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ENGLISH POTTERY FROM THE 16TH TO THE ...

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Originally appearing in Volume V05, Page 744 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ENGLISH POTTERY FROM THE 16TH TO THE 19TH CENTURY' The course of pottery manufacture in England followed, generally rather in the rear, that of France, Germany and other northern countries. Before the coming of the Romans much pottery of the late Stone age and the Bronze age was made in I See examples in colour, Plate X. Britain. The Romans introduced their more advanced technique, and, besides importing Italian and Gaulish pottery, they founded numerous centres of pottery manufacture, as at Upchurch, Castor, Uriconium, &c. With the departure of the Roman legions their simple, yet comparatively advanced, pottery vanished, and Saxon and early Norman times have left us little but wares resembling those of the Germanic and Frankish productions (fig. 5o). The early middle ages passed without much improvement, and, though rare specimens—like the ewer in the,form of a mounted knight in Salisbury Museum—proved that glazed wares were made in this country, the general run of our medieval pottery vessels never soared above the skill of the travelling brick or tile maker.' The monastic tile-makers, with their strong, Gothic tile pavements, produced artistic work of a very high order; but the patrons of the common potter remained content with his rudely made and simply glazed pitchers, flagons, dishes and mugs (see fig. 51). Even in the 16th century the excellence of English pewter probably acted as a barrier to the introduction of finer pottery, and it was only the importation of foreign wares—Italian, German, Dutch and French—that stirred up our native clay-w ;rkers to the possibilities of their art. In early Tudor times there was some importation of Italian majolica as well as of the Hispano-Moresque pieces, and the religious wars as well as the constant intercourse with the Low Countries brought over to the eastern counties not only the stonewares of the Rhineland and the " Delft " wares of Hol- land, but also emigrant potters from those countries who tried to practise their native crafts amongst us. The Civil War appears to have been unable to check this new spirit, for we have the evidence of dated examples to show that various immigrants went on quietly practis- ing their trade along the Thames side, in what were then the out- skirts of London, and probably in the eastern counties and Kent as well. It seems probable that the earliest influence was an Italian one, but before this was firmly domiciled it was sup- planted by that of the Dutch and Germans. The first wares of an improved kind that were made in England are so closely re- lated to the German stonewares and the " Delft " wares that it is often difficult to determine whether actual specimens are of English or foreign origin. The first, and in some senses the greatest, of English potters was John Dwight, an educated man, 1 An excellent summary of the remains of English medieval pottery will be found in Hobson's " Medieval Pottery found in England," Archaeological Journal, vol. lix.who had held the office of secretary to three successive bishops of Chester, and who obtained a patent in 1671 for the manufacture of certain improved kinds of pottery. We have no knowledge where Dwight acquired his skill in the potter's art, for when he obtained his patent he was residing at Wigan (Lancashire), far removed from the districts where foreign potters had settled. About 1672-1673 Dwight set up a factory at Fulham, where he resided till his death in 1703. He was always an eager experimenter, and from his diaries it seems certain that he was searching after the, then, mysterious Chinese porcelain. We have no grounds for believing that he ever attained success in this search, for his known productions may be grouped into two main classes: (1) Hard-fired red stoneware—mostly small vessels, teapots, mugs, &c., in imitation of the Chinese buccaros? (2) Whitish, grey, or drab salt-glazed stoneware made in imitation of, and often not to be distinguished from, the wares of the Rhineland. But Dwight produced a considerable number of modelled portrait-busts, statuettes, &c., all in stoneware of various tints, which entitle him to a place in the very first rank of potters. The portrait-bust of Prince Rupert (British Museum), the statuettes of Meleager (British Museum), of Jupiter (Liverpool), &c., are worthy of a sculptor of the Italian Renaissance, while the recumbent effigy of Lydia Dwight (Victoria and Albert Museum) is one of the most beautiful works ever executed by an English potter. Meantime the manufacture of tin-enamelled pottery, in the style of " Delft," was prosecuted with increasing industry in London on the south side of the river, and particularly at Lambeth. By the end of the 17th century the same imitation " Delft " wares were made at Bristol and Liverpool, continuing until, in the closing years of the 18th century, tin-enamelled earthenware was abandoned in favour of the perfected English cream-colour. There is a strong family likeness in all this English " Delft," whether made at Lambeth, Bristol or Liverpool. The body of the ware is harder and denser than in the tin-enamelled wares of the continent, and is not so suitable for its special purpose, as it is generally deficient in lime. The decoration is usually painted in cobalt blue of good tone, though inferior in softness and richness of tint to that of the best Delft pieces; polychrome painting was not so common, and it differs from that of the Dutchmen in the greater prevalence of a pale yellow colour and the general absence of any good red like that found on the poly-chrome wares of Delft, Rouen, &c. German stoneware also received a well-merited share of attention long before the time of Dwight, and it is often impossible to distinguish the grey and brown ale-jugs, greybeards, &c., presumably of English manufacture in the 17th and early 18th centuries, from their German prototypes. Fulham remained an important centre of this manufacture, and a fine brown stone-ware was largely made at Nottingham as early as 170o; in each case the manufacture continues in neighbouring districts to this day. The development of a native English pottery took place in North Staffordshire. A growing community of peasant potters, who manufactured some strongly decorative English wares by very simple means, was established here from the middle of the 17th century. Rudely fashioned dishes, jugs, bottles, &c., were shaped in the local red-burning brick clays, and, while the pieces were still soft, simple but effective decorative patterns were drawn upon them in diluted white clay (slip), trailed on through a quill or from a narrow-spouted vessel. This ancient and world-wide process (for it was used by the Ptolemaic Egyptian, the Roman and the Byzantine potters) has furnished the peasant potters of every European country with characteristic wares, but nowhere was it used with greater skill than in England. The English slip-decorated wares are often spoken of as " Toft ware," because Thomas Toft, living in what is now Hanley (Staffordshire) boldly signed and dated many of his pieces (167o, &c.); but similar wares were made at Wrotham in Kent, in Derbyshire, Wales and elsewhere. The repute of z Bottger at Meissen made a similar ware as his prelude to the discovery of white porcelain, but this was after Dwight's death. W the Staffordshire district must have spread by the time of the Revolution, for soon after 1690 John Philip Elers, a Dutchman of good family, settled there and began to make a superior pottery to any previously made in the district. Elers is generally described as a great inventor who brought all kinds of knowledge into the district, but the only wares he is known .to have made were singularly like those of Dwight, and, quite recently, records of a lawsuit in which Dwight charged Elers and some other Staffordshire potters with suborning his work-men and infringing his patents have been brought to light. It is certain that, from the time of Elers, the Staffordshire potters made great advances in the fabrication of their wares, and during the 18th century they evolved two distinctively English kinds of pottery , (1) the white and drab salt-glaze, (2) English earthenware. Staffordshire Salt-glaze.--It is uncertain when and how the Staffordshire potters learnt that a highly siliceous pottery could be glazed by throwing common salt into the kiln at the height of the firing, for the practice had originated in the Rhineland more than a century before. Many writers have maintained that the practice was introduced by Elers, but this is uncertain. Early in the 18th century a fine, white, thin, salt-glazed ware was made in Staffordshire, in many quaint and fanciful forms largely influenced by Chinese porcelain—still an object of wonder and mystery. Teapots, coffee-pots, tea-caddies, plates, dishes, bowls, candlesticks, mugs and bottles were made in great variety, and at its best the ware is a dainty and elegant one, so that a brisk trade was developed in the district, and, for the first time, a distinctively English pottery was exported to the continent and to the American colonies. English Earthenware.—The manufacture of tin-enamelled pottery scarcely obtained a foothold in Staffordshire, but the invention of the white salt-glazed ware paved the way for one of the greatest revolutions in the potter's art that the world has ever seen. This was nothing less than the-abandonment of the ordinary red or buff clays with a coating of white slip or of tin-enamel, and the substitution of a ware white throughout its substance, prepared by mixing selected white-burning clays and finely-ground flint (silica)). The change has generally been associated with Wedgwood, most famous of English potters, but he really only perfected, along with his contemporaries, the Warburtons, Turners and others, the work of half a century's experiment and discovery. The ware compared most favour-ably, from the point of view of serviceableness, neatness and mechanical finish, with all that had gone before it, and as the tin-enamelled wares had almost everywhere in Europe sunk to the position of domestic crockery—for the Chinese, German, French and English porcelains had displaced it with the wealthy—this better-fashioned and more durable English ware gave it its final death-blow. English earthenware in its various forms was to be met with all over Europe, from London to Moscow, and from Cadiz to Stockholm; and, aided by emigrant English potters, the continental nations soon began a similar manufacture for them-selves. Everywhere this great change was encouraged by the growing fondness for mechanical perfection, and it is not with-out a sigh that a lover of pottery can witness the gradual disappearance of the painted tin-enamelled wares—degenerate survivals though they were of Italian majolica, French faience and Dutch " Delft "—before the unconquerable advance of another form of pottery which in its inception was based on technical rather than artistic qualities, especially as nearly a century passed before the new material was turned to artistic account. By general consent the name of Josiah Wedgwood has been pre-eminently associated with this great change, and with good reason, for though he had many contemporaries who equalled or even excelled him in certain kinds of pottery, no other potter ever approached him in the range of his products and the varied applications to which he turned the exercise of his remarkable ' For a discussion of the stages through which this was achieved the reader is referred to special works, such as Prof. A. H. Church's English Earthenware, and W. Burton's English Earthenware and Stoneware.talents? True, he soon abandoned the simple Staffordshire wares, coloured with mottled glazes or clay-slips, to which the names of Astbury or Whieldon are commonly attached, but the varied productions of his factory united the best work of a district fruitful in new kinds of pottery, with something especial to Wedgwood himself. Thus he adopted and improved the green and yellow glazes which had come down from medieval times (see the cauliflower ware piece, Plate X.), and gave a new direction to their use in his green-glazed dessert services, candlesticks, &c. He carried on the manufacture of hard-fired red-clay teapots, mugs, coffee-pots, cream-jugs, &c., introduced by Elers; and, along with his fellow-potters, he invented drab, grey, brown and other colours in similarly hard-fired unglazed bodies. He neither invented nor alone perfected the Staffordshire cream-coloured earthenware, but he made it so well that his " Queen's ware " was the best of its class. He undoubtedly invented the Jasper ware, in which on grounds of unglazed blue, green, black, &c., white figures and ornamental motives, adapted from the antique by Flaxman, Webber and other sculptors, were applied; and he even attempted to re-produce the painted vases of the Greek decadence in dry colours painted over a hard black body. Wedgwood's " Jasper ware," his most original production (see Plate X.), differed both in nature and composition from all the species of pottery that had preceded it. In an attempt to obtain the qualities of the finest porcelain biscuit, Wedgwood discovered, after years of experiment, that by mixing together a plastic white clay and " cawk " or barytes he could obtain a " body " which might be " thrown " on the wheel or " pressed " in moulds, and which, while it fired to a white and sub-translucent pottery,was capable of being coloured, by the usual metallic oxides, to various shades of blue, green, yellow, lilac and black. The ware resembled " biscuit " porcelain in that it needed no glaze to render it impervious to water, and it thus marked the culmination of those " dry " or unglazed wares that had been so largely made in China, Japan and Europe, where the quality resides in the fired clay material without any adventitious aid from a glaze. The general practice was to make the body of the vessel of a coloured material and to ornament this with applied figures or ornamental reliefs, in " white " of the same kind, " pressed " from intaglio moulds and then applied by wetting the surface and squeezing—leaving the fire to unite the vessel and its applied ornament into one piece. Sometimes the ornament was in a coloured clay applied on a white body, and we get in the same way black on red, buff on red or black, and red or black on buff and drab bodies. The variety of bodies produced by Wedgwood and his followers in this way is exceedingly great, and is only to be equalled by the diversity of their application, for the pieces made include plaques, vases, plates, dishes, jardinieres, bulb-pots, teapots, cups and saucers, inkstands, scent-bottles, buttons, buckles, and, in a word, every kind of thing that could be made in clay. Many of the applied designs, whether of figures or ornament, were very beautiful in a way, being copied or adapted from Greek and Roman gems, vases, &c. At their best they are marvellous for the precision and delicacy of their execution, and it is impossible to imagine that anything better could have been done in this style. So perfectly did they represent the taste of their period that attempts were made at Sevres, Meissen, Berlin and Buen Retiro to produce something of the same kind in porcelain; but none of these can be compared with the works of Wedgwood, or his great con-temporary Turner (see Plate X.), in beauty of colour or perfection of workmanship. It is obvious nowadays that much of this work was inspired by mistaken motives; that it was founded on an imperfect view of ancient art; and that it was marred by its mechanical ideals; but it must be remembered that it was in perfect harmony 2 It is amusing or annoying to find in European museums the wares of Wedgwood, Turner, Adams and one of the Leeds potteries, all lumped together as " Wedgwood," and yet one can hardly wonder at it, remembering how much has been written of Wedgwood and how little of the other English potters of the 18th century. with the spirit of the times, and that while it emphasizes for us the pseudo-classic taste of the late 18th century, it marks an advance in the technical skill of the potter, which is simply astounding. The co-ordination of labour, which had gone further with the Greek and the Italian potter than is generally supposed, was now brought to a climax. Mechanical appliances were introduced for the performance of many portions of the potter's work that had hitherto been indifferently performed by rude and exhausting manual toil; and while the application of mechanism was pushed too far—so that in the first half of the 19th century we find the most inartistic pottery the world has ever seen—we must regard this even more as a cyclic movement of human feeling than as the work of any individual, or group of men. The late 18th century marks the period when pottery was no longer produced, as Italian majolica, the Henri-Deux ware, the Palissy wares, the best faience of Nevers, Rouen, Moustiers, Delft or Nuremberg had been, for the noble or the wealthy, but when it was largely in demand by the poorer classes, anxious in their turn to have a useful ware which should imitate the more costly porcelain used by the great. France, Germany, Sweden, Russia, and later the United States, all followed in the wake of the English potters, and the printing-press was applied in all countries to produce elaborate engraved patterns in blue, brown, green, &c., in order to get an effective-looking ware in harmony with the spirit of the times, and at the same time cheaper in price than the simple painted patterns of the vanquished tin-enamel. Collections.—The British and the Victoria and Albert Museums naturally contain the most representative collections of English pottery. The museums at Liverpool, Bristol, Burslem, Hanley and Nottingham, also have good collections, while Birmingham, Manchester and Stoke-upon-Trent may be mentioned. The Guildhall Museum, London, is rich in early wares found or made in London and its vicinity. Continental collections of English pottery are meagre in the extreme and badly described, even in the ceramic museums at Sevres and Limoges. The collection at Dresden is interesting, as it was purchased from the collection made by Enoch Wood, a Staffordshire potter. In America, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Metropolitan Museum of New York, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts at Philadelphia, contain interesting examples of wares exported to America in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
End of Article: ENGLISH POTTERY FROM THE 16TH TO THE 19TH
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