By Bernard Rackham
WHEN George III succeeded to the throne the craft of the English potter was just arriving at the stage of competence reached long before in most European countries. Earthenware was emerging from the status of peasant pottery to a place among the domestic equipment of the upper strata of society which it had long occupied in Italy, Spain, France and Germany; porcelain of home manufacture was an innovation which had barely begun to be commercially profitable in competition with imports from the Far East, Saxony and elsewhere. A momentous change in methods of production was approaching, which was destined to have a great effect on the character of the wares. Small workshops in which the only aid to handwork used was the otter's wheel, were just beginning to give place to factories equipped for mass production, in which new appliances tending to cheapen output by the elimination of handwork were constantly being adopted. The porcelain factories as distinct from the earthenware potteries were still mostly small concerns, it is true, but only those among them which were best organized to meet commercial requirements survived besetting financial difficulties. This moment in the history English pottery is of exceptional interest, as it exhibits side by side two distinct phases, that of an immemorial craft once vital, if unexalted in its pretensions, but now nearing extinction, and that of a refined and sophisticated industry just growing out of infancy.
The native antecedents of the wares of our period are to be found in medieval pottery made for humble uses, in which decorative intention is generally absent. These wares have, it is true, a nobility of form which affords great aesthetic pleasure, but their beauty is of the same order as that of the tithe-barn, the mortar or the black-jack as compared with the cathedral, or the chalice. From this medieval pottery there developed all over the country, and especially in Staffordshire, peasant wares in which ornament as such was very definitely, and sometimes, if not always, successfully, aimed at. In these wares the primary materials of pottery, clay and glazing substances, were the only media employed for achieving the desired result of usefulness and decoration combined. They are generally classed as "Slip Wares," from their dependence on the use of clay watered to a semi-liquid state known as slip. In them the different tones which various clays will assume in the kiln, ranging from cream-colour through drab and buff to red and brown, were skilfully marshalled for decorative treatment. After the middle of the eighteenth century these peasant wares had passed their prime, although their technique continued in practice, in out-of-the-way country potteries, almost until the end of the nineteenth century, and occasional examples show all the full-blooded virility to which their seventeenth-century forerunners owe their value. In the Staffordshire potteries, as we shall see, rapid ogress was being made in technical improvements, and the old processes had been almost entirely abandoned. One potter, Ralph Shaw of Burslem, seems to have achieved some success in adapting the old clay technique to shapes of the greater refinement demanded by the advancing culture of the day. The dated jug shown in Plate 2, A proves that the type of ware he is said to have introduced as early as 1733 was still being made in 1766. The method of covering the red body of the ware with a white clay coating and then scratching decoration through the latter, is a simple and effective one, to be found in the primitive pottery of many countries. The process of trailing the lines of a design in clay slip on a ground of different colour, familiar in the
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Publication information: Book title: Georgian Art (1760-1820):An Introductory Review of English Painting, Architecture, Sculpture, Ceramics, Glass, Metalwork, Furniture, Textiles and Other Arts during the Reign of George III. Contributors: Roger Fry - Author, J. B. Manson - Author, Geoffrey Webb - Author, Bernard Rackham - Author, W. W. Watts - Author, Oliver Brackett - Author, A. F. Kendrick - Author, L. Gordon-Stables - Author. Publisher: B. T. Batsford. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1929. Page number: 33.