EDWARDIAN WALL PLATES
Whether their taste was for rare antiques or the very latest art pottery, the Edwardians loved to display attractive plates on their walls.
In the period from 1870 to World War 1 the Victorians and Edwardians were bitten by a craze for using the prettiest plates in the house as ornaments. Small art potteries and large commercial ones produced wall plates and plaques in a variety of styles, and Edwardian halls and reception rooms were designed with the display of plates in mind.
The shape of a wall plate, one specifically designed to hang on a wall, is based on the old-fashioned charger - a meat dish that stood slightly raised from the table on a narrow foot-ring This foot-ring was often pierced by two holes so the plate could be suspended by picture wire from the picture rail.
The bold two-dimensional Designs of William De Morgan, the most celebrated independent potter of the late 19th century, have much in common with William Morris's fabric and wallpaper designs. The stylized animals and trees and silhouettes of sailing ships on De Morgan's works showed that a simple round dish or plate could become a startlingly original work of art. His decoration was especially striking because of the brilliant lustres he used.
The majolica ware introduced by Minton in 1850 was inspired by an earlier form of pottery. The use of relief moulding and semi-transparent, brightly-coloured glazes gave it an arty feel. In 1871 Minton set up an Art Pottery Studio in Kensington devoted entirely to painting on pottery and, to a lesser extent, porcelain. Flowers and birds were painted in naturalistic detail but most designs lacked any feel for the shape of the piece. There were, nonetheless, notable exceptions, particularly in the work of W S Coleman, the director of the studio, and his sister, Rebecca.
A technique known as sgraffito - scratching through a slip to reveal the contrasting earthenware beneath - was favoured by many of the art potteries that sprang up towards the end of the century.
One such was Harold Rathbone's Della Robbia Pottery in Birkenhead, which attracted a great deal of enthusiastic attention during its brief existence between 1893 and 1906. The pottery was named after Luca and Andrea Della Robbia, the 15th-century Florentine potters who inspired Rathbone. Rathbone, however, used lead glazes rather than the Italians' tin-based glazes.
An old-fashioned tin glaze was used on the plates of the Omega Workshops, established in 1913 by Roger Fry to sell the very latest designs in every area of interior decoration. Two of the artists who worked for Omega Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant - used bright, simple designs which reflected the directions being taken by 20th-century art, and their work continued to be at the forefront of British pottery design in the 1920s and 1930s.
Wall plates add new shapes, colours and decorative finishes to an interior designer's range of options. The plate at the top is an art nouveau representation of the myth of Leda and the swan; Zeus appeared in the guise of a swan and seduced the married Leda as she bathed in a pool. She later bore him two children.
EDWARDIAN WALL PLATE COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Wall plates are eagerly sought by collectors and museums. Their attribution and assessment of their value can, however, be fraught with complications. A piece may clearly have been executed to the design of a famous artist, it may even bear his or her monogram or signature, but this does not necessarily mean that he or she had any hand in its production.
Modellers and artists had assistants who worked under their supervision, and there came a time when their work was indistinguishable. The designs of William De Morgan were used by his chief decorators, Fred and Charles Passenger, long after he retired.
Most collectors in search of artistic wall plates will be looking for hand-painted decoration of the highest quality, but it is worth remembering that there are factors which can alter the value of a piece. On hand-painted porcelain, for example, the painters copying a successful design were usually furnished with a faint printed outline to which they added the colours. The piece may nevertheless have the initials of the original artist on it.
Genuine wall plates, especially in porcelain, are relatively rare and many would-be collectors choose to buy individual plates from fine dessert services, which are often equally suitable for display. Alternatively, they may settle for the less artistic commemorative plates celebrating notable events like
Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee or the
Relief of Mafeking.