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History Of Pottery And Porcelain:
Pottery And Porcelain Defined
History Of Pottery
Forms Employed By The Italians
Holland - Delft
Introduction To Porcelain
Oriental Porcelain China
Pottery And Porcelain
Clocks And Watches
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
After a long sojourn among countries which use languages strange to us, it is pleasant at last to arrive where we may feel at home, among the English people, where both literature and acquaintance, to say nothing of like sympathies, will aid us vastly in our journeyings through the world of fictilia.
Archaeological study has a peculiar fascination for the English student, consequently her research and its results are more extensive than those of any other nation; be tween individual and combined effort every thread of evidence has been woven into a fabric which affords a still growing fund of information. The brief consideration which we have given the Romano-British ware is only a hint of the extensive labor accomplished by the English Society of Practical Geology. It is scarcely our province to enter at length upon a subject the local interest of which is more important than its direct bearing upon our modern civilization; and while England is justly proud of her antiquity and its remains, we, of the New World and a new age, look more intently upon the consecutive procession of the arts and impulses which attend us now.
The middle age of England was singularly deficient in the art of pottery-making, so extensively practised before the Saxon assumption of her soil; and even so late as the reign of Queen Elizabeth, very few pottery vessels were in use, leather, pewter and silver, or wood, furnishing the ordinary utensils for domestic or other use. Some French visitors to an English ale-house of that period went home with the report that the Englishmen all drank out of their boots, they having mistaken the " small jacks" or leathern mugs, for the other commodity.
At Lewes, Lincoln and other points, specimens of pottery work have been found and presumably located as productions of the reigns of Edward II. and Edward III. These are mostly grotesques and bearded pieces of no artistic merit.
Between the years 1642 and 1649 a company of Delft potters, living in Fulham and Lambeth, produced the first enamelled pottery of which we find any record. Upon the pieces here produced they employed little decoration, most of them bearing only the date and initials of their producer. In the British Museum is a dish of this ware copied from Palissy ; the colors are yellow, blue, brown and green, and the subject a Venus and Cupid, with the seasons painted in the border.
Flanders bears the credit of having stimulated England in the art of pottery-making, and it is from the Netherlands that workmen came to establish what after ward grew to be the great pottery mart of Staffordshire. Staffordshire, if we were to give it the attention which it deserves, would, in itself, occupy a large and interesting chapter, for, in point of fruitfulness and earnest work, no other locality has surpassed it; and the avidity with which England seized upon these productions only encouraged them to more extensive labor. Demmin pronounces it the epoque actuelle of English pottery, and dates the common work in the year 1466, and the glazed pottery in the year 1650; the first well-known workmen being Ralph and Thomas Toft, who labored at Burslem. The first innovation upon English soil was the substitution of salt glaze for the lead which had been previously employed. The imitation of Japan red ware, which ware was extensively imported into Europe, was for some time carried on, but finally relinquished owing to the want of a proper clay.
A more significant and original pattern followed after the discovery by Astbury of the secret of producing white wares. An accident* led to vast improvements in English pottery, and the manufacture of white earthenware at once offered an opportunity for the application of any desirable tint by the proper admixture of metallic oxides. Agate, tortoise-shell, drab and cream-colored wares followed, and the clay being cast in moulds, ornamental work in relief and intaglio was easily applied. An appreciation of the eminent adaptability of pottery to the fine arts led England to an exalted position in this industry.
Than Josiah Wedgwood, probably, no other man of modern times has labored more effectually to elevate public taste ; in return, he received not only a competence, but an honorable perpetuity, which has carried his name beyond his own time and nation. Born at Burslem, in Staffordshire, his education was only such as was bestowed upon ordinary boys of his time and locality. At an early period of life he was crippled by small-pox, which so injured his left leg as to make amputation necessary. This threw him out of employment from his brother's workshop, where he had been engaged as a thrower in the manufacture of ordinary pottery work. If in one sense this mutilation was a misfortune, it proved in another the direct impulse to that work which afterward made him famous, for, finding himself wanting employment, he immediately applied himself to the production of little ornaments of pottery, made in imitation of variegated stones, such as jasper and agate.
At the age of twenty-nine, having been about the world a little, he settled himself once more at Burslem, and commenced work in a small manufactory of his own; a second and third factory followed this, as his trade grew more prosperous.
Still laboring with his own hands, he made a service of table ware for Queen Charlotte, that the work of his potteries might thereafter be known as " Queen's ware." Through Mr. Bentley, who became his partner, he was introduced to eminent patrons, through whose interest and care he gradually became conversant with the more exalted subjects of artistic production, they loaning him antique vases, cameos, medals, and seals, for reproduction after his inimitable manner.
A man with one leg always has more friends than a man with two, and it may not have been impossible that the friendship of these good people commenced with pity to mature into esteem, for he had intrusted to his conscientious care some of the richest and choicest works of art to be found in the cabinets of England. The Duchess of Portland, finding him her competitor for the possession of the Barberini Vase, yielded her claim, while he engaged himself in reproducing its beautiful figure.
A useful life is marked by two characteristics, its products and its benefices; the two make the balance of greatness, and the royal summit of genius is best exampled when including them. A tomb-stone eulogy fails to supply the lack of either.
Be it said, to the praise of our great English potter, that as his work evinced that rare and beautiful faculty of appreciation, it was also the prototype of his character. Take the numerous published histories of his life, and with one accord they pronounce his work perfect, his character all symmetry, simplicity and sweetness. While surrounded by that ever jealous element, the workers and the theorists, upon artistic subjects, he yet won to himself the estimable consideration, the affection, of all who viewed art either from a critical or a practical stand point. The rude boy of Burslem, born under the disadvantageous influences of harsh dialect and unprogressive education, grows to be at early manhood a master of art, with a scholarly knowledge of its various attributes and applications. From the humble companionships of his early home we find him at last arrived at that position which commands, by its own majesty of presence, first attention, ultimately respect.
Of Wedgwood's Queen's ware many very beautiful specimens exist, and are highly prized by collectors. With the labor of every day he improved and enlarged upon his previous efforts; not content with his own energetic and intellectual attention, he called to his assistance the best artists of his time, most illustrious among whom was Flaxman, whose labors in the designs of pottery and ornamentation are among the best testimonies to his eminent genius and capabilities. One of the most successful results of his engagement was a set of chess-men, designed from medieval characters and executed in that purely artistic style which marks his every product.
In the year 1769 Wedgwood opened his pottery works at Etruria. So great had become his repute, and so extensive the demand for his wares, that the Burslem works could not meet the requirements. Not only at home, but throughout the civilized world he had become so well known, and his products were so eagerly sought, that some foreign nations prohibited their importation, while they were only admitted to others under heavy impost, their moderate price and excellent quality having offered a crushing competition with the more expensive wares of other lands.
Of the class of his products most popular among other nations, the exquisite cameos--copies of modern and antique classical subjects-seem to have been eagerly sought, and certainly they were worthy of the patronage which they received, for nothing more beautiful or perfect has ever been produced in pottery than these. If a potter of ancient Campania could have walked through this new Etruria he might have found with astonishment the work of his time ennobled, exalted and perfected. Strange it was that all the rest of the world passed through its ceramic experiences, and yet waited for England at this late day to revert to the true school of ceramic decorative art. Wedgwood not only employed the old designs, but discovered the art of painting upon unglazed surfaces, a reproduction of the same work as practised by the Etrus cans. Most of the ware commonly known is of this description, the figures and ornamentation in white upon a ground of delicate blue or purple, the whole entirely without glazing.
A vase of Wedgwood ware, recently brought to this country. In this instance the groundwork is of blue, but two of a different pattern, which came with it, are in purple. All the figures and decorations are in white relief.
The ordinary effect of production in such vast quantities, and with such rapidity, would have been a gradual decline both in quality and work, but the work of Wedg wood experienced no such calamity; his conscientiousness kept pace with every advance step of his manufactories, and nothing was suffered for a moment to affect the sterling excellence of the work.
Wedgwood's philanthropy, his high-minded and thorough appreciation of the material he had in hand, led him only to the appropriation of his greater prosperity to the perfecting of its every attribute; else we might have found him, like too many of the prosperous men of our time, playing upon an old reputation. His catalogue of ornaments, published in 1777, and taken from Egyptian, Greek and Roman subjects, both mythological and historical, amounts, in number, to twenty-one hundred and one pieces. No ordinary industry and study was required to the obtaining of these alone. A sixth edition of the same catalogue " occupies," according to Mr. Jewett, "seventy-four closely printed pages, the list of subjects being printed in double columns."
From the first catalogue we can excerpt three provinces in the art of pottery-making, exhaustively explored by Wedgwood:
1. " A composition of terra-cotta resembling porphyry, lapis-lazuli, jasper and other beautiful stones of the vitrescent or crystalline class."
2. " A fine black porcelain having nearly the same properties as the basaltes, resisting the attacks of acids, being a touchstone to copper, silver and gold, and equal in hardness to agate or porphyry."
3. "A fine white biscuit ware, or terra-cotta, polished and unpolished."
In later years one or two more species were added to this catalogue, but none of greater artistic merit, the principal one being a ware called bamboo or willow-ware, which was wrought into shapes like baskets or plates and covered with a glaze to suit the color of the subject imitatcd.
So eager was Wedgwood to avail himself of every opportunity which might advance his wares that, having seen from America a specimen of beautiful white clay, he at once engaged the exhibitor to procure him a quantity of it; a few tons were subsequently carried on the backs of mules from a great distance in the State of South Carolina to the port of Charlestown, and from thence shipped to him. No clay equal to this in purity has been found in England, or anywhere in Europe, except in quantities too small to be made available.
Wedgwood died in 1795, leaving behind him a name which in England is the synonym of true greatness, goodness and usefulness. His native country has never ceased to praise her " father of pottery," and whether we view him in the light of a master workman or in the type of an unselfish, philanthropic citizen, striving earnestly and successfully for the benefit of all, both socially and politically, we, too, of like language, must admit him to the same standard.
The principal mark employed by Wedgwood upon his wares was his name impressed in small capitals, or sometimes the name of his firm, WEDGWOOD & BENTLEY. In spurious pieces of this ware one more E is introduced between the G and w ; the parties using this name were restrained by injunction shortly after they commenced operations.
Lambeth, Fulham, Bristol, and Leeds were all at one time more or less engaged in the manufacture of pottery, but we pass these to consider the wares of Liverpool, upon which John Ladler first practised the art of printing in 1753. This art offered a facility for decoration which had not been approached before, but like all other mechanical processes the artistic merit of the work deserves little consideration as an innovation in the science of pottery manufacture; however, it is worthy of notice. The process consisted simply in the transfer of printing and illustrations from paper to the material in hand, and the specimens exhibited, consequently, all the characteristics of a wood engraving. In America this ware seems to have met with much favor; the numerous specimens found here will testify to its extensive use. After the war of the Revolution the potters of Liverpool, with tradesman-like foresight, caused to be produced a vast number of pieces inscribed with patriotic sentences, coats of arms and emblems calculated to suit the taste of the citizens of the new republic. These were shipped to this country, and a large number still remain. A pitcher in the collection of the late Mrs. Wm. C. Prime has upon one side an American eagle, surmounting a scroll, upon which is printed, " SUCCESS TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA." A tea-pot, in my possession, has a picture of Mount Vernon, and over it, " Mount Vernon, residence of the late Gen. Geo. Washington."
Wedgwood, himself, sent much of his ware to Liverpool, where it received this decoration ; it is frequently found upon his" Queen's Ware."
At Lowestoft we find one of those obscure manufactories, regarding which little is known through the source of local investigation ; and the want of a designating mark forces it into a still denser obscurity. It seems that for a considerable time they labored under the disadvantage of the ignorance of glazing. This was, however, afterward discovered by an exceedingly novel method of scientific research. A Lowestoft gentleman, by the name of Browne, was induced to hide himself under a hogshead at the Chelsea pottery-works, and there watch through the bung while the chemist prepared his glazing for the fire. Mr. Browne's experiment ended in the conveyance of the' entire secret to Lowestoft, which at once commenced the production of pottery with a glazing. The Lowestoft decoration, which was very excellent, is best exampled upon pieces of the Oriental ware,--having procured the pieces in white they applied their own colors. Mr. Marryatt says: " The borders are frequently very minute and elaborate, and the wreaths, festoons, or groups of flowers, are equally delicate in their proportions. As was the custom at Chelsea, so at Lowestoft, quantities of plain white porcelain were imported from China and then painted and decorated, and sold as the productions of this manufactory."
From the time of its introduction to the present day, England has been most extensively engaged in the production of pottery. That the demand for ornamental wares has met with no diminution, we have only to turn to present evidence to prove. From the hands of Mr. Minton many very excellent pieces find their way to public acceptance and approval. But the day of great discoveries and rapid advances seems to have passed ; old designs, long known and always prized, seem to be with little variation the model of the modern workman; even these, however, are skilfully and pleasingly treated; they are forms which never suffer by age and association; they are like friends whose worth increase as we know them the better.
This closes our review of an ancient and honorable employment, which has rendered to the world inestimable service. A chapter here upon the art of pottery-making in America might be fitly introduced, but with the exception of a few good pieces exhibited at the last Paris Exposition, from Baltimore, Md., no evidences are at hand upon which to form a detailed statement.
The art has been practised here for at least one hundred and fifty years, and doubtless will soon expand itself to the proportions and aspire to the merits of wares. in other countries, the taste of our people having met with very rapid growth in the past half decade. The wholesome influence of foreign travel has doubtless added not a little to this result, and that will be no mean event when America shall assume her position in the arts and have her niche assigned in the ceramic galleries of Europe and the Orient.