One of the most successful of the pottery modellers of the 1920s and 1930s was Gwendolen Parnell, one of the so-called Chelsea Potters, whose studio was in Paradise Walk, near the Royal Hospital. She had a good eye for the market and her series of characters from The Beggar’s Opera, made while it was enjoying a long run at the Lyric, Hammersmith, gained her much publicity and put her right in the public eye.
Her upper-class connections served her art well. She sold a piece to Queen Mary while still a student at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts and, when her career was established, modelled society figures including Lady Diana Cooper and Gladys, Baroness Swaythling.
This figure of Marlene Deitrich was featured on the front page of The Sketch in 1933.
Studio pottery figurines were popular in Britain in the 1920s and were exhibited in galleries alongside the new abstract pottery of William Staite Murray and Bernard Leach, but they fell out of favour and their absence from histories of studio pottery was total, as if they had been airbrushed out.
Now that the scope of pottery is broader, however, they are coming back into view. A few years ago Paul Hughes wrote a detailed biography of Stella Crofts, with catalogue raisonée. And, looking for more information, I came cross the website of Robert Prescott-Walker’s Polka Dot Antiques, who show figurines by Molly Mitchell-Smith, Marion Morris, Gwendolen Parnell, Jessamine Bray, Sybil V. Wiliams, Anne Potts, William Ruscoe, J. Palin Thorley and Charles Vyse. The picture shows a very nice figurine by Bray and Williams from their Dulwich Pottery.
I’ve been looking at the National Portrait Gallery’s large collection of William Morris portraits. This photo (above), taken in the 1880s when Morris was in his fifties is fairly representative. For a man concerned to make every aspect of life beautiful and harmonious, he was notably indifferent to his own appearance. His hair is so uncombed he makes Boris Johnson look neat, his beard is untrimmed and he wears everyday clothes. Was this one of the blue workman’s jackets he was famous for? Whether it was or not, he was an exemplar of rational dress. In several pictures he wears a soft tweed suit and always wears a soft attached shirt collar, which was unusual, I think, before the 20th century, and here he appears to be wearing no necktie. He contrasts with Walter Crane (below), an extravagant dandy, with a carefully trimmed beard, waxed moustaches and colourful clothes, despite being a supporter of dress reform, who seemed to pay more attention to his appearance the older her got.
There are pictures of the Englishman Walter Crane and his Hungarian colleague Jenő Radisics taken somewhat later, in 1911, showing them with quite different beards, Crane with a Vandyke and exaggerated moustaches, and Radisics with an exceptionally fine Franz Josef.
Being clean shaven marked you as either a conservative or a clergyman: liberals wore beards. Garibaldi, Mazzini and Cavour were all bearded, and the extent of their facial hair seems to be correlated directly with their radicalism. After the defeat of liberal Hungary in 1849, the Kossuth beard, with the chin neatly shaved, became a national symbol and was banned by the Austrians. Count Andrássy, the first Hungarian Prime Minister after the 1867 settlement, had complicated facial hair in which some of his chin was shaved but not all, a combination of the Vandyke and the Franz Josef.
In every British account of studio pottery there’s a condescending nod to French Art Nouveau ceramics, with their new glaze effects, stunning colours and iridescent surfaces. These ceramics were strikingly different from the refined porcelain current in Europe at the time. The main names were Clément Massier, Ernest Chaplet, Theodore Deck and Emile Decoeur.
Every large museum has examples, rarely featured prominently, and anyone interested soon finds that there were chemist potters other than these four masters. In France there were Paul Jeanneney, Clément Massier, Raoul Lachenal, Jean Carriès and the architectural ceramist Alexandre Bigot. In the USA there were Hugh C. Robertson and Taxile Doat. In Britain there were W. Howson Taylor at the Ruskin Pottery, Harry Nixon at Royal Doulton and Bernard Moore. In Hungary, Zsolnay and Herend both employed ceramic artists who worked in this medium, so did the Royal Danish Porcelain Company, Bing and Grøndalhl and, in Germany, Köningsliche Porzellan Manufaktur.
With so many fine Art Nouveau potters it’s surprising that there have been so few exhibitions and that so little has been written about them. Paul Arthur’s French Art Nouveau Ceramics was published in 2015 and in 2016 the Kunstmuseum den Haag had an exhibition French Ceramics 1875 – 1945 (noting that the last exhibition had been in 1913), accompanied by M. Lambrechts’ L’Objet sublime: Franse ceramiek 1875-1945.
At auction these ceramics fetch high prices. This small vase by Emile Decoeur, for example, reached $4,063 at Rago. Second hand copies of Arthur’s and Lambrechts’ books also fetch high prices, so there is considerable interest.
Zsuzsa Gonda in her review of Crane’s visit to Hungary in 1900 says that it is one of the most extensively documented events in the artistic life of the country in that period. Despite Crane’s eminence in England, it does seem that he was more honoured abroad, which was flattering of course, and after being decorated by Victor Emmanuel III, he called himself Commendatore Crane at home.
The welcome extended to him in Hungary was not entirely personal, however: he was the representative of England, the bastion of liberty, the nation that sheltered Kossuth and took him to its heart. Crane the socialist could not fully understand why in Hungary the appreciation of traditional art marked one out as a nationalist.
Gonda’s article is principally about museum acquisitions of Crane’s work. The vase pictured above, with a design by Crane, was one of the items purchased by György Ráth, former director of the Museum Applied Art, from the 1900 exhibition. Crane very much appreciated the warmth of his reception and in his memoirs reproduced in full the address delivered to him by Gyula Wlasics, Hungarian minister of culture and religion; but he was disappointed by sales from the exhibition and was understandably annoyed that the magazine Új Idők did not pay a royalty for the reproduction of his Kalotaszeg drawings.
The Budapest Museum of Applied Arts included this sketch (above) by Walter Crane in Masters of the Secession, showing Crane, left, and the director of the museum, Jenő Radisics, right, riding hobby horses, with an unidentified Frenchman in the middle, as judges at the Turin Exhibition of Decorative Art in 1902. Radisics had been instrumental in mounting the large Crane exhibition in Budapest a couple of years earlier, and here they meet again.
Radisics made large acquisitions of contemporary art and is largely responsible for the museum’s having such a large collection of Art Nouveau. He toured Europe tirelessly, dressed in Hungarian ceremonial costume at public events (as he is in Crane’s sketch) and spent generously. He acquired the entire Alexandre Bigot pavilion at the Paris Exhibition of 1900, which remained in store until 2013, when much of it was put on display.
Crane’s visit to Hungary was more strenuous than I realised: as well as visting Budapest and Kolozsvár he saw the Zsolnay ceramics factory in Pécs. The Museum of Applied Arts has a Zsolnay lustre vase (below) decorated by Géza Nikelszky, who, it says, was probably inspired by Crane’s visit in October 1900.
The artistic community of in Kolozsvár very much wanted Crane to visit their city as well and it was made possible for some of the Budapest exhibits to be transferred there for exhibition. There were adulatory articles in the Kolozsvár press, which also found room for an article by Crane on art and socialism. The programme there was more crowded than in Budapest, with visits, receptions, dinners, theatrical performances and demonstrations of folk art. On his last day he was taken into the countryside to Kalotaszeg, where, the press reported, “The Master made eight pencil sketches of the Hunyad bachelors, girls and bridesmaids,” who had been arrayed in traditional dress and brought out to meet him.
The bookplate in my last post was made from a drawing given by Crane to his host and guide in Kolszvár, János Kovács (above), a teacher who had lived and worked in England, and it does, as I thought depict Crane and Kovács. The sympathy between the two men turned into friendship (both had spent time in Manchester), but although Crane hoped to visit Hungary again his busy schedule prevented it.
Murádin goes on to record Crane’s influence on the Transylvanian architect Károly Kos. Kós often recalled Crane in his writing, referring to his influence on Hungarian Art Nouveau in general and on him in particular. In 1924 Kos recalled the profound effect of Crane’s visit a quarter of a century earlier, when he was too young to have met him, and his first encounter with Crane’s illustrations and book design as a student at the Budapest Technical University, which he loved and which shaped his own graphic work.
I’ve been reading Walter Crane’s Ideals in Art (1905), in which I found these drawings of Hungarian peasant costumes (above), and was curious about his connection with Hungary and how he came to make them.
While British design reformers were looking to the middle ages, the Hungarians were studying peasant art in pursuit of national independence. Artists under the influence of Ruskin, Morris and Crane created a community at Gödöllő, near Budapest, built vernacular-style houses and affected peasant dress. Others discovered the peasant art of Kalotaszeg , the traditional Transylvanian village that became a focus of Hungarian arts and crafts.
Cranes’s reputation in Hungary was high enough for Jenő Radisics, the director of the Budapest Museum of Applied Arts, to organise a retrospective of his work there in 1900. Crane visited the city in the autumn, was feted, gave lectures and visited Transylvania. He went to Kolozsvár (now Cluj-Napoca), Bánffyhunyad (now Hudein), and Kalotaszeg (now Calata) in search of Hungarian traditional art.
One of his guides was Janos Kovács, for whom he made this book plate inscribed “Éljen Kolosvár” – Long Live Kolozsvár! (below). Is the man lifting his hat Walter Crane and the man in traditional dress Prof. Kovács? There are certainly cranes flying around the former, but what is the other bird?
A supporter of dress reform, Crane thought the peasant style might suggest an antidote to the constrained, vulgar and commercial clothing of his age. He sought “utility, simplicity, picturesqueness”. “The peasantry in all European countries alone have preserved anywhere national and local picturesqueness and character in their dress,” he said, “Often, too where it still lingers unspoiled, as in Greece and in Hungary and Bohemia, adorned with beautiful embroidery worked by the women themselves.”
I have been trying without success so far to load an article written by the Gentle Author on the back page of the January issue of The World of Interiors. It describes the many campaigns he’s involved with – not just the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, but Bishopsgate Goosdsyar, Arnold Circus, and now a standardly bad […]