Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3508

Minton Secessionist Shape 3508 is one of the more beautiful Secessionist shapes, a tall vase with unusually elegant handles. Unusual handles are very characteristic of the Secessionist range, but many are also vulnerable to damage and  a collector should inspect for restoration. This shape is usually decorated in an art nouveau floral pattern possibly representing petunias and is often in the green and ochre colourway illustrated.

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3508

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3508

A more unusual pattern is the stylised tulip pattern in blue which suits the shape of the vase extremely well.

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3508 in Blue

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3508 in Blue

There is a watercolour drawing from the Minton archive which shows Shape 3508 in two more designs, but I have never seen them ‘in the flesh’.

Designs from minton archives Shape 3508

Beautiful Boxes

One of the most beautiful and charming aspects of Minton Secessionist wares are the boxes with lids. The 1902 catalogue has illustrations of trinket sets which comprised of a tray, three boxes with lids and a pin tray. A larger box was sold independently shape number 3571.

Trinket set from 1902 Minton Secessionist catalogue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am illustrating three boxes from a trinket set in different patterns

Minton Secessionist box and cover from a trinket set

Minton Secessionist Box and Cover from a Trinket set

Minton Secessionist Box and Cover from a Trinket set

Mintons also sold some boxes and covers separately from the trinket set, one of which I am illustrating. It is shape 3571 and is 7 inches in length. It was sold in two patterns number 58 and 59, this one is marked No 58

Minton Secessionist Box and Cover Shape 3571 Pattern 58

Minton Secessionist Box from 1902 Catalogue

 

 

 

 

Mintons Secessionist Ware : a Triumph of English Art Nouveau (by Simon Wilson)

This article has its origins in a paper I read at the annual conference of the Association of Art Historians (AAH) in 1992. The rather fancy title I then gave it was The Subversive Plate: Mintons Secessionist Ware, Art Nouveau Art Pottery for a Mass Market or The Democratic Dish. You may think this sounds not just fancy, but a downright candidate for Pseud’s Corner. However, it was a serious attempt to signal some of the important social and aesthetic issues surrounding Art Nouveau, and that are particularly focused in Mintons’s contribution to it in the form of Secessionist ware.

There are also intriguing issues around its authorship: its first catalogue attributes the design to two men jointly. Even its very name offers food for thought. Beyond all that, I would argue that Mintons Secessionist ware made a dazzling, highly original and totally hard-core contribution to international Art Nouveau – hence my title here. By hard-core, by the way, I mean that the best Secessionist wares are defining examples of the Art Nouveau style. For the collector all of the above adds layers of complexity and interest to a range of pottery whose intrinsic visual qualities are themselves of compelling force. Last, but not least, Secessionist ware has a special place in the history of Mintons, since it is very likely that its success (it sold widely at home and abroad) saved the company from bankruptcy in the early twentieth century.

At this point I must acknowledge the principal sources of the factual information given here. In 1985 Grant Muter’s ground-breaking article ‘Leon Solon and John Wadsworth: Joint Designers of Minton’s (sic) Secessionist Ware’ appeared in the Journal of the Decorative Arts Society No.9. In 1990 the Antique Collectors Club published the invaluable Dictionary of Minton by Paul Atterbury and Maureen Batkin, followed in 1993 by Joan Jones’s magnificent history, Minton: The First Two Hundred Years. These are the twin bibles of the Minton collector. Note that from1873 the name Minton was changed to Mintons ( without apostrophe), and since we are dealing with that period, I have generally used that form. In 1992, Phillips auction rooms, Bond Street, London, saw the sale of a quantity of ceramics, designs and paintings from the estates of John Wadsworth and his son Philip. The catalogue remains a useful source. I would also like to acknowledge here Alan and Judy Bell of Pear Tree Decorative Arts, for long the leading dealers in Secessionist ware. Their knowledge of it is second to none and all collectors owe them gratitude for their tireless scouring of the country for examples.

As you will have gathered, Mintons Secessionist ware was a range of pottery in the Art Nouveau style, stated to be jointly designed by Léon Solon and John Wadsworth. It was produced by Mintons of Stoke on Trent, one of the leading English ceramics manufacturers, founded in 1793. It is characterised by bold Art Nouveau designs of highly stylised, often powerfully organic plant forms, applied as either moulded or slip-trailed raised outlines. These are filled by transparent lead (majolica) glazes in a palette of sludgy greens, yellows and reds, and soft blues. From the beginning too appears a strong purple and blue combination which always seems to me to have a particularly intense Art Nouveau character. Secessionist ware was produced by Mintons from approximately 1901 up to, according to Joan Jones, at least 1920. She states that ‘Sales of Secessionist wares remained high until Wadsworth left in 1915. The last catalogue was printed in 1919 with amendments written in by hand in 1920’. This is evidence of its great success.

The precise origins of Secessionist ware are slightly shrouded in mystery. Equally puzzling is the question of the respective contributions made to this highly distinctive work by its two named designers. These issues come together in the first catalogue of Secessionist ware whose cover (fig 2)  gives the name of the range and states the joint authorship of Solon and Wadsworth. The catalogue is important in establishing the identity of Secessionist ware since the mark which actually includes the range name is excessively rare and appears to have been put on only a few early pieces. Fig 3 shows how it appears on most pieces, while fig 4 is another relatively rare early Secessionist mark. The catalogue, which was illustrated with black and white photographs, is reproduced in its entirety in the Dictionary. It is not dated, but all the authorities give its date as 1902. There is circumstantial evidence that it would have been late in 1902. Production must have begun the previous year since, for example, the toilet jug illustrated here (fig 5) has the full mark (Fig 3) and a clear date stamp for 1901.

Looking through the catalogue, it is striking how remarkably homogeneous in style the range is and largely remained – Secessionist ware is always instantly recognisable. I have always felt therefore that surely one or other of the two named designers must in reality have been principally responsible. This question is particularly addressed by Muter, as the title of his article indicates. He concludes that ‘Solon designed most of … the first catalogue, but the tableware and possibly some of the embossed wares were designed by Wadsworth’. Without going into the whole argument in detail, my own view is more or less the opposite, that Wadsworth was probably responsible for the whole lot, although jumping off from the previous work of Solon.

Léon Solon (1872-1957) was to the manor born. His father was the famous Mintons designer Louis Marc Solon and after training in London, Léon, in 1895, aged twenty-three or so, returned to Stoke on Trent to a job at Mintons. At this time the firm was in dire financial straits. In 1898 it was advised by its auditors to call in the receivers, but refused. In September 1901 it was actually put up for sale, but found no takers and soldiered on. Jones says ‘Despite or perhaps because of the financial position the decision was made to participate in the new art movement [ie Art Nouveau]. The designer chosen to implement this was Léon Solon’. This would probably have been in 1898. Art Nouveau was then moving towards its height as an intensely fashionable international style in architecture and design, so the decision did indeed make sense. By that time Solon was the master of an Art Nouveau style that reveals, as Jones points out, the influence of the poster art of Alphonse Mucha, and the absolute signature of this style was, and evidently continued to be, the languid Art Nouveau maiden.

In the late 1890s Solon seems to have designed Art Nouveau wares that were given a number of names including Anglosia, Argentea, and Klyso. Exactly what was put into production and what may be identified as belonging to these ranges is not entirely clear. Jones illustrates two plates dated 1898 and ‘thought to be’ from the Argentea range and by Solon. Their stylised plant designs certainly foreshadow Secessionist ware, but are much more conventional. At some point around 1900 Solon seems to have decided to pull all these initiatives together and create a single Art Nouveau range. He also seems to have decided he needed an assistant. Muter writes, ‘he could probably have completed all the work on the range himself had he not been, according to family gossip, something of a dilettante. He enjoyed frequent trips to London and would often be absent from the Mintons factory in Stoke on Trent’.

In 1901, according to Jones and the Dictionary, or in 1900 according to Muter, Solon recruited John Wadsworth to assist in the creation of the new range. Wadsworth (1879-1955) first trained as a silk designer in Macclesfield and Stockport then, in 1898, won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London. Assuming Solon’s ‘dilettante’ character, it seems to me that having found this clearly already brilliant young designer, he may well simply have handed the whole thing over to him, being careful, of course, still to take a credit on the catalogue. A key piece of evidence, a Rosetta Stone as it were, is an advertising design for ‘Mintons Art Nouveau’ which miraculously has two separate illustrations, both signed, one by Solon, the other by Wadsworth (fig 6) [Rosetta file]. It must have been done in the very brief period between Wadsworth joining Mintons and the launch of the Secessionist range. The differences are stark: Solon is still in full Art Nouveau maiden mode, but Wadsworth is using the highly stylised, even abstracted, plant forms typical of Secessionist ware. Note too that the similarly highly stylised plant form cover design of the first catalogue (fig 1) is signed by Wadsworth. Comparison of these designs by Wadsworth with the style of all Secessionist ware suggests to me his authorship throughout. Over the next few years Solon appears to have continued his dilettante attitude, and in 1905 departed from Mintons, leaving Wadsworth in charge.

The name Secessionist comes from the Symbolist and Jugendstil (the German term for Art Nouveau) Vienna Secession group, which from 1898 attracted international attention with its exhibitions of art and design held in its purpose-built headquarters by JM Olbrich – one of the surviving gems of Art Nouveau architecture. The Secession greatly admired British design and showed a large group of work, including substantial contributions from CR Mackintosh and CR Ashbee, in its eighth exhibition in 1900. By this time its fame was such that the term Secession had become effectively a major brand. The interesting and sad ironies in Mintons’s adoption of it are that, as is now well established, important origins of Continental Symbolism and Art Nouveau lie in Britain, that the Vienna Secession bowed the knee to British design, and that Mintons Secessionist ware was itself very much a home grown affair – as Muter points out, it has no dependence on Vienna Secession style at all. Just for example, Aubrey Beardsley’s 1894 cover for Le Morte Darthur, a seminal Art Nouveau design (fig 7), is clearly the inspiration for a Secessionist charger (Fig 17). The name should not, therefore, be allowed to give an impression of cultural cringe. There was of course an internationally known British brand of Art Nouveau – Liberty – but it was hardly available.

An important aspect of Mintons Secessionist ware is that it was produced in large quantities from moulded bodies. Some of the outline decoration was moulded too. As Muter again points out, it was thus cheap – four or five times cheaper than a rival such as Moorcroft art pottery. He publishes the price list of the first catalogue where, for example, the tall (35.5cm, 14in) and very handsome vase illustrated here (fig 7) is five shillings (25p), approximately £12.50 at today’s prices. This means that innovative and high quality design was being made available to a much wider market than other art pottery, hence my ‘democratic dish’. Secessionist ware can thus be said to have fulfilled William Morris’s aim to bring good design to the masses in a way that he never managed to do. On 29 May 2003 the pair of which this vase is one sold for £750 (hammer) at Sotheby’s Olympia (lot 385).

Secessionist ware furthermore, was not just ornamental, or rather its ornamentation was extended to the most mundane of everyday objects. The range embraced toilet wares including chamber pots, slop buckets for them to be emptied into, washbowls, water jugs, some of which are among the masterpieces of the range (figs 5, 8), soap dishes, toothbrush pots (fig 9), as well as milk jugs, teapots, cheese dishes (fig 10) candlesticks (fig 11), and a wonderful houseplant watering can (fig 12). There were three types of plates, two purely ornamental (see below) but one of them, the most commonly found, clearly intended for table use since they were sold by the dozen, price ten shillings the dozen, or about £25 at today’s prices (fig 11). Secessionist ware also majored in cache-pots (fig 12) and plant pot stands and pots (fig 13).

However, for me the most striking of all Secessionist wares are the ornamental large plates or chargers, meant to hang on the wall (they have a special groove on the back for the wire). These chargers (figs 14, 15) are generally thirty-eight centimetres in diameter (fifteen inches) and I have seen fourteen distinct patterns, although they come in variant colourways and in some cases with slight variations in the pattern too. The earliest dated I have seen is 1902. Some of the large charger patterns, together with some original ones, were used for smaller, 25.5 diameter, (ten inches) plates (fig 16). These are also extremely attractive and like the chargers now increasingly rare.

In 2000 the Victoria and Albert Museum in London held a huge and enormously successful survey exhibition of Art Nouveau,. While acknowledging the crucial contribution England made to the origins of the style, the exhibition denied her any place in the mature phenomenon. A fully paid up genius of Art Nouveau such as Archibald Knox was represented by a single object. There was no Mintons. One reason for this, I suspect, was sheer snobbery about commercial as opposed to craft production. Cheap, cheerful and popular, utterly distinctive in design, Mintons Secessionist ware really was a triumph of Art Nouveau, and the proof lies in the collectors who in recent years have been increasingly voting for it in the most convincing way possible – with their wallets.

Simon Wilson 25 October 2004

This article was written by Simon Wilson, formerly Curator at Tate Britain, and appeared in Antique Collecting. I am very grateful to him to alow me to reproduce it here.

Two Outstanding Minton Secessionist Tile Panels at Auction

On Wednesday 20th June two extraordinary panels each composed of 12 tiles designed by Leon Victor Solon and manufactured by the Minton Secessionist workshop are coming to auction at Woolley and Wallis’ auction house in Salisbury :  http://www.woolleyandwallis.co.uk/

The panels were designed for a Minton stand at an exhibition around 1905 and further information can be found in Paul Atterbury & Maureen Batkin, The Dictionary of Minton, Antique Collector’s Club, page 222 for an illustration of the Minton stand circa 1905 with these panels design displayed. There is also a detail of the design illustrated as a single tile by Solon, page 303. It is likely that Solon based his designs on poster illustrations by Alphonse Mucha whose work he would have known from his time as a student is Paris. The panels are unique and they both sold for a hammer price of £8000 each.

Minton Secessionist Tile designed by Leon Solon c1905

Minton Secessionist Tile designed by Leon Solon c1905

Is Minton Secessionist Repetitive?

I once asked a dealer friend who runs a major London gallery that used to specialise Arts and Crafts design (sadly he no longer shows 19th century British design regularly) why he did not display Minton Secessionist pottery. His answer was that it was ‘too repetitive.’ While it is true that there about 25 Secessionist designs that you see time and time again, there is also a huge range of totally different and original pieces to be discovered. The first piece of Minton Secessionist I ever bought is the serving dish shape 3518 illustrated below. It had no marks and for some years I did not know what it was.

Minton Secessionist Serving Dish Shape 3518

Minton Secessionist Serving Dish Shape 3518

This was 40 years ago and since then I have seen many fascinating and original pieces. Take for example the squat vase Shape 3535 that I am illustrating. I have only ever seen this shape once and it must be very rare, even though the decoration is entirely moulded which would suggest that the factory produced a number of these vases. The vase does not carry any Minton marks, only the shape number which reveals its identity. Maybe it did not sell well and after an initial production run, was dropped from the range. I would argue that overall the Minton Secessionist range is very varied and full of surprises, much more varied that Moorcroft or Elton. I have collected it for some 40 years and I still continue to see completely new patterns and shapes which always surprise me.

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3535

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3535

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3535

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3535

 

Three Minton Secessionist Vases Shape 3334

The first Secessionist pieces appeared around 1898 and carried the normal Minton marks rather than any special Secessionist marks. They tended to make use of transfer decoration rather than slip or hand painting and give the impression of being highly finished and possibly lacking in individuality. The following years saw new patterns being introduced often with a combination of transfer printing and slip decoration. The three vases illustrated are all shape 3334 but come from different stages in the decvelopment of the Secessionist range.

Image

The vase on the right dates from 1898-1900 and has the Minton mark of the globe. Its pattern is a stylised rendering of Honesty and the work is all transfer printing with colour glazes added over the top.

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3334 Honesty Pattern c1898-1900

The second piece dates from around 1900-1905 and is a combination of transfer printing , slip and hand painting. The transfer pattern is a large leaf which is used on other Secessionist vases usually in green. The slip decoration is a stylised tulip often used by the minton designers. The vase has no marks to its base.

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3334 with Tulip slip pattern and transfer printing
c.1900-1905

The final piece dates to around 1910-14 when the use of transfer printing had been almost totally dropped in favour of slip decoration. This carries the Minton Secessionist mark and pattern number 38 ( which has little meaning). It is one of those lovely blue on white piees which the Minton designers occasionally used. It has stylised tulips and a typical  art nouveau ‘whiplash’ pattern.

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3334 with slip decoration of stylised tulips and art nouveau whiplash motif c 1900-1914

 

Two Vases : same pattern, different colour ways.

The Minton designers often produced the same vase with the same pattern in different colourways, often either in reds and greens or blues and mauves. I am illustrating two fairly rare vases which are shape number 3747 and both carry the pattern number 11. They are 11 inches high.

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3747 in red and green

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3747 in blue and purple

Minton Secessionist Designers Using Standard Shapes

It’s interesting to note that while some shapes were designed specifically for the Minton Secessionist range ( usually starting with the number 3), the Secessionist designers often took standard shapes from the Minton mouding shop and decorated them in art nouveau patterns, completely transforming their effect. This can be seen from the two identical teapot shapes below which have been decorated in very different ways, intended for different tastes and markets

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3509

The Minton Secessionist decorators used the same shape vase in different ways, often changing the colour scheme but also sometimes adding transfer designs to give variety. It is common to come across the same shape in a number of different guises, as in the case of Shape 3509. I believe this to be a fairly early design and one the vases is dated 1906. The use of transfer decoration seems to date to the earlier Secessionist pieces and its use died out later. These vases use moulded relief rather than slip.

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3509 with Transfer Decoration

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3509 with Transfer Decoration in Blue

Minton Secessionist Vase Shape 3509 without Transfer Decoration dated 1906

 

Minton Secessionist Coffee Pot

One of the fascinating aspects of the Minton Secessionist range is that it included practical objects for everyday use and not just decorative items. This is very different from Moorcroft, Pilkington Lancastrian, Elton and many other contemporary ceramic producers. The Minton Secessionist range included teapots, plates, cups and saucers, coffee pots, cheese dishes, cake stands and of course a whole series of practical, if decorated, items for the bathroom – wash basins, ewers, slop buckets, pill boxes, toothbrush holders, sponge dishes and soap dishes.
I am illustrating a very rare and beautiful coffee pot with a pattern of a stylised flower often used by Mintons.

A rare Minton secessionist coffee pot