Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Black Prince Road, London
Backward glance (6): Miss Barlow and Doulton's women
Another backward glance, this time at the work of Doulton's ceramics factory in Lambeth, London.
In Victorian England, Doulton pottery was everywhere. Doulton of Lambeth made drainpipes, sanitary ware, fireplaces, and all kinds of other practical wares. They also developed an enormous range of art pottery, employing men and women who trained at the nearby Lambeth School of Art to decorate jugs, vases, plates, and everything else you could make out of clay. Doulton artists and craftworkers also produced architectural ceramics, cladding and decorating the walls of factories, offices, hotels, and hospitals. The whole enterprise was a typically Victorian marriage of art and industry.
Only part of their Lambeth headquarters remains, and the highlight of the building is this tympanum celebrating the artistic side of the Doulton ethos. While Henry Doulton (the seated figure towards the right) explains what goes on in the studios, two of his top artists are on hand to show what they do. On the left, seated and working on a pot, is Hannah Barlow, who specialized in incised line drawings of animals. Her pet cat is just visible under her chair; she had a pet fox, too, but he didn’t live at work. The bearded figure in the centre, holding a large urn, is George Tinworth, the virtuoso sculptor in clay who created this panel. His long and successful career for Doulton, producing figures, reliefs (often of Biblical subjects), decorated pots, and more, makes him famous among collectors. Tinworth Street, honouring his memory, is a couple of blocks away.
The Lambeth works closed in 1956, but there is still a lot of Doulton ware around on English buildings from the mid-Victorian period to the 1930s. Their terracotta panels often show Victorian decorative art at its best, their tiles sometimes give expression to the swirling rhythms of the Art Nouveau – and their brewery plaques occasionally still point the way towards a good pint. Here’s to art and industry.
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Hannah Barlow (1851–1916) was Doulton's first female employee. She came to Doulton's in 1871 after her time at art school because her family had fallen on bad times financially and she needed to support herself. Among the jobs open to a young middle-class woman with artistic talent, one in the Lambeth studios of Doulton fitted the bill. Barlow was a trailblazer. She was soon joined by two of her sisters, Florence and Lucy (although I think Lucy did not stay long) – together with many other young women, some of whom stayed for many years, some of whom left the factory to get married. Several of Doulton's "star" decorators were women, and collectors still prize the work of Eliza Simmance, Edith Lupton, the Barlow sisters, and many others. Florence specialized in beautifully detailed colour images of birds, Hannah's forte was her incised line drawings. When John Ruskin visited the factory, he was enthusiastic about Hannah's work, and came away with a piece decorated with one of her illustrations of pigs. Doulton's were obviously proud of her work, and she earned her place on this relief panel above the entrance to their building.