Cheryl Buckley’s Designing Modern Britain throws, what is to me, new light on Roger Fry’s contribution to the development of studio pottery in Britain.
I knew that Fry had personally tried his hand at pottery (not very successfully), and that his formalist art theories helped to shape the studio pottery aesthetic. Fry’s importance to studio pottery is increasingly recognised: Jeffrey Jones mentions him in Studio Pottery (2005) and Julian Stair devotes several pages to him in Things of Beauty Growing (2017). But Buckley has very interesting information about the way that Fry’s coverage of ceramics in The Burlington Magazine, which he edited from 1910 -1919, foreshadowed the new ceramics.
Fry published articles on Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Peruvian and African pottery. He wrote that the art of the East “presents the hope of discovering a more spiritual, more expressive idea of design.” The image above is from “Ancient Peruvian Pottery”, an article by C.H.Read of the British Museum (April 1910). Other significant contributors were George Eumorphopolos, whose exhibition of T’ang and Sung pottery in 1910 increased interest in oriental ceramics in Britain, and Bernard Rackham, keeper of ceramics at the V&A, an early connoisseur of studio pottery. Buckley reports that, during Fry’s tenure, early Chinese ceramics were often written about and that the journal had covered them from as early as 1903.
To reinforce the point about the similarity of Kós’s graphic style to the Beggarstaffs (James Pryde and William Nicholson), here (above) is one of their best designs, a highly original theatre poster for A Chapter from Don Quixote by W. G. Wills, performed at the Lyceum Theatre in 1895 and starring Henry Irving. Irving didn’t like and it wasn’t used but it was often reproduced, so it has become familiar. The common elements of asymmetry, strong outline, flat colour and empty space are even more evident in Nicholson’s Queen Victoria print (below). (The originals of both designs are in the V&A.)
There is the same in Lautrec’s posters (above) and Gauguin’s painting, but the immediate source for Kós must have been the graphics of the Secession (below). The ultimate source, of course, was Japonisme, and in particular Japanese woodblock prints. So Kós’s renderings of his country’s rural folk art also had metropolitan and international sources.
|Kolomon Moser, Woglinde, 1901
The Japanese embassy has an exhibition of ceramics by Shoji Hamada, Bernard Leach and some of their early pupils, put on to celebrate the friendship between Mashiko, where Hamada had his studio, and St Ives, where they came in 1920 to start the Leach Pottery, Mashiko: Imagined in the UK. The relationship between the towns remains strong, Mashiko town contributing two million yen to the restoration of the Leach Pottery a few years ago.
We went to the exhibition launch on Wednesday, where the main speakers were Tomoo Hamada, Shoji’s grandson, and Rupert Faulkner, senior curator, Japan, in the Asian department of the V&A.
Leach, as we know, had a mission to bring together East and West, combining the best of both cultures, and the Eastern influence on his pottery is familiar, but the speakers made it clear that there was traffic the other way as well. Leach’s Japanese milieu in the second decade of the 20th century was infused with ideas from Ruskin and Morris and there has been appropriation in Japan of English craft objects and methods, such as rush-bottomed chairs and the English method of making handles on pots, with a loop if clay at the side rather than a loop of bamboo on the top.