Document 97047

IRISHARTS REVIEW
EARLY BELLEEK DESIGNS
"t he would wish to give to a young comely
daughter all the cares of the house, the
silver, theWaterford glass, the ancient
Belleek china...
"1
That quote
from a novel
is one of the
many which could be used to prove that
in a relatively short time, ceramicsmade
at Belleek became identified in the eyes
of many, with themost respected tradi
tional Irish manufactures. Part of this
adulation may have been due to the
success of the pottery which chauvinis
tically claimed that it would produce
first-class ceramic goods composed of
Irishmaterials, made by Irish labour on
Irishsoil and to the standardsof the best
English potteries. Itmay also have been
due to a local pride which
Mairead Reynolds, Assistant
Keeper,Art and Industrial
Division,NationalMuseum of
Ireland,writes of the foundation
and early years of the Belleek
porcelainfactoryandof her own
researchinto the registration
of
theirearlydesigns.
J
_~~~~~~~~~~~l
gave birth to
many colourful exaggerations, if not
myths, about the earlyworkings of the
pottery.
This reputation, however, must have
been due to the artistic andmanufactur
ing success of the pottery, a success
which
was due
ance of a good ceramic
in no small part to the
work of RW. Armstrong, the Art
Director. The interest and involvement
of his friend,W.H. Kerr was also crucial
to that success.Kerr was then co-owner
of the Kerr and Binns pottery at
Worcester. The other two directly
involved with the pottery were little
concerned with production methods or
designs. John Caldwell Bloomfield, the
land-owner, had previously exported
porcelain clays toWorcester and other
British potteries so as to help to relieve
the poverty in his locality.When he
came into control of his encumbered
estate, Bloomfield made a suitable site
available for the project in 1857.2 David
McBirney made his fortune through
running a new-style drapery store in
Dublin and through investment in
railway stock. He under-wrote the
Belleek venture and then remained its
owner and financial controller for his
lifetime.
W. H. Kerr
It is unlikely that such a sophisticated
pottery could have been established in
an area so remote from Staffordshire at
that timewere itnot for the involvement
of W.H. Kerr, and yet his influence is
often ignored.Kerr, a Dubliner, joined
theChamberlain company atWorcester
in 1850, a time when that pottery was
experiencing difficulties. Energetically
he set about improving the pottery and
encouraging industries based on Irish
raw-materials.Considering this, it isnot
surprising that when Kerr needed an
architect atWorcester, he employed an
Irishmanwho was working in London,
Robert Williams Armstrong, the man
who later became Art Director at
Belleek. The same nationalist approach
may be seen in the firstmajor display of
Kerr and Binns ware which emphasised
parian porcelain made of "materials
principally the produce of Ireland".
These, called Irishstatuaryporcelainwere
designed by three Irish sculptors,W.B.
Kirk, J.E Jones, and J. Kirk, and they
were displayed in the Irish Industrial
Exhibition, 1853.3 That Kerr had access
to Irish clayswhich were unappreciated
by others isnot surprisingsince tradition
claims that both Kerr and Armstrong
spent holidays together in Ireland
searching for good porcelain clays.That
Kerr continued to believe in the import
'W.
1
FigureModelling, Belleek Potteries
Assemblyof theClytie figure,
photographedbyW.A. Green c.1902
industry for this
country is suggested in the annual report
for 1870-1 of The Queen's Institute,
Dublin. There that Institute records its
indebtedness to Kerr for financial help
in building a kiln, helping them to
expand into porcelain design and for
market research on their decorated
porcelain.4
It is not surprising therefore that the
advice if not imprimaturof a person of
Kerr's stature should be sought before
deciding on the Belleek venture. The
Dublin International Exhibition Cata
logueof 1865 points to the fact thatKerr
accompaniedArmstrong and McBirney
on one of the preliminary investigations
of the feldspar deposit at Castle
Caldwell (Belleek). It also reported that
when Armstrong and McBirney visited
Worcester, "Mr.Kerr brought his com
rnercialand practical skill to bear upon
the enterprise which, after the most
mature consideration, he considered
in 1852 invited RW. Binns to become
Art Director. They took control of the
Royal PorcelainWorks and thenworked
to "enhance the reputation of
Worcester". They improved the artistic
quality of theirware by employingyoung
artists in every department and through
copying classical pieces from important
ceramic collections. They experimented
and developed new ceramic bodies. In
general they improved not only the )ught to become one of the staple
technical and artistic quality of prestige nanufactures of his native land."5
ware but also of the standard utilitarian
Kerr'sadvicewas essential to theventure
range.
;inceArmstrong, the architect, had still
Considering his personal background,
:o learn the ceramic manufacturing
the strength of Kerr's Irish nationalist )usiness. This is obvious from his
feeling is surprising.Yet it must be d4emorandumsof various matters con
remembered thathe was a product of his
tectedwith Pottery Bodies and Glazes
age, an age which had become
ollected or invented by Robert W.
newly
aware of their Irish history. It was a time
krmstrongcommencedBelleekEnniskillen
too when nationalists
like Robert Kane
and William
Smith O'Brien
advocated
the doctrine of
self-help
through
860.6 At a time that the factory was
)uilt but not furnished,
he made
an
~ntry:
-24
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IRISHARTS REVIEW
EARLY BELLEEK DESIGNS
"Facts to remember
The greatest amount of Flint (Silica) that
can bemixed with the body paste thewhiter
theware - but beyond a certain quantity
(varying in each clay) it (might?) cause the
vessels to crack. Hard porcelain contains a
greater proportion of alumina than soft".
This entry is in vol. 8 immediatelyafter a
listing of worthwhile books and articles
on pottery-makingand the ceramic art.
It is unlikely
that a person who was so
naive in ceramic manufacture would
have been able to identify suitable
master potters and give them confidence
and
assurance
to
transfer
to
a new
pottery far away from Staffordshire.
Assurances from a respectedmember of
the pottery world would have carried
thatweight. That these potters instilled
in the Irishworkers the strict code of
behaviour and discipline of The
Potteries may also show the influence of
one who was sufficientlywell versed in
that way
of
life
to
appreciate
the
advantages and necessities of such res
triction. That Armstrong appreciated
Kerr's opinion is obvious from the entry
about the first trials fired for Belleek at
Worcester, Armstrong recorded that on
Friday, 12th of October, 1860, Mr. Kerr
along with Mr. Handcock the slip
manager
and a Mr. Lane, declared
that
these were "the most successful first
trialsthey ever saw".7
One might
suspect also that
Armstrong, living inBelleek, would not
have had readyand continuous access to
the new ceramic recipes of the English
potteries were it not for Kerr. That he
had this access may be seen in that in his
memoranda Armstrong considers the
recipesnot only ofWorcester but also of
potteries such asWm. Bloomfield and
Coalport, progressive contemporary
potteries. Kerr's influential support can
be seen also in that the first prestige
orders for the tea and dessert services for
Queen Victoria and Edward, Prince of
Wales
came about
1868,
the time that
W.H. Kerr's family shop, James Kerr,
114, Capel Street, became the Dublin
agents forBelleek.
Robert Williams Armstrong
To stress the importance of Kerr's
guiding hand is not to derate Armstrong,
aman who was able to learn a complete
a few years.
ly new profession within
Indeed by the time theLord Lieutenant,
Echinus pattern tea ware
Although a plate of this design was registered on September 5 th, 1868, the complete
tea and breakfast service of this design was not registered until February 22nd, 1869.
n
Asrviceoof tchiscdesignwspacqured
by
e
ria.
-25
IRISHARTS REVIEW
EARLY BELLEEK DESIGNS
and in spite of the success of producing
such a good body, the pottery did not
registerany designs for Parian porcelain
items until 5th of January1872. They
then registered theMinstrel Comport, a
dessert service piece which used a com
bination of glazed and unglazed Parian
porcelain.
An example of the type of Parian
which they copied directly isClytie.That
bust was firstmass-produced in Parian
ware byW.T. Copeland who modelled it
Lord Carlisle visited the new pottery on
June 20th, 1863, Armstrong was already
acting as a Staffordshire-style Art
Director - and it is obvious that, like
them too, he was prepared to promote
Belleek wares not by advertising but
through tours of the pottery and relying
on the praise of satisfied customers.8
That Armstrong lived-up to the standard
of
a good
Art
Director
can be
seen
through his devotion to meticulous
scientific trials on bodies and glazes
throughout the restof his life.
Armstrong, however, was awareof the
success Kerr and Binns made of the
revitalisationof thepottery atWorcester.
Therefore, following their example he
worked to ensure thathis potterywould
survive and that the ceramicsproduced,
both prestige and utilitarian,would be of
a high technical and artistic standard.He
sought a strong financial base by
identifying and serving specialmarkets.
For example, the cheap utilitarianware
was
sold
in local shops,
on Flora, a marble
at fairs and by
itinerant salesmen. The pottery's
ceramics for pharmacies, sanitary and
industrial stonewares had obvious
markets. The pottery won a valuable
contract to produce telegraph insulators
Variation of the Echinus Comport
Design No.258816
registered December 16th, 1871.
attitude
modeller atW.H. Goss' factorywould
-26
was dis
to art and design
in Britain used
an edition of 878 busts for distribution
in 1855.
in prizes
have been keenly aware of the more
in contempor
successful lines produced
using local feldspar at a time that the
"electric telegraph"was being extended ary English potteries. That Belleek was
throughout the country. Even when not unique in this practice can be seen
making his first trials in 1860 Armstrong by comparing the products of English
of the need to potteries. It would be wrong to suggest,
was already conscious
develop special styles and weights of however, that Belleek only adapted or
ware to American standards. Indeed he modified designs at this time as is proven
own
by, among other items, Gallimore's
seems to have realised then that the via
which
Dickens
Charles
bust
of
superb
range
of
the
depended
porcelain
bility
was made at Belleek. However
the heavy
on exportmarkets.
reliance at first on the successful inspir
In the same Kerr and Binns manner
Armstrong was not fool-hardy in his ations of other potteries was noted by
choice of designs. Indeed itwould seem Sean McCrum who pointed to the close
of
the products
between
similarities
that from the time the pottery went into
nineteenth
other
and
Belleek
century
regular production in 1863 until the
time they needed to protect the designs English potteries. He also pointed to
9
ceramic motifs.
gof earlierExhibitio
of 1865,s
Dblomain
I useteraioa
purchased for Queen Victoria and Belleek's
success
to
This attitude
adaptation of
Edward, Prince of Wales in 1868, the
pottery frequently adapted a selection of ful lines can be seen clearly in the Parian
the commercially successful designs of ware. Armstrong seems to have started
other potteries. This might explain why to experiment in his quest for a new
it was possible forWilliam Gallimore, Parian body on June 15th 1863. It is
the chief modeller, to produce as tradi generally accepted that the Parian ware
had a unique
tion claims, "over five hundred designs" which he developed
- a daunting work-load
praised the
quality and contemporaries
even for a person
at fact that it was more easily cleaned than
calibre as he worked
of Gallimore's
Belleek only from 1863-6. Obviously, much of the Parian ware of English
potteries. Yet although Belleek exhib
though, Gallimore who came from and
returned to his position as chief inte n qelection of Parin wanre at the
bust which
covered near Naples in the eighteenth
century. Flora was considered by art
critics as the epitome of feminine beauty
and because of this, full-size copies were
produced in alabaster in the eighteenth
century.The bust was acquired by The
British Museum who suggested that it
representedAntonia (36 B.C.-A.D. 38),
the daughter of Mark Anthony and
Octavia.10 However, Copeland's redu
ced version in Parian porcelain won
approval when the .Art Union of
London, in an attempt to improve the
So popular
was
the
Clytie bust that it was subsequently
copied by James and Thomas Bevington
of Hanley as well as by Belleek.
That Clytie was not unique
may
be
seen from the CrouchingVenus which is
based on John Flaxman's interpretation
of a Roman
statue. That Venus
was first
mass-produced by Wedgwood in the
earlynineteenth century. In similarvein
Belleek's Prisonerof Love owes much to
Minton's Solitude, a statuettewhich was
firstproduced by them in 1852.
Obviously, though, a pottery of
Belleek's aspirations did not depend
only on plagiarism
for their early Parian
ware as apart fromGallimore's Dickens,
the pottery also commissionedWilliam
Boyton Kirk (1824-1900) to design at
least, the bust of Lord JamesButler and
Hibernia awakinigfromher slumbers(also
known
as Erin).
The
surprise
is that
these fine figureswere not registered so
as to protect the designs. An explanation
may be that some of the pieces were so
exclusively of Irish interest as to be of
little temptation to English potteries or
otherwise that Gallimore would not
relinquishhis right to his own designs.
The Pottery Fortunes
Contrary to popular opinion Belleek
IRISHARTS REVIEW
EARLY BELLEEK DESIGNS
was not an instant success. Indeed, Sir
Charles Cameron, one of themany who
claimed that he was the first to discover
theBelleek china clay, said that the pot
tery"wasnot a profitable enterprise,and
Mr. McBirney lost heavily by it."11
Henry Parkinson,Armstrong's executor,
to a reason
pointed
[
FAMAVA.,H
Nov iASi ?.
E ot 'POrrsRY
OAs'IO
-M L?1RANts
V'Li,Ams
ARMfsROAC
ASA0CAS A'&ROal-i'
J
UA ;i/tsy v CY,
he saw ?560 worth
'SA~~~'
of ware
packed at Belleek, goods valued at ?5
were destined for Irelandwhile the rest .~~~~~~~~~
were exported to Milan, Florence,
Rome, Paris,Vienna, London, New York
and Philadelphia.12By 1865 the pottery
still only employed "70 hands of which
number 30 are boys and girls, learning
the different branches of making ware,
firing, dipping, printing, lining, gilding,
burnishing
I/ALa'CArq
lEi )%NAlh
~~Otshcj
\, . i
for this in his sub
mission to the Select Committee on
Industries(Ireland) 1885; he stated that
Irish people preferred to buy "cheap
Glasgow ware" and reported thaton one
day on which
|
etc." 13 The
change
'
1 L: A
s
.'s
'
s
in the
pottery fortunes is underlined by the
fact that by 1869
there were
180 men,
women and children employed includ
ing27 "imported artists".14This growth
could
be
explained
by
a number
of
factorsapart frommaturity.The opening
of theEnniskillen-Bundoran railwayline
in 1866 was of major impor
eventually
tance since
it gave a more
reliable
transport system not only from Belleek
to Dublin
and Belfast
but also
to the
important sea-port, Derry. The success
of the pottery's displays at the
International Exhibition in Dublin in
1865
and
in Paris
in 1867,
opened
the
export market considerably for the
pottery.The prestige orders fromQueen
Victoria and Edward, Prince of Wales
meant thatBelleek would be in demand
by other members
of the aristocracy
Trinket Box Designs
registered November 13 th, 1869
and
therefore of the general public. Those
orders also ensured major coverage for
Belleek in the premier art journalof the
particularly for the forthcoming Dublin
Exhibition. "Design" on ware other than
at this time seems to
Parian produced
have applied only to painting, gilding
and transfer- printing. 16
The Designs
September the fifth, 1868 was the first
date on which Belleek registered designs
at the Board of Trade, London. 17 The
first piece registered (number 221217)
was an Echinus pattern Plate, the design
tea and break
used for Queen Victoria's
fast service. The second piece was A
Vase, the Echinus footed bowl, a sea
urchin held by three nymphs in similar
style to the upper section of number
238816
illustrated here. Design number
221219 was for A Vase, which was later
known as the Prince ofWales Ice Pail and
Cover. The early designs registered by
Belleek were drawn in ink on a "vellum
by, or Designed by RobertW. Armstrong,
Melrose (?) Rose Isle, Belleek. There is,
however, a distinct difference between
the clear line of the professional drawing
and insriptions,andArmstrong's cursive
and strong script. This might suggest
that the drawings were professionally
prepared by somebody other than
Armstrong either inBelleek or London.
The Art Journal of 1869 puts
Armstrong's role in the design depart
ment into context: "Mr. Armstrong
continues to be the Art-Director and
designer of the factory, and under his
direct superintendance the several
designs andmodels have been produced
and executed. Indeedwe believe we are
justified in stating that all the better
order of productions, whether original,
modified, or adapted, have emanated
from him. Some of his inventions he has
patented or registered."This Art Joumal
quote might suggest that Armstrong
superintended the production of many
designs and did some himself. Certainly
there is a triumphant ring partcularly
about the inscription,Designed byRobert
Williams Armstrongat the bottom of the
Echinus pattern tea and breakfast
services.Moreover there is no signature
for the Spill Pot which was
on the design
registered on October 14, 1869. This
was
for the piece
usually known
as the
Cleary spillpot,which isbelieved to have
been designed by JamesCleary. He was
a local man
who
was
apprenticed
to
Gallimore at the pottery, and who con
tinued to work in that department after
Gallimore's departure.18
It is probable
that some of the designs
were made, by Armstrong's wife, Annie
Langley Nairn. She had won a reputation
in
as a landscape painter and exhibited
the Royal Hibernian Academy exhibi
tions before her marriage to Armstrong
in 1848.19
Local
tradition
and W.G.
Strickland give her credit especially for
the designs based on flowers, fish and
shells. The omission of her signature
ceramics.
could be explained by propriety in the
male-dominated society of the mid
The Dublin Exhibition of 1864 shows
that at that time the products of the
tracing cloth" which is occasionally nineteenth century which may have
pottery consisted of earthen and stone marked Saggars Patent Broughton Works, militated against giving her credit for
work done for her husband's pottery.
ware in "dinner, toilet and other table Manchester.
The same materials were
of 62,
Brookes
Unfortunately, apart from the few
used
press and
by William
services"i made by moulding,
Chancery Lane, London who at the time designs signed by Armstrong, credit for
die, or pressure from powdered
clay.15
the others seems to depend only on local
By the following February the pottery drew Worcester's
designs for the Patent
was making a great variety of articles in Office. Although theBelleek designs are lore.The dangers of accepting such lore
Parian,consisting of urns,Etruscanvases, drawn inBrookes' style a few aremarked uncritically isobvious when we consider
figures, statuettes, toilet articles etc. inArmstrong's own hand-writing,Signed that there is evidence to suggest that if
day. Possibly because of all this success
Armstrong was in demand in 1869-70 as
a lecturer on the history and art of
-27
IRISHARTS REVIEW
EARLY BELLEEK DESIGNS
the poet William Allingham's sisters
worked for the pottery, it is less likely
that theyworked, as tradition claims, in
the design department, than that they
were involved with the decorating
department.
From the Board of Trade designs it
would seem that Armstrong's script
occurs only on the few early designs and
on one of 1877. Apart probably from
those few signed pieces, Belleek's early
designs would seem, therefore, to have
been produced by Gallimore, James
Cleary, and eventually by Cleary's
successor Michael Maguire, as well,
probably, as Annie Langley Nairn.
According to his memoranda and the
contemporary accounts, Armstrong's
interest, if not obsession, was not in
design but in the invention and develop
ment
of new ceramic wares
and glazes -
an interest forwhich Belleek can still be
justlyproud.
Itwould seem therefore, that through
Kerr's guidance,Armstrong followed the
accepted practices of themore advanced
high-class English potteries of the day.
To ensure success the pottery adapted
classical, Renaissance and pleasing
eighteenth century designs; they
adopted and modified some of the suc
cessful unprotected designs of other
potteries while tentatively introducing a
few of their own.When through success
itwas necessary forBelleek to protect its
own creations, they approached this in a
similar manner to Worcester. It was
because
of
all
of
this
careful
and
well thought-out design that Belleek
succeeded in its aim to produce high
class ceramics
to a high
technical
and
artisticquality.
Mairead Reynolds
The earliest designs registered for protection
Date RegisteredDesignNo. RegistrationDescription
by D. McBirney & Co., Belleek
ExtraInscription
ModernDescription
PotteryRef. No.
andRichard
Degenhardt2O
p.No.
Sept.5, 1868
221217
"Plate"
Echinusplate
D360 Deg. P. 177
Sept.5, 1868
221218
"AVase"
Echinusfocoted
bowl
No. 380Deg. p. 121
Sept.5, 1868
221219
"AVase"
PrinceofWales IcePail
andcover
D3-1 Deg. p.99
Oct. 22, 1868
223309
"TeaandBreakfast
ServiceDecoration
orOrnamentation"
"Signed
Rob.W. Armstrong,Artichokedejeunerset
Melrose (?)Rose Isle,
Belleek"
D709-713Deg. p. 184
Feb.22, 1869
227409
orornamentation
"Decoration
forTea
andBreakfast
Service,BelleekPottery,
Co. Fermanagh,
Feb.20th,1869.
TradingasD.McBirney
& Co."
"DesignedbyRobert
WilliamsArmstrongFeb.
1869"
Echinuspatternteaand
breakfast
service
D358-365Deg. p. 177
June3, 1869
229837
"DesignforaDejeunertray"
"DesignedbyRobtW.
Armstrong"
Echinustray
D650 Deg. p.94
Oct. 14, 1869
234465
"SpillPot"
ClearySpillPot
No. 903Deg. p. 103
Oct 25,1869
235168
"EggHolder"
EggHolder
D1534Deg. p. 147
Nov. 8, 1869
235827
"Designforflowervase"
"BelleekFermanagh
Nov.
8th 1869DavidMcBirney
& RobertWilliams
Armstrong.
TradingasD.
McBirney
& Co."
MarineVase
No. 513Deg. p.49
Nov. 8, 1869
235828
"DesignforWater LilyVase"
Nov. 8th 1869
Water LilyVase
DI 234Deg. p. 134
Nov. 8, 1869
235829
"DesignforFlyingFishVase"
Nov. 8th 1869
FlyingFishVase
No. 532Deg. p.98
D23 Deg. p. 169
Nov. 13, 1869
236184
"DesignforTrinketBox andcover"
Jack-at-Sea
Trinketbox
Nov. 13, 1869
236185
"DesignforTrinketBoxandcover"
Jack-on-Shore
Trinketbox D24Deg. p. 169
Nov. 23, 1869
236858
"Stilton
CheeseStandandCover"
PapalTiaraCheeseStand D1552,Deg. p. 108-but
andCover
with stand
Dec. 18,1869
237230
"DesignforTablejug"
HarpJug
D586 Deg. p. 182
NOTES
1. Donn
Byrne, Hangman's House, New York and
1926.
London,
2. Registry of Deeds, Memorial
dated 9th
to 29th
1858 but post-dated
October,
1857 and made for a term of 999
September
years "subject to payment of rents".
3. John Sproule
(Ed.), The Irish Industrial
Exhibition of1853, Dublin,
1854, p. 407.
of The Queen's
4. Ninth Annual Meeting
Institute (of Female Professional
Schools)
Dublin,
1871, p. 14.
5. Henry Parkinson,
compiler and editor, The
Illustrated Record and Descriptive Catalogue
of
the Dublin International Exhibition of 1865,
London,
1866, p. 289.
are now in the
6. These volumes of memoranda
of Applied Arts and Sciences,
Museum
Sydney. By courtesy of Svitlana Das, Librarian
ofthat Museum,
of seven of the
photocopies
eight volumes are now inThe National
of Ireland. One volume
is in too
Museum
fragile a state to be copied.
7. Ibid. Vol. 8, p. 261.
8. The Impartial Reporter, June 25, 1863.
9. Sean McCrum,
The Belleek Pottery, The Ulster
Museum,
(undated, c. 1969) p. 12.
-28
10. The British Museum Catalogue
of Sculpture,
no. 1874.
11. Reminiscences
of Sir Charles A. Cameron,
Dublin,
1913, p. 32.
on Industries (Ireland),
12. The Select Committee
1885, p. 111.
13. Henry Parkinson,
op. cit. p. 289.
14. The Art-Journal,
London,
1869, p. 150.
15. Royal Dublin Society, Official Catalogue
of the
Exhibition of Manufactures,
and Fine
Machinery
Arts, 1864, Dublin,
p. 71.
16. The Bally shannon Herald, 25 February,
1865, p.
3.
17. These designs are now in the Board of Trade
design volume 43, 68 inThe Public Record
Office, Kew, London.
on this I am grateful to Sean
18. For discussion
Art Director, The Belleek Pottery
O'Loughlin,
of James
Ltd., and Philip Cleary, a descendant
Cleary and at present of the design department
of the Pottery.
19. Walter G. Strickland, A Dictionary
of Irish
Artists, Vol. 11, Dublin,
1913, p. 161.
20. Richard Degenhardt,
Belleek, The Complete
Collector's Guide and Illustrated Reference, New
York,
1978.
`