C.R. Ashbee, Modern English Silverwork, An Essay By C.R. Ashbee, Together With a Series of Designs By The Author, London, 1909, pl. 77, p. 29
The Leeds Times, Leeds, Saturday 7 July 1883, p. 5e
Alan Crawford, C. R. Ashbee: Architect, Designer, and Romantic Socialist, London, 1985, pp. 333 & 338
'Englische Gewerbe-Künstler neuesten Stiles. 1 : C.J.A. Voysey, C.R. Ashbee, M.H. Baillie Scott’, Illustrirte kunstgewerbliche Zeitschrift für Innendekoration (vol. 9, 1898), pp. 177-184.
Newbery, F.H., ‘Morris, Walter Crane, Ashbee, Voysey und die englische Abteilung in Turin 1902’, Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration (vol.11, 1902), pp. 209-240
Leeds City Art Gallery, Arts & Crafts Exhibition, Knight & Forster, November 1900, Catalogue
Following his promotion to chairman of the company in 1893, Arthur became the first mine owner to employ a profit-sharing scheme for his workers. In 1900 Briggs called for funds for the foundation of the Yorkshire College of Mining, which became part of Leeds University in 1904. Helen, who dedicated much of her time to social work, persuaded the directors of Henry Briggs, Son & Co Ltd. to allocate £3000 for the building of the institute, employing the eminent Arts and Crafts architect Charles Voysey to design this as well as housing for the officials.
This was not the first time Helen and Arthur commisisioned Voysey's avant garde designs; their holiday home, Broad Leys, overlooking Lake Windemere, was completed in 1898 and is considered one of Voysey's finest creations (Fig.2). The family stayed here most summers and often invited Beatrix Potter and her father Rupert to stay with them. After Arthur's death in 1903 Helen allowed Broad Leys to be used as an auxiliary hospital for recovering officers during the First World War.
Voysey, alongside Ashbee, William Morris, Walter Crane and Arthur Mackmurdo, was a key figure and influencer of the Arts and Crafts movement. After beginning his career designing wallpapers, fabrics and furnishings, he opened his first architectual practice in 1881. Much like Ashbee, Voysey's strength was his total disregard of contemporary styles of the period and a return to simple and honest design. The appeal of both artists work was not limited to England. In Scotland their designs inspired the likes of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Four, in Germany their names were featuring regulary in Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, and in America their work was studied by eminent architects including Frank Lloyd Wright.
Although the paths of Ashbee and Voysey seem constantly entwined there does not appear to be a hint of collaboration on the present suite of tazzas, or throughout their working careers. As well as the similarities in the mediums of their designs and their stylistic values they also both believed unflinchingly in the Guild mentality. In 1884 Voysey joined The Art Workers Guild (he would later become it's president), while in 1888 Ashbee set up The Toynbee Hall School and Guild of Handicraft. In 1895 the school closed due to financial difficulties leaving the Guild to relocate and operate independently. When these tazzas were made Ashbee's workshop was operating from Essex House, Mile End, with a team of forty or so workers. His retail space however was on the fashionable Brook Street in Mayfair, walking distance from Voysey's offices at York Place on Baker Street which he occupied in 1899.
In 1900 Ashbee and Voysey both exhibited at the Arts & Crafts Exhibition at the Leeds City Art Gallery. It is probable that it was around this time that Ashbee first encountered Arthur and Helen Briggs and they began commissioning his work. A group of five Ashbee pieces with the same provenance were sold at Toovey’s, 23 February 2011, lots 302-306, two of which were hallmarked for 1900 with the remaining three unmarked pieces thought to be of very similar date. The question as to whether these tazzas were a special commission for the family, or stock pieces from the workshop remains a difficult one. In Ashbee’s essay on his designs he describes the model as 'Epergne' form with 'a hexagonal shaft whose six sides are chased and perforated into leaf ornament and set with six enamels' (Fig.3). Alan Hardman, in his monograph of Ashbee's life, elaborates on this 'Epergne' terminology, 'In contemporary trade catalogues fruit stands were referred to as epergnes, and these pieces were meant for just such a showy, formal role; they were more luxurious and expensive than other Guild table wares...and would cost as much as thirteen guineas'. The only differences between the present tazzas and the design book example are a hexagonal base and the addition of ball feet. If these were ‘stock’ pieces it is plausible that they were seen by Briggs a couple of years later in 1903 or 1904 when Ashbee again exhibited work at Leeds City Art Gallery Arts and Crafts Exhibition, coinciding with Arthur’s tenure as mayor of the city.
Objects of this scale bearing Ashbee's mark are extremely rare, with the appearance of even a single enamelled tazza very uncommon. A later example, maker's mark GofH Ltd., London, 1904, was sold Reeman Dansie, 12 February 2013, while another example, of the same date was stolen as part of the raid on the Court Barn Museum in Chipping Campden, November 2011. A third tazza, marked for 1905, is in the collection of John Jesse. The present four tazzas are therefore the only known set in existance.
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