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Friday, 26 October 2012


In his preface to Oliver Watson’s book Studio Pottery, V&A curator J.V.G. Mallet remarked that, had the V & A museum better publicized the collection of French ceramics given by Proust’s friend Antoine Bibesco, it ‘might have set the inter-war generation [of British studio potters] on a different track’.

Mallet cites the works of Deck, Delaherche, Carriès, Gauguin, Binesbøll, Metthey, Kåge, Picasso and Zauli; but does not mention Dalpayrat, who, from the mid 1890s produced, in a studio then with a team of collaborators (initially his wife and three sons, then industrial partners) rich textured, drip and lava-like glazes, which went well beyond the ambition of his contemporaries to rediscover the secret of Chinese 'Sang de boeuf' glazes*:

Dalpayrat: Towards an Alchemy of Color…

Dalpayrat, Gourd-shaped vase. Stoneware. Decorated with copper oxide glaze (reduction firing). c. 1896-1900. Ø: 17cm.*
Painted signature: 'Dalpayrat' + incised letter 'D'.

In a review of an exhibition published in Modes and Style, on 7th January 1893, the author described Dalpayrat's work thus: 
'Those vases… with the strangest and most harmonious symphonies of colors, are beginning to take a prominent place in the ceramic arts. The turquoise and ivory, yellow and red tones fuse like flows of burning lava'.

(Cited by H. Makus in his monograph on Dalpayrat).

Dalpayrat, Organic-shaped vase*.Stoneware. Decorated with copper oxide glaze (reduction firing). c. 1896-1900.
Incised signature 'Dalpayrat'.

The necessity to reproduce forms and glazes, for commercial distribution in galleries and boutiques catering for the luxury market, called for a certain degree of standardisation in the production. Thus, forms were moulded (a necessity required by the sculptural nature of some of the objects) and the composition of the glazes was adapted so that a degree of consistency (without uniformity) could be achieved in the same batch, and repeated over subsequent firings. The non-reproducibility of glazes (especially those involving crystallisations) was an issue that manufacturers repeatedly conveyed to they clients at the time of supplying orders and sometimes on labels (Ruskin Pottery, Grès de Pierrefonds, etc.). 

The two pieces illustrated above are one-off pieces that were never serially produced; for the aleatoric chemical reactions produced within a single layer of copper oxide that resulted in this array of colors was not reproducible. These two vases only bear the hand-written signature Dalpayrat, without a serial number, and their base is rather rough. The taller vase carries the letter 'B', which may indicate the name of 'Barrière' the partner with whom he acquired the 'Poterie artistique de Menton' in 1884. There is no evidence, however, that Dalpayrat produced stoneware in Menton, before the factory was destroyed by an earthquake in 1887. These two pieces were probably made later (at Bourg-La-Reine?) as experimental pieces — as part of his research into new glazes (in an attempt to control the transmutation of copper oxide into reds and blues, in a reduction atmosphere — for they do not resemble any of the designs or glazes either illustrated in Horst Makus' s extensive monograph, or sold at public auctions or on display in museums.

Mallet's remark (quoted at the beginning) alludes to the dominance of Bernard Leach and the St Ives legacy, which set British ceramics on an unnecessarily narrow path, inspired by a romantic nostalgic admiration of early Korean and Chinese (Sung) ceramics and XVIIth century English earthenwares.


In Britain, interest in color glazes manifested itself in various attempts, by Bernard Moore, Doulton,  and others, to emulate Chinese 'sang de boeuf' glazes. In retrospect, these experiments have little more than an historical interest; for they did not open new dimensions in the field glazing.

Working in parallel, William Howson Taylor at his Ruskin pottery and William Burton at the Royal Lancastrian pottery (Manchester); set out to produce modern glazes on an industrial scale. Unlike the Martin Brothers, with their small gourd-shaped vases, their form remained more conventional; often imitating the design of classical Chinese porcelain vases.


Early attempts, by what is regarded as the first wave of studio potters in Britain: Reginald Wells at the Coldrum Pottery*Seymour Wakeley at the Upchurch Pottery* (1913), and by George Cox at the Mortlake Pottery (1911-1914) — where the pots were, for a time, thrown by the same Edward Baker — show that the colour glazes used at those three potteries were rather subdued in tones.
The combination of blue and red produced at Coldrum and the more subdued matt glazes at Upchurch did not threaten the monochrome wave that swept British ceramic, following Leach's return from Japan.

By contrast the laboratory experiments carried out by Charles Noke and Harry Nixon at Doulton, Burslem, during the 1920s and 30s, led to the production of an art range of stoneware vases and bowls — called 'Chang Ware' — decorated with thick white, red, yellow, green and blue glazes, with craquelé effects; glazes which were more luscious and less one-dimensional than the thin flambé red glazes, developed at Doulton with Bernard Moore's help:

Chang Ware vase

A newspaper add for Chang Wares, from 4th December 1928 lists the prices, as shown:

Montreal Gazette, 4th Dec. 1928

Prices, Then and Now: 
Although size is not given in the add (we know that the items in this range were not large), prices range between 12 shillings and 50 pence for the smaller item (a bowl, like the one illustrated below) and 150 shillings or £7 and 10 shillings. A calculation of the modern equivalent value of the vase priced 42 shillings and fifty pence, using two different systems, provides the following results:
£108.00 using the retail price index and £347.00 using average earnings,
£176.00 using the retail price index and £564.00 using average earnings, for the 75 shillings, and
£1,130.00 (using average earnings) and £352.00 (using the retail price index) for the most expensive vase at 150 shillings. 
This gives an indication of the class of people who could afford Chang Ware. 
The 2012 price tag of £1850 and £2650 on two vases of the same size (probably corresponding to the 75 shillings priced pieces on the add), seen recently at an Antique fair, still keeps them out of reach of the average collector. 

Chang bowl.

The exhibition will include a group of small pieces from the University collection, purchased from Doulton in 1928 (including a small vase bought for £1.15 shillings [£82.20 using the retail price index
£263.00 using average earnings.]. This price seems to correspond to the prices listed in the ad.


In Britain, the studio pottery revival instigated by Leach, from St Ives (where, upon his return from Japan, in 1920, he set up a pottery studio, with Shoji Hamada), literally turned its back on colour and set the pottery revival on a nostalgic (revivalist') Far Eastern path, which deliberately closed the door on European modernity.
By decreeting that the best ceramics had been made in Korea during the Yi dynasty and in China during the Sung dynasty, and by setting these ancient works as exemplars, Leach and his followers negated the new ceramic aesthetics developed in France by Deck, Delaherche, Dammouse, Chaplet (1835-1909), Carriès (1856-1894), Dalpayrat and others; and emulated in England, by William Howson-Taylor at his Ruskin Pottery (1898-1933) and, more modestly, by Royal Lancastrian (18..-1936) in Manchester, in a semi industrial context. 

Leach's reference to the revival of stoneware in France, in response to the exhibition of Japanese works in 1867, reads as a token gesture; and his remark that 'Amongst all these individual efforts [to revive the art of stoneware] to my mind the Japanese and English are the best' (p.13) leaves no doubt about his lack of appreciation for its aesthetics. 

This view perdures in Paul Rice's book British Studio Ceramics (2002).


In his history of the Royal Lancastrian Pottery (1957), Abraham Lomax, 'chemist at the Royal Lancastrian works from 1896 to 1911' (the crucial period when new glazes were developed), highlights the difficulties faced by the ceramic industry and by studio potters, in Britain, around 1900:

'At the turn of the century the pottery industry was woefully lacking in fundamental knowledge concerning the properties of its raw materials and of their individual values to the potter. Pottery works had built up their recipes by empirical methods and were reluctant to make changes because of uncertainty as to what might happen. 'Better leave well alone' was their motto. If a potter was experiencing trouble with his glaze he had no sound basis to work upon to find out the cause of his trouble or the cure for it. His trials, therefore, were more or less empirical in character. There was a pressing need for definite reliable information about the functions of glaze components' (:142).

The fact that, in France, Ernest Chaplet burnt his glaze formulae and that in England William Howson-Taylor from the Ruskin Pottery did the same, thirty years later, highlights the secretive and competitive attitude surrounding the search for new glazes.

In 1900 William Burton, director of the Royal Lancastrian pottery, took some of his staff to the Paris 'Exposition Universelle' to see and be inspired by the recent experiments with color glazes on stoneware. There, they saw works by Chaplet, Dalpayrat, Decoeur, the Grès de Rambervillers, Sèvres, etc.

Lomax noted:

'As the bursting of a flower bud releases a blaze of colour, so the sudden appearance of new beauties in pottery glazes at the beginning of this twentieth century unveiled latent possibilities, and heralded the dawn of a new era of pottery adornment' (:25).

Four years later, in 1904, an exhibition of Royal Lancastrian decorative ceramics showed that the lesson had been assimilated:

'It was an exhibition solely of pottery shapes and glazes entirely devoid of added ornamentation by painters, modellers, or other artists — just simple line and fine glazing — yet it created an extraordinary impression' (:28).

[Abraham Lomax, Royal Lancastrian Pottery 1900-1938, Its achievements and its makers, Bolton, 1957]

Although Royal Lancastrian glazes represent a notable achievement in Britain, they never achieved the richness and complexity of Dalpayrat's glazes which, we learn from Jean Girel's exemplary essay 'Le Rouge Dalpayrat et les mystères du cuivre' [in Horst Makus et al., 'Adrien Dalpayrat, Céramique française de l'Art Nouveau (Stutgard, Arnoldsche, 1998:179-197)], resulted from assembling the metallic and mineral glaze components in such a way as to produce a complex multi-color magma effect in one thick single layer, through the controlled delay of chemical reactions in the various components of the glaze:  

Dalpayrat and his 'collaborators' had discovered that mixing fine grain and coarser metallic oxides, caused them to expand, migrate and produce different visual effects in different parts of the same layer, according to the conditions in the kiln; a far more complex (and aleatoric) way of creating glazes — 'making chemistry visible' — than the widespread practice of overlayering glazes (whose effects and behaviour during firing were better known and more easily controllable) and letting them run over or alongside each other (fixing them through one or more firings), as in this example from Crown Ducal* from c. 1925-30:

Crown Ducal (c.1925-34), Moulded earthenware, decorated with blue and orange glaze on white, over brown slip. H.: 12cm.

Here, however, the free flow of the dripping glaze and the concentric lines imprinted in the vase body (suggestive of hand-throwing), is effective, and confer upon a factory-produced vase some of the qualities associated with studio work. This was the combined result of the design and the artistic handling of the glazing, by a craft person who was not just a 'factory hand', as Leach intimated, when he asserted the incompatibility between art and expression, and factory production; which, according to him, was a necessary consequence of the division of labour.

Let's note that this view negated the possibility of achieving creative and successful collaborations within an industrial context.

Ceramics Conversations aims to disprove Leach's claim and assumptions with concrete examples, and with comparisons between studio and 'industrial' ceramics, set in the form of imaginary 'conversations'. 


One should no be surprised that the Crown Devon vase displays some aesthetic qualities; for 'industrialceramics are not 'made by machines', but by people; using traditional 'craft' skills at all stages of the production process

It would me more appropriate to describe the process as collaborative authorship; arising from a mode of production that arose out of the necessity to resolve multiple, complex tasks that were beyond the capability of a single individual (unlike in painting, where works can be produced by a single artist), and to make production economically viable

This, however, relied on the artistic ambitions of manufacturers and on their capacity to create and manage teams that could work collaboratively to the best results; as happened at the Ruskin and Royal Lancastrian potteries.

Justin Tustin's remark, in an interview, that he regretted not having had the opportunity of throwing larger pieces, in Cardew's pottery (although he felt well capable of it), shows that hierarchies and a vertical division of labour limited the capacity of craftsmen to express themselves to their full potential, even in studios. 

We should also remember that Gauguin's extraordinary ceramics would not have been possible without the input of Chaplet and his staff. The same applies to Picasso, Miro, and other artists who tried their hand at ceramics in Vallauris.

The application and spraying of glazes was done by hand, and was considered an art in its own right; a particularly difficult — 'blind' — form of painting, since the results had to be anticipated, and were only visible after the firing.

Capitalizing on the fact that 'science was pouring out a wealth of new knowledge'and that public taste was evolving towards an 'emphasis on colour', Royal Lancastrian aimed  to produce ceramics in which 'beautiful line combined with fine glazing could dispense with added ornamentation and yet yield exquisitely beautiful pottery' (Lomax:13). 

These were produced alongside their more exclusive (and expensive) 'artist range' — which was hand-painted with figurative motifs in lustre and other glazes — in order to make the firm economically viable. 
This meant that most of the pots had to be slip cast or press-moulded, and batched processed; and that the processes had to be controllable and repeatable to minimise losses.

This required a level of standardisation which gave some of their output a mechanical quality. But here, too, in some cases, glazes  detracted from the perfection of the moulded forms.

This vase from the 1930s, shows how the throwing skills of E.T. Radford and the subtle glaze chemistry knowledge and artistry of William Brockband combined to produce a vase of refined simplicity. Not apparent in this photograph, the color seems to quietly radiate from the vase: 

Signed E.T.R. and numbered 188 with the stamped 'Royal Lancastrian' mark and 'England'.

Most Royal Lancastrian pieces in the regular range, like the vase below, were press-moulded or slip cast; which gave them a more regular/perfect look. Moulding was particularly suitable for the hand-decorated lustre art range; and represented a plus at a time when perfection of form was still regarded as desirable, and not yet perceived as mechanical or sterile:

Some artists, however, insisted on decorating pots hand-thrown by E.T. Radford.

The same vase* (number '2085', below), decorated in the famous 'orange vermilion' uranium glaze, with its bright orange clusters of pigments floating and rising to the surface of a clear glaze — into which another, more liquid, bronze glaze layer ran from the rim — shows a high level of control achieved over infinitely more complex chemical processes, than those attempted in the Crown Ducal vase. 
Here, the uranium glaze animates the surface of the moulded form; enhancing its geometric perfection and blurring its perfect edges with a shimmer:

Royal Lancastrian, Vase. c. 1930. Moulded, decorated with orane vermillion and bronze glaze. H.: 28.5cm.*

As Lomax pointed out, this was the result of both knowledge and artistry. William Brockband, who worked at Royal Lancastrian for thirty years, and had acquired a knowledge of the chemistry of glazes whilst working as Lomax' assistant, could determine the right 'concentration of (glaze) particles required' and the correct 'thickness of deposit needed, and the thickness of the layer whilst it was beeing built up'. 'He was — summarized Lomax — clever in manipulating the process, and that, for the best results, requires great skills'(p. 126).

When compared not just with English but also with contemporary German glazes from the 30s, Royal Lancastrian stand out for their rich hues (at times bright, but never brash) and luminous quality. Even with a darker glaze like 'kingfisher blue', color seems to radiate from the clay's surface, exuding a sense of depth.

In order to appreciate these works, however, one must take them in their own terms, not project onto them the expectation that they should be like 12th century Korean tea bowls or Chine Sung ware.

Neither Ruskin nor Royal Lancastrian, however, achieved the rich complexity of Dalpayrat's experimental glazes, nor did these manufactures sustain the same quality across their whole production (especially from the 1930s on).

Let's note, however, that Dalpayrat's serially produced works never equalled his experimental pieces, whose effects could not be reproduced.

Many Ruskin vases sold today on e-bay, by non-discriminating sellers, show the extent to which the firing fell short of producing the desired effects; a measure of the difficulty in controlling the conditions for crystallisation to occur, during firing and cooling.

The two vases in the exhibition, made by Dalpayrat probably around 1896, at his workshop of Bourg-La-Reine, where he worked with his wife and three sons, are special, discrete, non-repeatable pieces, which display, in the variety of their effects, a quality that could not have been achieved in serial works, for it resulted from aleatoric chemical reactions as copper molecules transmuted into rich paean of colours.

Neither could they have been produced in an individual studio; for the technological equipment and knowledge of glaze chemistry could only be funded by a firm and covered by serial production for the luxury market.

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