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Sotheby's Made in Britain to showcase 'A Century of Ceramics'
Michael Cardew, Large 'River Pattern' Charger, circa the mid-to-late-1930s. Est. £1,500-2,500. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

LONDON.- The father of British studio ceramics, Bernard Leach, identified pottery as having “ its own language and inherent laws ” . September’s edition of the bi-annual ‘Made in Britain’ auction explores a century of ceramics, presenting a plethora of delicate treasures that go hand-in-hand with some of the most beloved and venerated names of the British art scene.

The curated selection charts the journey of ceramics in Britain, displaying them within the broader context of the arts of the time. The story begins with characterful early works by the Martin Brothers – whose ‘Wally Birds’ delighted and amused in the 19th century – on to exquisite and unseen works by some of the century’s most important figures including Dame Lucie Rie and Hans Cooper – and culminating in the work of the post-war and contemporary ceramicists who continue to push the boundaries of clay to their very limits. Viewed together, the engaging and poetic pieces illustrate an art form that encompasses sculpture, painting, chemistry and geology.

“A direct and intimate art form, ceramics are made to be handled and engaged with. This sale is the perfect opportunity to encounter exquisite pieces that can be lived with and cherished for generations, whilst exploring the enormously rich history that inspired their creation.” - Robin Cawdron-Stewart, Head of Sale

Whilst the Arts & Crafts Movement championed the likes of William Morris and William de Morgan, four brothers founded their own pottery in 1873 – creating a flock of creatures that excited and amazed Victorian society. Pioneering craftsmen, the sculptural ceramics they produced paved the way for the development of studio pottery in Britain, in which the maker was involved in all aspects of production.

Eccentric and idiosyncratic THE MARTIN BROTHERS were famed for their experimentation as part of a revival of the medieval and grotesque. The earliest works in the sale, these anthropomorphic Grotesque Bird Jars and Covers (est. £6,000-8,000 and £12,000-18,000) were the ‘must have’ object of Victorian London Society. Named as such after the eldest brother Robert Wallace Martin, these distinctive pieces were objects of humour, beauty and utility. Glazed in the subdued palette of browns, greens, greys and blues so distinctive of Martinware, they mark the transition between decorative Victorian ceramics and twentieth century studio pottery.

Born and brought up in a wealthy family in the Far East, BERNARD LEACH returned to England in the early twentieth century, where he attended the prestigious Slade School of Art under the tutelage of the formidable Professor Henry Tonks. Throwing himself headlong into the art scene, it was a party he attended with his friend, the potter Tomimoto Kenkichi, that was to alter the course of his life forever. Leach later wrote in awe of the events that unfolded, as he was presented with a vessel to decorate, which was then fired. This first experience of Raku pottery enthralled him, becoming a threedimensional realisation of everything that he had worked towards in his etchings. His unique style nods to traditional Japanese, Chinese and Korean slipware.

Leach embarked on a ferocious study course of ceramics in the Eastern tradition, which he brought back to England in 1920, building a kiln with the assistance of the Japanese potter Shoji Hamada and establishing a studio in St Ives that was to train the next generation of craftsmen. Mastering both form and decoration, he produced elegant thrown vessels in stoneware and porcelain that were then decorated and fired. The pottery still runs to this day, after undergoing a full restoration in 2008.

MICHAEL CARDEW was the first apprentice to Leach at the St Ives Pottery, before leaving to set up his own pottery at Winchcombe in Gloucestershire in 1926. He was drawn to what he called "warm" pots, and his work has a range of subtle earthy colours – from sooty to soft golden, decorated with slipware trails and very simple stylised ducks, fish and leaves. Cardew continued the English tradition of slip decoration, seen in Large ‘River Patte rn’ Charger (est. £1,500-2,500), formerly from the collection of Dartington Hall.

One of Britain’s most eminent potters, DAME LUCIE RIE is credited for having elevated the position of ceramics to that of fine arts. Her lasting legacy is witnessed in a series of magnificent pieces that were founded on function but carried strong sculptural qualities.

Born in Vienna in 1902, Rie’s celebrated career was forged out of a splintered life of displacement – escaping growing Nazi pressures to become part of a small group of European émigré artists that redefined British culture. She arrived in London in October 1938, desperate to continue working, and it was not long before she set up her pottery studio at Albion Mews in North London, which was to remain her home until her death in 1995. Rie brought with her a fresh mid-European modernity – reflecting the notion that ceramics encapsulate a diversity of cultural influences from the East to Europe.

The selection is led by a monumental and majestic Knitted Bowl , circa 1980 (est. £15,000-25,000) which is accompanied by a purchase receipt from 1981.

A striking and stylish Yellow Footed Bowl (est. £8,000-12,000) comes from the collection of the late Emmanuel Cooper. Cooper, himself a talented potter and the editor of Ceramic Review magazine, became Rie’s biographer.

A further highlight is a brilliant Emerald Green Footed Bowl (est. £12,000-18,000), once again demonstrating captivatingly rich colours, and her characteristic bronzed rim.

The sale also includes works by HANS COPER who worked with Rie as her studio assistant after arriving in Britain from Germany. Like Rie, Coper’s ceramics are celebrated in museums and galleries across the world.

Restored 'Thistle' Form, circa 1970 (est. £3,000- 5,000) displayed alongside T hree Bowls made by Rie in 1949 (est. £4,000- 6,000).

EWEN HENDERSON was one of the most original and pioneering potters of the Post-War period, focusing on textures and colours that were inspired by his love of the natural world and insights as a painter. Henderson moved clay into a new expressiveness – calling it ‘fluxed earth’ and stretching it into complex hand-built forms. Having studied in Camberwell College of Art under Hans Coper, Lucie Rie and Colin Pearson, he later had a distinguished teaching career and is represented in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Museum of Modern art in Tokyo, Australian National Gallery, Canberra and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Together with his wife Kay, the ceramicist spent many years building up a sculpture garden at their house in North London.

Untitled (est. £3,000-5,000), an impressive sculptural piece, is one of the most important examples of Henderson’s work ever to appear at auction. Using a technique involving an irregular patchwork of different types of clay, Henderson creates an almost Cubist ‘collage in space’ – a multiplicity of textures, edges and space infused with a highly-charged energy.

JAMES TOWER is widely regarded as one of the most distinctive figures in post-war British ceramics. His works stand out for their dramatic and playful visual effects, along with the lyrical and subtle integration of references to nature and the cosmos into an essentially abstract language of form and surface decoration.

Teaching at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham brought Tower into contact with some of the pioneering painters of post-war abstraction, including William Scott, Peter Lanyon and Howard Hodgkin, and as a potter he showed his work alongside Bernard Leach and Lucie Rie, contributing to a re-definition of modern craft.

Large Bowl, 1980 (est. £2,000-3,000) encapsulates the painterly surfaces of the artist’s sculptural shapes.

Welsh studio potter ELIZABETH FRITSCH’s hand built painted pots are often influenced by music, painting, literature and architecture. Fritsch studied harp and then piano at the Royal Academy of Music, but later took up ceramics under Hans Coper and Eduardo Paolozzi at the Royal College of Art from the late 1960s. Her distinctive flattened, almost two dimensional, stoneware works are coil built and carefully smoothed with rhythmic geometric patterns hand painted in slips dancing like musical notation across the front surfaces.

Blue and White and Black Cubist Pot (est. 2,500-3,500) and Untitled (£3,000-5,000) will be offered in the auction.

Recognised on both sides of the Atlantic as one of the leading living potters JOHN WARD’s stylish contemporary pieces pay homage to the idea of the ‘vessel’. He believes in “form above all, but expressed through light and colour” , and his simple geometric designs serve to enhance this. Working from his studio in rural Wales near the sea, the subtlety and tactile nature of his works conveys a beautiful lightness. Ward will be represented in the sale with this Vase (est. £700-1,000).

An innovative contemporary potter, NICHOLAS HOMOKY discovered black inlaid drawing on porcelain in the late 1970s – using the bold black patterning as a way of uniting linear drawing with clay. Centered on the vessel – which is seen primarily as a visual object – clarity of line and form are his chief concerns, resulting in precise and highly finished works.

Deconstruction is also a key element and in this striking S mall Bowl (est. £300-500) the representation of a teapot plays with our assumptions about a familiar, everyday object, questioning its function.

An artist that needs no introduction, GRAYSON PERRY is celebrated not only as one of Britain’s most lauded living artists but also as one of its greatest and most challenging minds. At the heart of his output stands the key theme of ceramics, the medium that rocketed him into the limelight.

Appearing for the first time at auction Men Have Lost Their Spirits , circa 1988 (est. £20,000-30,000) is a hand-built, sculptural work in the form of a classic vase that was made as a showpiece. Acquired directly from the artist in the 1980s, it has been unseen for almost thirty years.

With a trajectory that began in the Chinese town of Jingdezhen over a thousand years ago, porcelain is a material that has obsessed potter and author EDMUND DE WAAL for decades. De Waal decided at the age of five that he would be a potter, having seen a particular white Chinese pot.

His own meditative works are very still and self-contained pieces in ghostly colours, described by himself as joining the Chinese Song dynasty with the simplicities of Bauhaus. De Waal is represented in this sale with Group of Vesssels 1964 (est. £4,000-6,000) in a range of white glazes and Tall Jar (est. £4,000-6,000) and Jar (est. £4,000-6,000) in the pale celadon green of Korean dishes.

EDWARD BURRA was a first-hand witness to the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and observed European society decay irreparably under the strain of the Second World War, and so his art altered to reflect the new reality. Excavation (est. £40,000-60,000), as a landscape, is unusual for Burra’s output of the time – striking in its sparse architectural composition. Comprising a landscape of ruins, populated by a cast of unknown vagrants and passers-by, part fantasy, party reality, this depiction of war ravaged London is rooted deep in artistic tradition. Defined by menace and foreboding, the captivating work embodies a widespread postwar mood that subtly radiates exhaustion – where even the sky appears drained and without vigour.

Having worked as a fisherman for most of his life, ALFRED WALLIS began painting after the death of his wife to combat the loneliness. He used whatever materials were to hand, and his palette was limited to the paint he could get from ship’s chandlers. In 1928, Wallis was discovered by Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood when they came to St Ives – propelling him to the circle of some of the most progressive artists working in Britain at the time. His immediacy and directness in painting influenced a generation of painters. Viaduct and Flag , 1935-8 (est. £25,000-35,000) captures Wallis’ naïve style.

Throughout her life, DAME ELISABETH FRINK's deep knowledge and affection for animals and nature played an important role in her artistic production. Standing Buffalo , 1988 (est. £30,000-50,000) demonstrates the leading sculptor’s gift for capturing the spirit of an animal in her own inimitable style.

One of Britain’s best-loved painters MARY FEDDEN was generous and open-hearted, a quality reflected in her art. She composed her endearing work of familiar objects boldly and clearly delineated with her brush. Her love of the beach and birdwatching in Suffolk is evident in Fred’s Last (Aldeburgh Beach) , 2000 (est. £15,000-25,000). The piece depicts Aldeburgh, a coastal town that remains an artistic and literary haven – hosting a yearly Festival of Music and the Arts.

Giant Panda (est. £500-800) is the original artwork for a 1939 London Transport Poster, created by husband and wife illustrators ROSEMARY & CLIFFORD ELLIS.

The auction presents pieces from an important private collection featuring works by Britain’s most pioneering designers: Zaha Hadid, Barber & Osgerby and Amanda Levete. Each work was produced by Established & Sons, a revolutionary firm that has nurtured young British designers to develop and realise some of the most technically innovative design pieces to date.

The late DAME ZAHA HADID collaborated with Established & Sons to create a truly striking selection of work, including a group of ‘Nekton’ stools, from the ‘Principal’ Collection , 2007 (est. £4,000-6,000). The interlocking set of four stools combines Hadid’s sculptural sensibility with the powerful dynamism and energy so characteristic of her work.

RICHARD HAMILTON is widely regarded as a founding figure of pop art and iconic works such as Release (est. £30,000-50,000) demonstrate Hamilton’s interest in popular culture and how he addressed wider political subjects and issues. The work depicts Mick Jagger and the art dealer Robert Fraser handcuffed to each other and shying away from the paparazzi during their chaotic ride to court in a prison van in 1967. The work is a masterful example of contemporary printmaking techniques, the intricate craft of which can be glimpsed in the four working proofs also offered in the sale.

Legendary music photographer GERED MANKOWITZ created the enduring and defining image of the rock star as we know it today. From the Stones to Jimi Hendrix, the way we see rock history has been profoundly influenced by his iconic images that resonate not only as documentation of the 20th-century’s great musicians and historical performances, but stand out as of art themselves. He documents a remarkable period in contemporary culture when musicians were seen as gods among men. Pictured above is a photograph of Hendrix from Platinum Icons (est. £12,000-18,000) and Keith Richards, Wasted, 1966 (est. £2,000-3,000).

TERRY O’NEILL chronicled the emerging faces of film, fashion and music and would go on to define the Swinging Sixties. This sale explores the six decades he spent photographing the frontline of fame, with stars ranging from Marianne Faithfull and Frank Sinatra to Elton John and Amy Winehouse. Illustrated here is Sean Connery, Bond on the Moon, 1971 (est. £1,800-2,300).

GRAYSON PERRY’s Britain is Best , 2014 (est. £40,000-60,000) is a glitzy and psychedelic embroidery that brings together his earnest exploration of identity and his outlandish brand of satire. As a chronicler of contemporary life, his own words best sum up this depiction of Belfast loyalists:

'These are five loyali sts from East Belfast. Four of them participated in a march I witnessed commemorating the centenary of the founding of the Ulster Volunteer Force and I was fascinated by how exotic it felt. Ironically, being fervently patriotic is not a particularly Britis h trait. Their portrait is in the form of an embroidered banner that might be carried aloft on a march. I deliberately chose a very colourful and jolly style as the murals that are everywhere in East Belfast veer heavily towards the dour and aggressive. ’

Pitchfork on Green; Pitchfork on Pink (est. £12,000-18,000) by MICHAEL CRAIG-MARTIN – star of this year’s annual Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts - exemplifies the artist’s playful and transformative take on everyday objects. Painted in a palette of vibrant hues and accentuated by separation with a black line used to outline the objects, his deceptively simple graphic style questions the nature of art and representation and reveals his growing fascination with, and mastery of, colour. Known as the Godfather of Britart, CraigMartin’s former students include many of those artists who made such a significant impact on the art scene in the 1990s such as Damien Hirst, Gary Hume and Sarah Lucas.

The sale also offers a number of fantastically colourful prints starting at lower price points by celebrated British artists, including HOWARD HODGKIN, DAVID HOCKNEY and BRIDGET RILEY.

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