Collection

Garden plate

Collection: When modernism goes bad

Category: Ceramics

Date: Circa 1960

Designer: Eric Ravilious

Nationality of Designer: British

Manufacturer: Wedgwood

Manufacturers Location: Burslem, Stoke-on-trent, Staffordshire (UK)

Material: Earthenware

Dimensions: Diameter 20cm

Purchase Price: £67

Abstract:

Decorative plate

Provenance:

Signed to base
Purchased from eBay

Personal history/nominator:

"I have to admit to loving these things, seduced by the technique and quiet beauty of the ruralist’s vision, the middle class wet dream of a gentle Calvinist work ethic, classical references and subtle modernist aesthetics. I have, in recent years, turned against them. It's probably the recent bright reproductions which have destroyed the fragile cultural position they once held." Adam Sutherland

Adaptions/renovations:

None

Why it's in the Collection:

Eric Ravilious is part of the rural fantasy that runs through the English psyche, having been taught by Paul Nash and actually lived with Eric Gill in his ruralist commune in Ditchling. Ravilious presumably followed Gill’s motto ‘Men rich in virtue studying beautifulness living in peace in their houses’ which is arguably lessened by the fact that Gill had sex with everyone in the house, from daughters and their husbands to the family dog.

At all levels, the English relationship to the idea of the rural remains problematic - fetishised by the Arts and Crafts movement and the rather queasy but still active Ruralists. The latter, led by Peter Blake, were a kind of 1970’s Stuckist / halfwit's movement against thinking or philosophising, citing cricket and Elgar as their core influences and positing the rural as a place for the willfully dumb.

About the Designer/Maker:

Eric Ravilious (1903 – 1942) studied under Paul Nash and was a close friend of Edward Bawden. Ravilious seems to represent a quintessential English rural ideal. His style draws from modernism with the clean line and Gill-like stylisation, but focuses on the world of yesteryear with his interests in folk culture and the rural. Ravilious died aged 39 courtesy of the Royal Air Force – he was the only war artist lost in action, so perhaps it is distasteful to be nasty about him.

Towards the end of his life he purchased a house in Castle Hedingham - the home (in the 1890’s) of Edward Bingham’s faux medieval Castle Hedingham pottery also represented in the Collection.

About the Manufacturer:

Born out of the era of Enlightenment, Wedgwood was founded by Josiah Wedgwood in 1759 in Burslem, Staffordshire (UK) and is still in production today. Josiah was a member of the Lunar Society, an Abolitionist and often referred to as the first tycoon.

The company specialised in elegant minimalist design and a scientific approach to materials, proving to be influential on the arts and crafts movement with its form and function aesthetics and cast in the same mould as the Georgian furniture that so influenced the proto modernists (Morris, Dresser and later Gordon Russell).

In the 18th century the Wedgwood factory employed artists to create the decorative elements of their designs, most notably John Flaxman and in the 20th century Ravilious, Paolozzi amongst others.

The great success and ultimately disaster for Wedgwood was the ubiquitous Jasperware. Originally developed as a copy of the Portland Vase, a cameo vase originally thought to be of Greek origin but later exposed as a Roman copy. Jasperware continues to be the staple of Wedgwood and a major cultural influence on the British public, spawning not only Neo-classicism but arguably our more contemporary obsession with all things historic. The longevity of this design has helped maintained its pernicious influence through the development of design and culture. The ubiquitous rural kit home owes much to the Roman villa via a Neo-classical styling.

It is an interesting footnote that the original Portland vase was smashed with a hammer brought into the British Museum by the man that had for 25 years guarded the vase in its own room. “I like to think the guard finally realised the evil this hideous object had wrought on Britain and destroyed it. A more likely explanation is that he realised his life had been wasted guarding a vase whose cultural significance had slid from being one of the seven wonders of the art world to being an also ran in the 2.45 at Haydock. The vase has been painstakingly reconstructed and can still be found in the British Museum in a mixed cabinet of Roman glass, a bit like a Grand Dame ending up in an old people’s home” Adam Sutherland.

Charles Darwin, the grandson of Josiah’s business partner and Josiah’s daughter, was funded through Wedgwood in order to dedicate his life to science. Pottery spawned the theory of evolution, how fitting.

During the 1930’s, when many English potteries were forced to close down due to unfavourable conditions, Wedgwood’s success continued and in order to increase efficiency, the fifth Josiah Wedgwood decided to build a new factory. A country estate near the village of Barlaston was purchased and a new, modern factory was built, designed by architect and pottery designer Keith Murray.

Bibliography & Further information

Eric Ravilious
A visually-lacking website, but useful for research with an intriguing Missing Watercolours hunt!

Eric Ravilious
Information about Ravilious and his contemporaries.

Ruralists

Eric Gill and Ditchling Museum

Wedgwood