LONDON - British studio ceramics in the greater context of British art over the past century is a subject close to the heart of many a Mod-Brit enthusiast. These small and delicate treasures go hand-in-hand with some of the most beloved and venerated names of the British art scene. Potters infiltrated the tightest of artists’ circles, exhibited alongside them in the most respected galleries; collected and patronised by the same industry frontrunners of the day. Yet thinking of these potters you might struggle to recall more than a handful of names that wandered into the clay, which is something that we aim to rectify with Made in Britain, to be held here at Sotheby’s in March 2014.
It was Herbert Read who stated, “Pottery is at once the simplest and the most difficult of the arts. It is the simplest because it is the most elemental; it is the most difficult because it is the most abstract.” Although perhaps geared more towards the ceramics of the East (a culture that venerates the high art form of clay above all else), this is a perspective that was particularly picked up in early 20th-century Britain, led by the father figure of the studio ceramics movement, Bernard Leach.
Leach was born in Hong Kong and grew up in the Far East, returning to study at the Slade in London at the age of sixteen. He was hooked from his earliest experiences with clay and remained a dedicated ‘maker’ until his death. Setting up Leach Pottery down in St Ives, Cornwall in 1920 with Japanese potter Shoji Hamada, he aimed to challenge the declining ideas of ‘craft’ in Britain and once more bring ceramics back to the forefront of the art world.
William Marshall’s ‘Lugged' stoneware bottle vase. £700-£1,000
Leach’s pioneering pottery introduced some of art’s leading names to the wonderfully malleable material, paving the way for the likes of Michael Cardew, William Marshall and Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie to go on to teach and inspire some of today’s most recognised contemporary potters, including Edmund de Waal (whose slim Tate St Ives biography of Leach makes for a fascinating read), Rupert Spira and Grayson Perry, to name but three.
The pottery still runs to this day, after undergoing a full restoration in 2008. Alongside the fascinating museum, which recreates Leach’s studio in all of its glaze-splattered glory, the pottery supports emerging ceramic talent through artists’ residencies, showing that Leach and his founding ideas are as important today as they were nearly a century ago.
Grayson Perry’s Essex, 1989. £5,000-£7,000.
Sotheby’s is currently accepting consignments for their Made In Britain sale on 26 March 2013. The sale will present British art from the 20th century and will celebrate British creativity across the disciplines of fine art, studio ceramics, prints, sculpture, photography and furniture. Please contact the department for further information on this sale.
Modern & Post-War British Art
Sotheby’s New Bond Street, London
26 March 2014
+44 (0)20 7293 6424