This section is from the book "Hints On Household Taste In Furniture, Upholstery And Other Details", by Charles L. Eastlake. Also available from Amazon: Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and Other Details.
The manufacture of modern pottery in England includes no better example of good design applied to cheap and useful objects than the red 'delf' ware, originally produced, I believe, by Wedgwood, but now adopted by most of the leading firms for a variety of articles to which this material is especially suited. It is to be had in all shades of colour, from a pale ochreous hue to a deep Indian red. Almost all these tints are very beautiful in themselves, but their effect is sometimes marred by the use of enamelled colour applied in too violent a contrast. The unglazed ware is used for water-bottles, butter-coolers, etc, its porous nature being admirably adapted to such purposes. It is, however, much to be regretted that after a period of about twelve months these vessels begin to fail in their object. The water exudes only from their lower surface, and they seem to be no longer porous elsewhere. I have tried to ascertain the cause of this, and am told that the clay, from constant exposure to the air and touch, becomes hardened or clogged with dust. It is said that placing them in a hot oven, and washing them with fine sand, will restore their porous quality; but I am inclined to think that the imperfection is gradually produced by the water itself, which probably leaves a deposit of lime in passing through to the surface. They are, however, sufficiently cheap to be replaced from time to time in most households, and are certainly very elegant and picturesque specimens of industrial art. The most ordinary form of delf water-bottle is bulbous at its lower end, with a narrow neck, the upper part of which, being most exposed to the touch, is very properly glazed. Both the neck and the body of the jug are frequently decorated with enamelled colour arranged in geometrical patterns of a Greek or mediaeval character. Some of the water-bottles take the form of small antique vases, and these are, for the most part, made of plain clay. Very beautiful examples of this class, in 'orange porous' delf, may now be bought for a few shillings apiece. The same material is frequently used for tea-pots, hot-water jugs, etc, the ware, either red or stone colour, being in these cases covered internally with a glaze. The tea-service illustrated on the last page, and manufactured by Messrs. Copeland, of Bond Street, is a fair example of this class. A few years ago some mustard-pots and salt-cellars of excellent design were produced in this material. They were generally decorated with bands of enamelled colour, and silver mounted. Infinitely more tasteful than the ordinary class of articles which deck the dinner-table, they were offered for sale at a price within reach of the most economical household (I believe about 5s. 6d. the pair). In spite of these recommendations they met with very few purchasers, and though still kept in stock at certain shops, they are rarely asked for. In this and a hundred other instances, it is the public taste which is at fault, and manufacturers can hardly be blamed for discontinuing to bring out works of sound art which are caviare to the multitude. Even when a good design does by any chance get into vogue, it is only in demand for a limited time, and makes way for the last novelty which has tickled the fancy of a fashionable few. Not long ago there was a run upon toilet services of white stone ware, decorated with a simple monochrome border - viz., either the guilloche (wave) pattern, or some variation of the Greek fret (familiarly known as the 'key'). Now either of these patterns is excellent of its kind, and well adapted to the purpose. But they are being gradually displaced by a new conceit. Some designer, with more ingenuity than good taste, hit upon the notion that pink and mauve ribbons, twisted backwards and forwards in a series of symmetrical loops, would form a fitting ornament for the neck of an ewer and the edge of a washing basin. The notion was an absurd one, but it has become popular, and the probability is that not one housewife out of ten cares to consider what possible connection there can be between cap-ribbons and a bed-room jug. * Indeed, there is no branch of art-manufacture exposed to greater dangers, in point of taste, than that of ceramic design. Nor is it by any means easy to lay down specific rules for the guidance of even a general taste which is inexperienced in this department of art. The tendency of the uneducated eye is, in most cases, to admire the smart and showy but effeminate hues of the day rather than the subtle and refined combinations of colour which distinguish ancient pottery and porcelain. Extravagance of form is preferred to a sober grace of contour, and neatness of execution to the spirit of artistic design. The 'pretty,' in short, is too frequently held in higher estimation than the beautiful, and nothing but experience, based on a frequent inspection of good examples, with a general knowledge of, and reverence for, the principles of sound art, will teach people to value the importance of this distinction.
* The forms of swans and bulrushes, sea-weed and ivy, have lately been pressed into this special service, whether by the caprice of the manufacturer or the bad taste of the public, I will not venture to say. In either case the result is melancholy to contemplate.
To a reasoning mind, however, which recognises the necessity of discriminating between pictorial and decorative art, it will be obvious that if their respective conditions are ever to be maintained inviolate, they must be so in this particular field. The representation of perspective, of aerial effect, and of chiaroscuro would be impossible on surfaces which, independently of the consideration of texture, are liable to every variety of contour. The Greeks understood this principle so well that they contented themselves, as we find on all antique vessels, with representing the human figure and other objects on one flat colour, red (and sometimes white) on a black ground, or vice versa. The folds of drapery, the action of limbs, etc, were expressed by lines. There was no shading, no pictorial effect. The design was simply decorative, and depended for its beauty on exquisite drawing, correct symmetry of general form, and refinement of execution. The principles of design in Greek pottery have been from time to time revived and applied to modern manufacture with more or less success, but the great expense attending the reproduction of antique designs has hitherto formed the chief obstacle to such revivals. Messrs. Copeland have, however, lately endeavoured to overcome this difficulty; and it is satisfactory to know that at their establishment many articles of household use, as, for instance, bed-room jugs and basins, toilet-ware, etc, can now be procured in this class of ware at a cost which does not exceed the average price for such articles - at least when they are the best of their kind.
Greek Toilet Ware, manufactured by Messrs. Copeland.