out there are thinking the same thing - it is so exciting and rewarding to realize that you purchased an item that has much greater value than you originally thought.     This is just another reason to go out antique shopping instead of working on all those home projects that need to get done.   Don't you agree?

Antique Barbola Gesso Baskets are not only a beautiful addition to your home, they are quite scarce and therefore highly sought after by collectors!  We have a collection of exquisite "Barbola" Baskets that we love dearly, and we are always on the hunt for more of these Romantic Lovelies to add to our home, or to offer to you.  The colored Wicker Flower and Funeral Baskets have fabulous swags of romantic Garden Roses, the more ornate Gesso pieces~the more we fall in love!  Nothing spells Shabby Romance better, these sweet pieces look outstanding in any room, whether you have a Victorian, French, Cottage or Shabby Chic Home!
We use these baskets in so many different ways, to hold bouquets of fresh English Roses from the garden, a collection of Antique Gardening Books by the Chaise~Lounge, Towels in the Guestbathroom, to serve delicate Tea Scones inside a Alençon Lace Napkin, or just sitting on our shelves looking lovely!

The "Craft" of Gesso Barbola Work

"Barbola" or Gesso Work is a very old form of decoration, it was used to substitute wood carved pieces, as not only was the exquisite wood carving labor intensive and costly, it was also very heavy.  Gesso ornamentation was used almost exclusively on ornate gilded frames, and applied to French Furniture pieces until the early 1920's. Gesso is a paste made by mixing whiting with size or glue to a moldable consistancy, which will dry hard.
In the early 1920's, the English firm of Windsor & Newton introduced several "home" kits (which they called "outfits") for "the young English Woman of Good Birth to use in crafting lovely items suitable for her Boudoir, or to give as a gift to a family member or friend."
These outfits consisted of a Modeling "Paste" Gesso Powder, Glue, Paints, Brushes and modeling tools.  Little booklets were included that showed how to make several different types of flowers, Christmas Roses (pointsettias) Poppies, Anemones, and Garden Roses. (our favorite!!)  After the modeling of the seperate flowers and leaves, these were then glued onto the decorative object (mostly wooden bowls, boxes and mirrors, although fire-screens and jewelry were quite popular too!) painted, and then varnished.

How To Buy Authentic Barbola Gesso Work

An authentic piece of "Barbola" is almost always painted in rich colors, the decorative objects made during this time were made in deep Blues, Greens, Umbers, Reds and Yellows. The "outfits" did not come with soft colors, deep, clear tones were most popular during this time.
One sure way to determine if you are buying an authentic piece of Barbola is to see if each individual flower is seperate from the next, instead of formed as one decorative swag. Another tell~tale sign of a newer made piece is if there are almost no surface cracks in the ornamentation~this gesso work was very susceptible to changes in weather, antique pieces almost always have surface cracks, as well as some missing bits here and there.
This is perfectly acceptable and does not affect value much, as long as not too much of the ornamentation is missing.  In England we were able to talk to several Antique Dealers specializing in Barbola, they had never found a piece without the condition damage specified above.
The pale, pale Pastel versions most often offered on ebay are not considered authentic Barbola pieces, they most likely have been repainted in the soft Romantic colors we prefer today and/or made by the artist adding new "Gesso Pieces" crafted for Picture Framers to an older basket or box or mirror.  That is not to say they are without value, as many of these pieces are highly sought after for their beauty, and also quite collectible. 
Many of these baskets, mirrors and other items are wonderfully decorative,  and fit so beautifully in our Romantic Homes! We strive to offer you authentic pieces, such as the sweet wooden round box shown below, an excellent example of "authentic" English Barbola Work from the early 1920's, when this "craft for young ladies" was at the height of it's popularity!



  1. What a wonderful little basket. Is that a zinc tray lining the bottom?

  2. Your barbola basket is a treasure and worth a lot!

  3. It's absolutely stunning Patti! What a fantastic find- lucky you!!

  4. Yours is a gorgeous Barbola basket! It is quite rare to find one with the original metal tray, it IS a treasure. {even though I no longer sell on ebay, the above info. is under my old selling name avecsavoirfaire}

    You have a lucky, glorious find!


  5. A lovely find, for sure. I remember modelling roses and flowers with Barbola as a child, after my mother stopped me doing the same with sealing wax, because I kept setting my eyelashes, eyebrows and fringe on fire. Barbola came in a small silver coloured metal container with a very tight-fitting lid to save it drying out. It looked like putty but set really hard. I do wish it was still made, because I'd love to use it again. It was an excellent medium and very durable. One mistake I noticed in your piece is inferring Christmas Roses are synonymous with Pointsettias, which they are not here in Britain, home of Winsor & Newton and main source of Barbola. A British Christmas Rose, a German Christrose (Christ Rose) or Schneerose (Snow rose) and a French Rose de noёl (‘Christmas Rose’) or Rose d’hiver (‘Winter Rose’) would be a beautiful white Hellebore, which is a hardy flowering plant which indeed flowers around Christmastime in Britain and other parts of Europe. Poinsettia on the other hand may be known as the Christmas Rose or Christmas Star elsewhere, but it is the subtropical plant Euphorbia Pulcherrima from Mexico! We used to make Christmas Roses from wire and crepe papier dipped in wax.