SÈVRES PORCELAIN AND CHINA

Henri-Léonard Jean-Baptiste Bertin, Commissaire du Roi at Sèvres from 1767-78,
used his cultural links with China for the benefit of the factory.


The long quest in Europe for a genuine porcelain and the way that chemists made hundreds of experiments without adequate understanding is well-known. I’ve been reading about developments at Sèvres, which had direct contact with China.

Sèvres and its predecessor at Vincennes depended on state patronage, notably from Madame de Pompadour, of a kind and degree absent in England. There were vast royal subventions and for a while the king forbade the manufacture of porcelain anywhere else. When high artistic standards and expensive research brought the enterprise to the point of bankruptcy, Louis XV bought it and maintained at his own expense. Meissen and other European porcelain factories were also royal possessions. In England, by contrast, when Chelsea, became unprofitable, it closed because, although George II is reputed to have been interested in it, it had no such patronage.

There were concerns in Britain in the 19th century that our designers lagged behind the French. Since Colbert’s time, France had also had a system of factory inspection that rooted out bad work. Whether state financing and direction of consumer industries secured a higher standard of design in France is an interesting question and one that’s not easy to answer.

While research into porcelain was underway at Sèvres it was fortunate to be under the direction of Henri-Léonard Jean-Baptiste Bertin, who had been Louis XV’s controller of finances and subsequently secretary of state with a wide range of commercial responsibilities. In 1769 a true hard-paste porcelain was produced at Sèvres using kaolin that had been found near Limoges. Bertin had a typically Enlightenment interest in China and believed that the advancement of French arts and sciences of would benefit from better knowledge of that country. He carried on a long correspondence with two Chinese Jesuits, Aloys Ko and Étienne Yang, who had been educated in France and who subsequently supplied him with materials for his collection, most of which consisted of images of Chinese vases and other artefacts and some of which, for example the misleadingly-named Vase Japon, were copied by Sèvres designers.

ARMAZENS CUNHAS, PORTO


Next to the Carmo Church in Porto this fine Art Deco building dominates the Praça Gomes Teixeira. Armazens Cunhas (motto “We Sell Cheaper”) has been selling sheets, bedspreads, tablecloths, pyjamas and work wear in the same way and with the same internal layout for decades with few concessions to modern life and none to tourism.



José de Almeida Cunha founded the company in 1917 and it remains in the same family today. The facade was designed by Manuel Marques, Amoroso Lopes and Coelho Freitas, linking three earlier buildings. The same team of architects also designed the Farmácia Vitália in the Praça Liberdade.


Photo: Manuel V. Botelho (Wikipedia)

DULWICH POTTERY

This little figure was made by Jessamine Bray and Sybil Williams at the Dulwich Pottery in 1939. They were the last and Jessamine was the youngest of the Chelsea Potters, makers of the figurative ceramics that were so popular in the 1920s that they were the first things that came to mind when people talked about ‘studio pottery’.

Jessamine studied at Camberwell School of Art in the early 1920s, where she became interested in modelling, of which the school was the leading exponent. She worked for Charles Vyse and then became a teacher of ceramic sculpture at the art school. Sybil, who was older, also studied with Vyse and they probably met in his studio. The two women began their partnership in 1926.

This small model is typical of their work, with its mild Continental exoticism, its portrayal of a child with an animal and its meticulous underglaze painting.

Changing artistic fashion, changing family circumstances and the outbreak of war brought the Dulwich Pottery to an and, but Jessamine continued modelling at home at least until the late 1950s. This picture (below) was taken of her at the art school in the early 1920s.

PAULA REGO: SECRETS AND STORIES

I caught the repeat on BBC2 of Nick Willing’s film, Secrets and Stories, about his mother Paula Rego, a useful pendant to the recent retrospective at Tate Britain – a long interview interspersed with images of her at work and film of her younger self. What was obscure at Tate became clear: the autobiographical sources of her art and the way she exorcised her demons through painting. She inherited her father’s disposition to depression and admitted that her childhood was full of fears.

Willing said that until her eighties Rego was almost secretive about her life, but then she began to tell stories. The cause of her reticence may have been the way her experiences motivated her. If she talked she wouldn’t have painted. Well-adjusted people aren’t great artists.

The film was informative about Victor Willing, Rego’s husband. It was he who was tipped for artistic stardom at the Slade, not her, but as his inspiration withered, hers grew, and he enouraged her without jealousy.

Rego followed an undistracted figurative course through post-war fashions to become one of our greatest artists, but we saw here that she took 25 years to make the paintings we recognise her for. Not unconnected with her greatness is the fact that her talk was free of artbollocks. There was no wish to impress, to which lesser artists are prone, no conventional jargon, no theorising. She said what she felt and believed. Everything was real.

SHAW’S CORNER


Bernard Shaw bequeathed his house at Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire to the National Trust in 1950. He was fifty when he moved in in 1906 and already successful. He became rich but remained a socialist of a peculiar kind, at first wedded to Fabian gradualism but from the 1920s onwards preferring dictatorship and admiring Lenin, Stalin and Mussolini. We went on a tour the other day.

Shaw’s study with a portrait of William Morris above the desk and Morris & Co. curtains. The little monogrammed pot on the right of the typewiter was made by Louise Powell.


When I moved to Hertfordshire in the 1980s, old people remembered him driving through the lanes either in his Rolls Royce or on his tricycle. The tricycle bore witness to his passion for healthy living, including vegetarianism, wool next to the skin, sleeping with the windows open and opposition to vaccination, but it also bore witness to socialist principles.

Bare boards and an electric fire. On the mantleshelf, a Staffordshire figure of Shaw’s chosen rival, Shakespeare, and his 1938 Oscar for the screenplay of ‘Pygmalion’. The portrait is of his wife, Charlotte.


Shaw’s Corner is modestly furnished in the style of a clerk or a schoolteacher and doesn’t look like the house of a wealthy man. The house had servants’ bells but Shaw refused to use them, going down to the kitchen and knocking on the door if he wanted to talk to the cook. Shaw liked the quiet villlage without a train station or a bus service.

The sunny veranda, which Shaw called ‘The Riviera’. The house was built without running water or electricity but Shaw was quick to adopt technical innovations.


It has Arts and Crafts connections. Shaw was a follower of Ruskin and Morris, greater influences on progressive thinkers in England than Marx, and a portrait of Morris hangs above his desk. He was part of the Morris circle. He preached socialism in street-corner meetings with Morris. He flirted with May Morris, she fell in love with him and Morris might have liked him as a son-in-law.

May Morris, her fiancé Henry Halliday Sparling, Emery Walker and Bernard Shaw.


Like every advanced middle-class house of the period, Shaw’s Corner has Arts and Crafts touches throughout: Morris & Co. furniture and fabrics, a piano designed by Walter Cave, secretary of the Art Workers Guild, pottery by Alfred and Louise Powell and a sense of The Simple Life.

A patterned vessel by Alfred and Louise Powell, china and varied reading.


JUDD STREET, BLOOMSBURY

Walking back from the Art Workers Guild to St Pancras Station I stopped to look at this pretty shop at 63 Judd Street and was curious about the sculpture above the window of putti with a corncupia overflowing with grapes, which suggests it was once the premises of a wine merchant. (Next door, at No. 61, by the way, Alexander Herzen operated the Free Russian Press between 1854 and 1856.)

Anthony Trollope’s description of the street, from Phineas Finn, 1874, is still surprisingly accurate: “Judd Street runs into the New [Euston] Road near the great stations of the Midlands and Northern Railways, and is a highly respectable street. But it can hardly be called fashionable, as is Piccadilly; or central, as is Charing Cross; or commercial, as is the neighbourhood of St. Paul’s. Men seeking the shelter of an hotel in Judd Street most probably prefer decent and respectable obscurity to other advantages.”

Theodore Lane, ‘A Wooden Substitute’, 1821 © National Portrait Gallery London

Judd Street used to be part of the Skinners Estate. The Skinners Arms nearby and a couple of other pubs still belong to them, but nearly everything else has been sold now. One of the earliest residents of No. 63 (then numbered 79) was the artist Theodore Lane, who was well-known for caricatures of George IV and Queen Caroline. By the age of 19 he was exhibiting at the Royal Academy but his promising career was cut short by his falling through a skylight in 1828. After his death, for about twelve years, the house belonged to a tallow chandler called Paul Biddle.

Emma Biddle, the daughter of the tallow chandler Paul Biddle, who lived at 63 Judd Street, was baptised in 1829.

From the 1850s to the 1880s the shop belonged to an undertaker, then in the 1890s a tobacconist. As the population of St Pancras increased at the end of the century, the house went into multiple occupation and it’s difficult to tell from all the names in the Census who exactly is running the shop. But in 1911 Paolo Cagno, who came from Genoa, and his English wife Annie had a confectioner’s there.

So the motif of the putti with grapes is quite misleading and the shop never had anything to do with alcohol.

ALTHEA MCNISH AND JOHN WEISS

John Weiss and Althea McNish. Photo by Arvin Isaac

I’ll be visiting the exhibition of Althea McNish’s textiles at the William Morris Gallery shortly, but I wanted to relate the remarkable story of the N15 Archive devoted to her and her husband, the jeweller John Weiss.

Althea died in 2020 aged 95. John had died shortly before. I knew John as a fellow trustee of the Society of Designer Craftsmen and met Althea a couple of times at SDC exhibitions. Althea’s achievements in textile design date from the early fifties in London and unfortunately it’s only since her death that her importance has been fully recognised.

Shortly after her death, someone walking past their house saw some interesting things in a skip. As part of the house clearance, much of their artwork had been thrown away. It was rescued and formed the basis of the N15 Archive. Most of John’s meticulous teaching notes, which he’d kept over many years, are, sadly, lost.

TOVE JOHANSEN

In the museum of ceramics in Valencia I saw a few works by Tove Johansen that I thought were striking and original, but apart from the note in the museum I’ve been unable to find out anything about her. The fact that she has the same name as the creator of the Moomin books doesn’t help, but here’s what the museum says about her and some poor photos taken through glass.

Ceramic works by Tove Johansen (Gentofte, Denmark 1932-2009)

Donation: Frida Johansen.

The artist Tove Brigitte Johansen was trained in Argentina at the “Escuela Nacional de Cerámica” in Buenos Aires, founded by the Spanish-born ceramist Fernando Arranz López (1897-1967), who had previously worked in Daniel Zuloaga’s workshop in Segovia. Tove was in charge of collecting numerous works by her teacher that she donated to the Museum of Segovia in 2008. For this reason, she is considered his most outstanding disciple and heir to the Segovian school.

She set up her first workshop in Buenos Aires in 1969 and from there she worked making murals for important firms, installations for public works and creative studio ceramics. Awarded a prize for the first time in 1956, she began an outstanding career as an art and design teacher and as a ceramic artist, being invited to numerous international events.

In 1980 she moved her residence to the United States of America. Her most outstanding public work can be seen in Buenos Aires at the San Patricio Sanatorium, BA (1969), at the General Bel Gran station (1972), at the Atucha Atomic Power Plant (1973), at the Campana Cathedral (1976). In the United States she worked making murals for education institutes in Maryland (1986-1991) Blair High School (Silver Spring, 1986), Gaithersburg Junior High School (1988), Quince Orchard High School (1989), Northwood High School (Kensington 1990 ).

SEVERINI’S STATIONS OF THE CROSS, CORTONA (2)

Gino Severini, Stations of the Cross, Station XIII (1944)

Several years ago when I was in Cortona, the birthplace of Gino Severini, who always retained a great affection for the beautiful little hill town, I was pleased to see his wonderful mosaics there – the large mosaic mural on the church of St Mark and the Stations of the Cross along the Via Crucis – but I was disappointed to find that there were no reproductions anywhere, not even in the Museo Diocesano, which has his cartoons for the latter.

Gino Severini, St Mark.

So I was delighted to discover on eBay a set of postcards of the cartoons, offered by a seller in Palermo but for some reason printed in Malta. Sadly, no-one has yet thought to make postcards of the mosaics themselves. They’re excellent and represent very well Severini’s interest in mosaic, which was probably more long-lived than his Futurist career.

But it’s a sad fact that they’re under-appreciated, as I found out when we saw them: Cortona was thronged with tourists that day, but apart from us, the Via Crucis was completely deserted and no-one seemed to be interested in them.

The deserted Via Crucis in Cortona when we went to see
The Stations of the Cross, visible in the little niches on the right.

Here are some of the postcards.