Tag Archives: Burslem

Doulton artist profile – Eric Webster

It is indeed an arduous task to try and re-assemble something long after the event, but for many years I have been trying to find out as much as possible about the early figure painting department at Burslem. The changes these early artists must have witnessed and the speed at which they occurred must have been mind blowing.

One artist whose monogram appears time and again on the bases of figures from the 1920-40’s is Eric Webster, born in 1896. Eric retired from Doultons in December 1962 and the last remaining link to what was known as the ‘Noke’ school of artists was lost. Originally engaged by John Slater, the first Art Director at Burslem, Eric served most of his years under the guidance of Charles J. Noke who succeeded John Slater as Art Director.

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Eric at work 14th October 1953

Eric was born and bred in the potteries and attended the Tunstall School of Art. When he arrived at Doultons he was engaged with painting plates and vases, and although a versatile artist – landscapes were a preferred theme. As the Doulton archive itself describes, around the time of the First World War, C. J. Noke began introducing ‘small pieces of sculpture in the shape of Victorian type figures and small animal models.’ This was of course the launch of the now famous HN collection and Eric together with Harry and Charles Nixon were the first three to be engaged in the decoration of the figures and animals. Eric being principally involved in the latter’s decoration. Incidentally the HN numbers we all know originated from the initials for Harry Nixon, just mentioned. However, Eric must have been prolific painter as his monogram is readily found on figures too from the 1930’s.

There were many high points to his long career with Doulton. Notably the painting of the first Championship Dog model ‘Lucky Star of Ware’ and later the model of the present Queen’s horse Monaveen, that was produced for her visit to the Doulton premises in Burslem, when still a princess in 1949 (see the video link already posted for actual footage of this famous visit). Eric reportedly visited the stables to take sketches in colour so as to ensure accuracy in the actual painting.

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A publicity shot of Monaveen, not available to purchase

Animal painting was clearly a forté of his and it was no surprise in ca. 1925 that he was entrusted to take charge of a newly created department responsible for animal painting.

In his later career, Eric was responsible for painting prestige pieces, which were made to order. Here he is seen collecting a cheque and gifts from his friends at Doulton, including a naturalistic fox painted by himself!

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Eric at his retirement presentation, holding the large fox model

If you look at the bases of your figures and early animals check for an ‘EW’ or ‘EAW’ and that is our man!

Puttin on the ritz (Part 2) – The Burslem Art Department

The Burslem Art Deptartment

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A view of Royal Doulton’s Nile Street preimises Buslem, England

Charles Noke continued to experiment with glazes long after the departure of Cuthbert Bailey with whom he had perfected the Flambé glaze in the early 1900’s. And so in 1920 Sung was introduced, whereby painted decoration, colour and gilt are fused with the a flambé glaze. I am sure you will agree that from this publicity photograph the pieces are magnificent. However, it is in the flesh that these pieces must be enjoyed to full effect as in this slide. Vases, large and small were decorated with exotic birds, pixies in woodlands, fish in seascapes along with many other subjects. These pieces were painted principally by Harry Nixon, Arthur Eaton and Fred Moore. Sung glazes can be found on Buddhas, as seen here in this advert from the 1920’s, a handful of suitable early figures from the HN range such as A Spook, as well as animals, in particular elephants, a favourite of Charles Noke.

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Orignial Sung advert ca. 1920

Another magnificent addition to the Burslem range in 1920 was the Chinese Jade glaze, imitating the ancient Chinese glazes of centuries before, by using a thick white glaze streaked with green. Pieces of Chinese Jade are exceptionally rare, due to the costliness of production, together with the high proportion of rejects due to the inherent difficulties in achieving this technique.

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Chinese Jade lidded bowl with ‘Despair’ HN596 as the finial (the name of this figure is only a name given when the original figure book was published in 1978 as there is no record of its actual name).

A variation of this ware exists whereby the green streaks are replaced by blue ones, and this extraordinarily rare glaze is aptly named Lapisware.

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A very rare Lapisware lamp base

A final glaze worthy of inclusion here is perhaps the most magnificent of all. Chang ware was introduced in 1925 and involved a thick body upon which multi-coloured thick glazes were allowed to run and crackle – contrary to all usual pottery rules.

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Original Chang catalogue cover

The results you can see from this slide are breathtaking. Nothing like this glaze had been sen before even in ancient times, and it was greeted by worldwide acclaim. Chang pieces are usually found with the monogram for Harry Nixon on their bases together with Noke, for either Charles or Jack Noke, who succeeded his father as art director in the late 1930’s. The addition of Noke’s name signified the quality such work achieved.

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Chang ginger jar and cover

I have already mentioned Doulton Seriesware briefly, with Dickensware as it is now known, and whilst the majority of patterns pre-date the 1920’s new patterns which reflected current tastes and interests were all the while being introduced.

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Sample of Dickensware

However older designs such as Dickensware pictured above continued to be big sellers around the world. Here below, we can see examples of the Gnomes series introduced in 1920’s.

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Gnomes catalogue page ca. 1924

This is often labelled as Doulton’s version of Wedgewood’s famous fairyland lustre ware by Daisy Makeig Jones. A number of further patters, and one which I feel is much more reflective of the mood of the 1920’s, is this pattern ‘Surfing’ introduced in 1926.

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Surfing catalogue page ca. 1924

Once again we can see the popular image of bathers which we have already met when discussing figures, and again in particular women in bathing costume, perfectly illustrates to us today the popularity of the Lido or outside pool and also the beginnings of world-travel beyond the very wealthy. Other patterns introduced during the 1920’s reflect the continued interest in sports such as hunting, seen here with ‘The Quorn Hunt’, which today claims to be one of the world’s oldest hunting packs and in the UK to be our most famous hunt, although fox hunting is now illegal.

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The Quorn Hunt catalogue page ca. 1924

Also from the 1920’s we have ‘Kensington Gardens’, which feature silhouettes in this most famous of London’s parks.

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Kensington Gardens catalogue page ca. 1924

One final seriesware pattern I would like to mention is Aldin’s Dogs, of course taken from illustrations and drawings by the popular British artist Cecil Aldin. Aldin was not just famous for his animal pictures but also his works of rural life and sport. Doulton were to introduce in the following decade a series of so-called Dogs of Character based on Aldin’s work. However, here you can see from this catalogue page how his work was effectively used as a seriesware pattern, and to explain the popularity of this pattern today, remember we British are reputedly more keen on our dogs than our countrymen!

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Aldin’s Dogs catalogue page ca. 1924

There we finish with the Burslem Art Department of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Yet, as you have seen many of what we term our most prized possessions today hail from this period.

Next we will look at the introduction of Character Jugs in the 1930’s!