A crimson elephant at a recent exhibition turns out to be by a relatively unknown British potter, many of whose works were destroyed in a fire at a house in Brussels in 1910.
The English county of Staffordshire includes the Potteries, a generic term for an industrial area encompassing the six towns that today make up Stoke-on-Trent. The Potteries became a centre of ceramic production in the 17th century due to the local availability of clay, salt, lead and coal. Hundreds of companies there produced decorative or industrial ceramic items, greatly aided by railway distribution of their products in the second half of the 19th century. The novels of the English writer Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) include the Clayhanger trilogy and The Old Wives’ Tale, which draw on the author’s experience of life in the Potteries.
Arnold Bennett may well have known Bernard Moore (1850-1935), the son of a successful Staffordshire potter in whose factory Bernard (portrait left) and his brother designed household china and ornamental pottery. In 1905, the firm was sold and Bernard Moore set up his own pottery works, which lasted until 1915.
Fascinated with pottery from the Near East and Far East, and in particular with the Ming Dynasty of China, Bernard Moore spent considerable time experimenting with glazes. He began producing technically remarkable pieces with flambé, sang de boeuf, crystalline, and aventurine glazes as well as fine lustres on a stoneware body.
Based on mineral (usually iron or copper) oxides, flambé glazes (or transmutation glazes) are fired at high temperatures (up to 1500ºC) in a kiln atmosphere that is rich in carbon monoxide, owing to the shutting off of oxygen at a critical moment. This results in a violent reaction within the glaze, which is transmuted into an unpredictable range of reds, purples, blues, lilacs and greens. The glaze was perfected by the Chinese in the 18th century and first copied successfully in Europe in the late 19th century.
A note towards the end of Staffordshire Pots & Potters (1906) has this to say:
“In the Potteries to-day is one potter who has done something to redeem Staffordshire from the charge of indifference and decadence – Bernard Moore a potter in the truest sense of the word. He is master of all the resources of the potter’s craft, and his work alone shows Staffordshire still capable of coping with the potters of France. It is technically triumphant, and it is quite delightful (though in a sense disappointing) to find in his show-room a case of pottery – perfect in colour and artistic feeling – which he will not sell, but prefers to retain for mere pride in its accomplishment. Although Mr. Moore, in some of his pieces, has introduced decoration which somewhat detracts from their inherent beauty (in obedience to certain phases of popular taste), there is nothing banal, and nothing out of place. But his finer pieces – mostly made for museums and public collections – are fit to rank with those of the Orientals.”