Art Pottery is a broad term that covers items of ceramics that are mostly modelled by hand or thrown on the wheel, and often hand-decorated or glazed. But these criteria are by no-means definitive as the employment of designers by the major ceramic producers saw the formation of "Art Departments" from the late 19th century. Potteries from then until present day have produced a huge range of weird and wonderful decorative items, often playing with the form and functionality of the very item they are producing. It is a highly productive and decorative area of Britain's creative output over the last 150 years. Here are some of the leading names to look out for in our 20th century Decorative Art auctions, however there are many others. Ceramics from Pilkington's Royal Lancastrian, Brannam Ware, Shelley, Minton, the Ruskin Pottery, Stellar Crofts, Poole, and more, fall under this vibrant area of collecting.
20th Century Art and Design
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Victorian London was a hot-bed of decorative pottery production. Some of the most iconic Victorian pottery to be produced came from the Martin Brothers. They became most famed for their 'Wally Bird' tobacco jars. These peculiar beasts in stoneware had their own unique characters, sometimes based on prominent public figures or lawyers, and were exquisitely modelled, detailed, and glazed in blues, greens and buff glazes. They sat in their shop in High Holborn amongst vases and other vessels incised and modelled with other fantastical animals, beasts, and fish. These grotesque pieces convey the essence of harsh Victorian city life, and the macabre humour ingrained in Victorian society. They have always been highly regarded academically, with some accrediting them to influencing the founders of the Studio Pottery movement, but commercially they continue to make the headlines. The auction record stands for a giant crab which sold for £184,000 in 2018!
William De Morgan was another lead figure in the Arts and Crafts-inspired Victorian Art Pottery movement. Based in Chelsea and Fulham, his main output was decorative tiles (decorative tiles in themselves a huge collecting area at auction). One of his trademarks were tiles with an Islamic influence, with vibrant foliate designs often in turquoise, green and blue glazes such as those commissioned by Lord Leighton for his Islamic Hall. He also produced pictorial multi-tile panels for steam ships and ocean liners. And then there are individual tiles that frame more Victorian grotesque animals and beasts. He became a master at lustre glaze firings at a time when kiln technology was limited, often combining ruby red glazes under a silvered lustre finish. But his output went beyond the two dimensional tile as he also produced impressive Antique-inspired vessels again painted with weird and wonderful creatures.
William Moorcroft - one of the endearing names of the late Victorian British Art Pottery movement remains one of the few potteries still operating from its original factory in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent. From his first employment at James Macintrye’s factory in 1897, William Moorcroft has produced pottery designs that have been highly desirable on the retail and second-hand markets. As a keen botanist his early designs focused on British flowers. One of his trademarks was to outline the design in slip – known as tubelining. These two factors are borne in the legacy throughout the Pottery’s history.
For collectors there are four main periods of interest with Moorcroft’s output at auction. The first period is William’s early years at Macintyre & Co, where he introduced the Florian ranges as well as other iconic designs. These pieces were produced from 1897-1912 and of course he made a name for himself by signing each piece, usually over the Macintyre backstamp. In 1913 he established his own Moorcroft Pottery with the backing of Liberty & Co, and it is this pottery that still houses the modern day studios. Between 1913 and 1945 the Pottery produced a huge range of decorative vessels and table ware. Some of the most iconic designs include ‘Pomegranate’,’Leaf and Berry’, and the ‘Moonlit Blue’ and ‘Hazeldene’ landscapes. During this period they also operated a flambé kiln, and these pieces are usually extra desirable to collectors. William Moorcroft died in 1945 but the factory continued under his son Walter. The period from 1945-1980s sees the introduction of other exotic floral ranges, carrying on his father’s interests. From the 1980s to present day the Pottery has employed other designers to carry on the mantle. Fashion designer-turned-ceramic artist Sally Tuffin, Rachel Bishop, Philip Gibson, Emma Bossons to name a few, all have their followers. The Pottery has been run as a much more modern-day commercial enterprise with Limited Edition series and design trials being available. It is these pieces that retain the highest demand at auction for pieces produced since the 1980s. Regardless of age, condition is a key determinant in auction value so pieces need to be closely inspected.
By the 1920s, the Wedgwood factory had over 150 years of being established as one of the leading manufacturers of pottery and china in the World. They had a history of employing lead artistic designers to keep them at the very top of the commercial markets. A number of key designers were under their employment in the first half of the 20th century, but there are two names that are still keenly collected today.
The first are the works of Daisy Makeig-Jones. Joining Wedgwood as a young paintress in 1909, she rose in the ranks and released her Fairyland series in 1915. At a time of deep troubles in Europe, the Fairyland range focused on fanciful creatures captured under bright and vibrant glazes and a wondrous lustre. It was a huge success but produced in relatively low numbers, and also a victim of the quickly changing tastes of the post-war world. Not only was it popular in Britain but also in America, and these two areas retain the most significant collections today. Pieces are seldom scene, but when they do appear they always generate a good deal of interest from both sides of the Atlantic. As a prominent, somewhat formidable, female ceramic designer she paved the way for many others in the industry.
Following the work of Daisy Makeig-Jones came the much more modernist designs of Keith Murray. A trained architect, Murray turned his hand to industrial design production in the late 1920s and 1930s, producing designs in ceramic for Wedgwood, but also in metal ware for Mappin & Webb, and glass ware for Stevens & Williams. His ceramic designs were mostly table ware and vases with what has become his characteristic banding under a monochrome glaze, such as Moonstone. They are a far cry from Makeig-Jones’s Fairyland, showing just how much the market had changed from the 1920s to 1930s. The vast majority of pieces will bear his facsimile signature alongside the factory backstamp. He is considered one of the great British Art Deco designers.
Another doyenne of British Art Pottery is Clarice Cliff. Rising to fame in the mid-to-late 1920s at Wilkingsons in Burslem, she was given her own studio at the Newport Pottery in 1927. She was nurtured in her early career by Colley Shorter, who was director at Wilkinsons, and later became her husband. Her style was heavily influenced by the emerging Art Deco movement on the continent, but was quite incongruous to other wares coming out of Stoke on Trent at the time. Her Bizarre series employed vibrant on-glaze colours that were to become her trademark – especially orange, black – under a ‘honey-glaze. She was extremely successful at forming modernist shapes to everyday table ware, and combined with some of her more daring geometric patterns, you can see why so many respect her talent in ceramic design. The height of the collectors market was throughout the 1990s when stand-alone auctions of her work generated astounding prices. Now it is a much more subdued market, but can still generate a buzz for the more striking pieces in good condition.
If you have an item that is by one of these manufacturers, or by another key name associated with the British Art pottery mevoment, that you would like valued for auction it couldn’t be easier. You can submit an enquiry via our Valuations Form where you can upload images and details of your items.
From these images our Specialist will be able to give an initial guide into likely auction value. You can share multiple files by emailing our Specialist directly, or alternatively book an appointment to see us in person.
As with any valuation, certain factors will be crucial in determining a more accurate and realistic auction estimate. The condition of an item is especially important to dedicated collectors in this field. Not until our Specialist has seen an item in person would the final auction advice be agreed.