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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Decorative Arts > Ceramics > Feature: Art Pottery


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Art Pottery


 Art potters put aside industrial methods and concentrated on using traditional techniques to produce decorative wares.

 New techniques and advances in machine technology made mass production of pottery a reality in the 19th century However, the great gains in output were won at the expense of individuality.

  A yearning for well-designed, hand-crafted pieces was expressed in the birth of the Arts and Crafts movement in 1861, when the designer William Morris and others founded a firm dedicated to the revival of medieval methods in printing, furniture-making, metalworking and other crafts.

 By the 1890s, the Arts and Crafts ideal had become a general movement. Decorative, rather than functional pottery lent itself naturally to small-scale craft manufacture, and signed pieces by art potters graced many a fashionable Edwardian home.

Meissen porcelain
Meisen porcelain


 Henry Doulton, who had founded the famous Lambeth pottery in 1815, was one of the first to respond to Morris's ideas. Many talented artists and designers produced wares for him.
Arthur, Florence and Hannah Barlow, George Tinworth, Frank A Butler and Edward and Walter Martin spent some or all of their distinguished careers with Doulton.
 Click here to view the Royal Doulton site

 Several fine art potters were based outside London. William Moorcroft worked in Burslem, Staffordshire, where he opened his own factory in 1913. Much of his work was sold through Liberty's of London.

 Harold Rathbone established the Della Robbia Company in Birkenhead, Cheshire, in 1894, while another fine potter, William Howson Taylor, opened the Ruskin Pottery at West Smethwick, near Birmingham, in 1898. Taylor's special talent was the creation of unique colour glazes. Just before his death, in 1935, he destroyed all his notes and his equipment so the glazes could not be copied.

Bagdade, Warman's English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain.

 The art pottery tradition declined, but never died, and it continues today, but there is a specific collectors' market for pre-war work, and particularly for wares that were made around the Edwardian period.

Meissen porcelain
Meisen porcelain



 Art pottery was made with the collector in mind. Much of it has been snapped up by museums and private collectors from the start. However, a lot of it was made, so it is still possible to discover neglected gems.

 Auctions and antiques fairs are the most likely places to find pieces for sale. Work by more obscure potters may still turn up in house clearance sales, flea markets and junk shops. Elderly relatives may have collected items from the last days of the movement in the 192os and 1930s.


 Della Robbia pottery is hard to come by; the firm only lasted ten years, so a piece of their ware would be a good find.

 Harold Rathbone, Della Robbia's founder, named the company after a family of 15th century Italian sculptors and, as this suggests, there is a strong Renaissance influence in the pottery he produced. However, he used coloured lead glazes rather than the tin-glazed earthenware or faience of the early Italians.

 Almost all art pottery was marked. Sometimes, it is very well marked indeed; Doulton plates, for example, will have the factory murk, the signature or initials of the potter, and these of any assistants who helped with the modelling or decoration.


 Della Robbia pottery is usually recognizable by its blue-green, yellow and brown colouring. Rathbone's own work often shows art-nouveau influences, with flowing lines on figures and foliage decoration. But he gave free rein to art students like Annie Walker who often included children and woodland flowers in her designs.

 Moorcroft (who was awarded Royal patronage in 1930) began his design career in 1897 and died in 1945. He produced an enormous range of pieces of which his popular Florian Ware, with its lip-trailed decoration, is the most recognizable. His pottery turns up regularly at auctions and, in good condition,
commands high prices. But, because of his large output, pieces by him can still be found. Moorcroft vases, for example, were popular wedding gifts during the 1930s. Moorcroft always signed his piece, so be suspicious of any pieces said to be by him which do not bear his mark.

 Art pottery was never cheap, so a piece will probably have been well looked after and be in fairly good condition. It is in your interests to look over it carefully, though, as cracks, chips, dodgy glazes or colour slips will seriously affect the value of a piece.

 All Moorcroft's work has his painted signature on the base.

Bagdade,Warman's English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain.


Click here to view the Royal Doulton site

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