The Allen Collection

Article excerpt


THE ALLEN COLLECTION OF ENGLISH AND EUROPEAN Ceramics and Porcelain is what we might label in Australia, a Cinderella Collection, a collection which is often overlooked or is overshadowed by more prominent collections, but which contains exceptional examples of period and style, pieces of international importance, comprehensive samples of local work and delightful, often quirky individual pieces.

The collection was established through the generosity and connoisseurship of two local benefactors, Major Ross Bignell of Alton and Herbert Druitt of Christchurch. The two collections were brought together in the affiliation of Hampshire museums and in 1976 Curtis House was gifted to the Hampshire Country Council to become the Allen Gallery which now houses the Allen Collection. There are some 7000 items in the collection of which approximately 3000 can be housed and displayed at the Allen Gallery at any one time.

The collection is added to through public subscription and council grants. A feature of the collection is the emphasis on local country wares which were produced in the various potteries in Hampshire and Dorset in the 18th century, including Bishops Waltham, Kingsley and Verwood Pottery in the New Forest. These wares were for the most part unpretentious utilitarian pieces, made in small quantities using local clays and simple lead glazes. Among the collection can be found beakers, storage vessels and bowls of considerable charm. Their appeal arises from the simple elegance of their forms and the integrity of their design. These qualities of purity, truth to materials and the integration of form and function were to be rediscovered in the aesthetic movement of the mid to late 19th century and indeed resonate in the revival of English studio pottery led by Bernard Leach in the 1950s.


The raw terracotta surfaces of these wares were occasionally graced by commemorative illustration such as the charmingly simple inscribed drawing of a locomotive which adorns a costrel made by Charles Budden at the Verwood Pottery in Dorset, quite possibly celebrating the coming of the railway to the district in 1864. An imposing terracotta urn from Kingsley, bares the mysterious inscription 1774 TC.

Who or what was TC? In part, the history of the Hampshire potteries can be seen in the works of a number of potters in the collection who were the descendants of the family-owned potteries, and who, after studying at art schools in London and locally, brought back new ideas and sensibilities to the family businesses. One such potter was Charles Brannam who inherited the family pottery at Barnstaple and after completing his studies, returned to convert the pottery from country utilitarian ware to the production of Arts and Crafts inspired quality pieces. His grotesque tea pots produced at Barnstaple, were sold through Liberty & Company of London in the late 19th century.

Arts and Crafts influence is apparent in a large charger produced at Farnham Pottery and decorated by Agnes Hall, assistant art mistress at Farnham School of Art in the 1920s. (1) The piece features a characteristic Pre Raphaelite profile of Miranda from Shakespeare's The Tempest, with flowing tresses and graceful folds of drapery depicted in sgraffito, yellow slip glazes over a red body. …