Friday, June 10, 2011

Mr. Punch in the Arts: A Mr. Punch Ceramic Jug, circa 1920

Mr. Punch Jug
Barlows Ltd.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

I was so delighted to find this ceramic Mr. Punch jug in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. He looks awfully cute, all cuddled up with his dog/chum, Toby. I couldn’t help but laugh at the description of this object on the V&A’s Web site, “This jug shaped as Mr Punch sitting cosily with his dog Toby, presents a far more benevolent image of him than the wife-beating bully we know from his Punch and Judy shows, but many representations of Punch over the years have come to show him as a more avuncular figure than the criminal of his youth.”

That statement is quite true. Punch is, really, a murderer, but we collectively have given him the benefit of the doubt and assigned him playful, loveable and, even, “avuncular” characteristics which belie the murderous choices he makes. We have cuddly feelings for dear Punch, even when he is beating someone to death. Of course, puppet on puppet violence doesn’t really hurt anyone, and that’s why he can get away with it.

This jug dates between 1920 and 1950 and is the work of Barlows Limited, an English ceramics-maker. Though he’s holding his stick (which here is more of a club than it is a slapstick), he looks quite mellow as he smiles, embracing Toby whose returned affection for Mr. Punch is shown by the heart painted on his chest. As the V&A states of Mr. Punch, “He was always an anarchist, flouting authority, and became one of the nation's best-loved, bad-tempered brutes.” And, we love him all the more for it.

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