A Genuine Appreciation of Ceramics; GALLERIES in the Sixth in a Special Monthly Series on Wales' Celebrated Artworks, David Moore Looks at the Anita Besson Ceramics Bequest to the Derek Williams Trust Which Is at the Centre of National Museum Cardiff's New Exhibition

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 10, 2018 | Go to article overview

A Genuine Appreciation of Ceramics; GALLERIES in the Sixth in a Special Monthly Series on Wales' Celebrated Artworks, David Moore Looks at the Anita Besson Ceramics Bequest to the Derek Williams Trust Which Is at the Centre of National Museum Cardiff's New Exhibition


AT THE centre of the current Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd - National Museum Cardiff exhibition Who Decides? Making Connections with Contemporary Art is an impressive display of modern studio ceramics. It is the first complete showing of a major bequest by renowned gallery owner Anita Besson to the Derek Williams Trust.

Anita Besson (1933-2015) opened Galerie Besson at one end of the stylish Royal Arcade off London's Old Bond Street in 1988. Unusually it specialised in ceramics as fine art. It ran until 2011, the opening show featuring Lucie Rie, and showed more than 150 artists in over 200 exhibitions.

Besson was born in Zurich to a French Swiss mother and German Swiss father. She settled in England in 1956 and, after working as a translator, pursued a career in commercial art galleries. On her death she bequeathed much of her private collection of international studio ceramics to the Derek Williams Trust.

The trust, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, was founded under the terms of the will of Cardiff surveyor Derek Williams "to advance public education in and appreciation of the arts by the public display of fine works of art".

With a focus upon post-1900 artworks, it formed a partnership with Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, to care for and display artworks, some of which the trust has purchased itself and many of which it has supported the museum in purchasing.

William Wilkins, Derek Williams trustee and art advisor, has worked closely with Andrew Renton, the museum's keeper of art, to build upon its already outstanding ceramics collection.

Wilkins, a keen appreciator of ceramics himself, first met Anita Besson in 1986. She was impressed with the commitment of the trust to develop and ensure the display of outstanding fine and applied art at Cardiff. Besson invited Wilkins to her Hampstead home to select work from her personal ceramic collection that would complement that in the trust's collection.

"Studio Pottery", a term dating from the 1920s, comes in many forms but tends to refer to ceramics made by hand on a relatively small scale. Originally it was distinguished from "art pottery" which was produced on a more industrial scale.

Influential early practitioners were Bernard Leach (1887-1979) in St Ives, his one-time Japanese colleague Shoji Hamada (1894-1978) and Leach's pupil Michael Cardew (1901-1983). Another was William Staite Murray (1881-1962), head of ceramics at the Royal College of Art, who rejected even the need for functionality in his pots. Nevertheless, Leach, Hamada and Staite Murray were all steeped in eastern philosophies and regarded ceramics as a fine art and spiritual pursuit. Cardew, though, was rather more focused upon making large quantities of functional slip-decorated wares.

It is, however, Lucie Rie (1902-95) and Hans Coper (1920-81), whose work Anita Besson had known since childhood, who are most strongly represented in her bequest. They were cultured refugees in 1930s London from, respectively, Austria and Germany. Both made forms which stretched convention in British studio pottery.

Lucie Rie, a friend of Leach, was a private person who worked from a Paddington mews studio. Tenacious and single-minded, her innovative, distinctive and elegant wheel-turned pots, bowls and vases were minimalist, exploring materials, flowing form, surface texture, sgraffito decoration, colour, layered slips and glazes. …

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