Notebook, 1993-


POTTERY AND PORCELAIN - Glossary - A List of Museums and Galleries - Ceramics - [A materials resource site with links]

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Pottery & Porcelain - English (cont.)

Throughout the eighteenth century delftware was used for propaganda purposes, with inscriptions and themes reflecting the political passions of the moment ['God Save King George', 'Calvert and Martin for Ever', etc.]. It was also frequently topical, recording the taking of Chargre in 1740 or Lunardi's balloon ascent in 1783.

The repertory of forms of eighteenth-century delftware greatly extended that of the seventeenth century. Despite the unsuitability of the material, tea pots, cups, etc., were made for the tea table. Bowls, 'bricks' [small perforated box-like vases], wall pockets, and vases for flowers reflect the increased refinement of eighteenth-c. living. 'Puzzle jugs' were made at all the main factories, and bottles and basins of exiguous dimensions answered the toilet needs of the period. The most numerous forms by far, however, were plates, [p. 446] dishes, and bowls. Tiles were made at all the factories.

By about 1790 the manufacture of delftware ceased. The Bristol potteries were all closed or turned over to other purposes before 1780, and those of Liverpool [begun about 1710] shortly afterwards. Only the Lambeth wares continued to be made into the 1790s, but they, too, were doomed by the competition of creamware. [p. 447]

19th-c. to 1830
By 1800 the pottery industry was well on the way to industrialization as we know it today. The different centres lost much of their individual character, and it is often impossible, in the absence of a mark, to say whether a piece was made in Staffordshire, Yorkshire, Liverpool, Scotland, or on Tyneside. Individual firms often copied shamelessly the materials and designs of their competitors.

The basic commodity on which the flourishing industry was built was cream-coloured earthenware in a wide range of varieties. Enamelling and printing were the chief methods of decoration, but in an atmosphere of breathless industrialization the quality of hand painting was declining rapidly, being in some cases reduced to mere daubs of colour, as in the opaque dirty-coloured enamels which ousted the clear glaze colours on figures of the type produced by the Woods [their final declension is seen in the wares of Walton, and others about the end of our period]; or in the dabs of high-temperature colours [brown, green, and blue predominating] which emphasize the relief on wares of the 'Pratt' type.

A method of decoration more in harmony with the spirit of the time was printing, and by the second quarter of the century underglaze-blue printing became the most widespread decorative technique in use, the wares so made having a worldwide market. Overglaze printing, mainly in brown and black, was also widely practised.

A fresh decorative resource of the nineteenth century was the use of 'lustre' painting, the favourite colours being 'silver' and pink. Lustre was frequently applied in solid areas, the pink sometimes in conjunction with black printing, but the most effective use of the medium was by painting designs in a 'resist' which left them standing in reserve on the 'usually silver' ground.

An innovation of this period was an earthenware body dubbed 'stone china', more solid than cream-coloured earthenware and usually greyish in appearance. Similar in character, but patented at a later date, was the 'ironstone china' or C. J. and G. Miles Mason [from 1813].

Stoneware went on being made up to the end of our period. The unglazed black basaltes and coloured jasperwares continued into the nineteenth century unaltered in technique but with decoration to suit the changing taste of the time. To Wedgwood's repertory of colours were added others, notably a green invented by Samuel Hollins of Shelton, a white associated with Castleford, and a drab much used at Herculaneum [Liverpool] and elsewhere. In the early nineteenth century it was a common practice to decorate these stonewares in opaque enamel colours. [p. 447]

The stoneware of the London area [Lambeth and Mortlake] continued in he crude style of the eighteenth century, with relief and incised decoration on unpretentious brown and grey wares, such as mugs for public houses, spirit flasks, and the like. [p. 448]

English Porcelain
18th-c. The first porcelain known in this country was imported from China and, being rare, was very expensive. The high price was an inducement to imitate it. This was done in Italy in the sixteenth c., and again in France from 1673 onwards. The material made, however, was a 'soft-paste' porcelain only in outward appearance like the Oriental. It was not until 1709 that true 'hard-paste' porcelain was made in Europe, at Meissen [near Dresden]. Meissen porcelain thenceforward became all the rage, and was imitated in its turn. The making of porcelain in England was part of this general imitative movement.

Although numerous experiments were made earlier, it was not until the 1740s that English porcelain is known to have been made. The earliest dated pieces is a Chelsea jug of 1745, and although the Bow factory's patent dates from 1744, it is unlikely that much porcelain was made before the second patent of 1749. Both these factories worked in the French soft-paste tradition, but at Bow was developed what proved to be England's greatest contribution to porcelain chemistry - the use of bone ash. This greatly reduced the risk of collapsing in the kiln, a fault to which soft-paste porcelain is particularly prone. A further novel ingredient was introduced at a factory founded at Bristol in 1749. This was soapstone [steatite], which made the porcelain body more resistant to sudden changes of temperature - a very desirable characteristic in tea-table wares.

Soft-paste porcelain alone was made in England for the first twenty years. In 1768, however, William Cookworthy, of Plymouth, took out a patent for the making of true porcelain, and in 1770 transferred his factory to Bristol.

English porcelain was put to most of the uses for which china is employed today. In particular, it was devoted to the dinner table and the tea table.

At first English porcelain tended to follow closely the forms of Meissen, and [often by way of Meissen] of Oriental china. Another potent influence on porcelain shapes, however, was that of silver. At Chelsea, perhaps because Nicholas Sprimont, the proprietor-manager, was a silversmith by training, this influence was particularly strong; and specific instances of exact copying can be cited. Tablewares [particularly tureens] made in the forms of animals, birds, and vegetables exemplify the contemporary rococo taste.

Although a fair proportion of the earlier porcelain was left undecorated [save, perhaps, for sprays of leaves and flowers applied in relief in imitation of those on the blanc-de Chine porcelain of Fukien], the greater part was 'enamelled' in various colours and styles. These, too, were imitated from Meissen, where, after a phase of close copying from the Oriental, a completely European manner of decoration was being evolved. As a complement to the 'Indian' flowers of the Kaiemon porcelain was evolved a style of naturalistic European flower painting [deutsche Blumen], at first stiff, formal, and large in scale, but later painted with greater fluency and less pretension. All these styles were taken up at Chelsea and Bow. From Meissen, too, was derived a manner of painting in which tiny figures were depicted against a background of landscape within panels. From the same source were derived the vignettes of gallants and ladies, or of grotesque Chinese, which were borrowed ultimately from Watteau.

Soon after the middle of the eighteenth century the role of Meissen as the fashion-leading European porcelain factory was assumed by the French royal factory at Sèvres, and the change is reflected in English porcelain. Notable among the styles borrowed were the rendering [both in painting and in gilding] of 'exotic' birds in the manner of Hondecoeter, and the use of rich-coloured grounds, particularly a royal blue, a green, and a rich wine red, the colours being further enriched by lavish gilding. These styles were particularly favoured at Worcester and at Chelsea in the 'gold anchor' period. When French taste reacted from the lush exuberance of the rococo and entered upon the sober phase of the Louis XVI style, English porcelain followed suit. To the extravagances of the Chelsea 'gold anchor' wares succeed the restrained garlands, wreaths, and neoclassical urns of the combined Chelsea-Derby concern, and this style was also followed at the recently founded Bristol factory.

One form of porcelain decoration may confidently be claimed as an original English contribution. This was transfer printing, a process first introduced in the enamel industry before 1756, but used at Bow probably in that year. By 1757 its chief exponent, Robert Hancock, had moved to Worcester, where it was to be most extensively used. A similar process was used at Liverpool to decorate tiles at about the same time, but its application to porcelain there probably dates somewhat later. Transfer printing is also occasionally to be seen on Chelsea, Derby, Longton Hall, and even Bristol porcelain. The prints were sometimes washed over with colours to give the effect of polychrome painting. The overglaze method of transfer printing was before long adapted for printing in underglaze cobalt blue.

Most characteristic of all in an art which catered for the extravagant and carefree taste of the rich in the 18th c. were the figures in porcelain. These, too, were the invention of Meissen. In Germany porcelain figures and groups were used to replace the sugar and wax figure which were combined into scenes and panoramas on the tables at great banquets. This idea, as well as the actual Meissen models, was transplanted to England, and porcelain figures were used for table decoration until almost the end of the century. Such figures had to be modelled so that they could be viewed from any point, but from about 1760 figures and groups became popular also as ornaments for chimney-pieces and cabinets, and these, being intended for a front view only, were modelled accordingly, and were often provided with a leafy bower or background [bocage].

Figures were [and are] made by cutting the original model into parts suitable for making moulds. The corresponding clay parts taken from the moulds were reassembled by the 'repairer', who, although not necessarily a modeler of any originality, needed special aptitude for the work. The 'repairers' marks sometimes found on figures do not, therefore, indicate the identity of the original modeller. When not derived directly from Continental originals, English porcelain figures were frequently inspired by engravings, and sometimes by sculpture in other materials. They were seldom entirely original work. [p. 449]

Figures were usually decorated in enamels, and, in the appropriate period, gilt . Sometimes, however, they left the factory in the white, in which state they are usually found today. The original intention was almost certainly to paint them in unfired ['cold'] colours, traces of which may sometimes be noted on otherwise plain pieces. Such work was probably done outside the factories by independent decorators.

The neoclassical movement of the later 18th c. inspired the use of an unglazed 'biscuit' porcelain to resemble marble. Figures and groups in this material were a specialty of the Derby factory, but were also made elsewhere. [pp. 448-450]

19th-c. to 1830 A notable exception was provided by the beautiful glassy soft-paste porcelain made at Nantgarw and Swansea by William Billingsley, and later at Coal port. These porcelains were much sought after by the independent London dealers and decorators. To Billingsley was also due a naturalistic manner of flower painting in which the highlights were wiped out with the brush. This style, although evolved at Derby before 1800, only became general after that date. In the hands of subsequent painters it hardened into a somewhat arid formalism, and the flowers were often rendered against a heavy-coloured ground.

Towards the end of our period the rococo style was revived, and porcelain was decorated with asymmetrical scrollwork, often emphasized by brassy gilding. Beige, grey, maroon, and other coloured grounds, were favoured and are commonly associated with the Rockingham factory, although used elsewhere. Much use was also made of elaborate incrustations of flowers, particularly at the Coalport factory. [p. 450]

[L. G. G. Ramsey, F.S.A., ed. The Complete Color Encyclopedia of Antiques. Preface by Bevis Hillier, Editor of The Connoisseur. Compiled by The Connoisseur, London. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1962. Revised and Expanded Edition.]



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