I just sold a nice Arts and Crafts charger on eBay which was similar to John Pearson in some ways but very different in may others (it was, and is, a bit of a mystery since I do not know who did it.) It resembles, in design, some pieces by ‘Mrs Waterhouse’ and by Yattendon but the birds are also quite ‘Guild of Handicraft’-ish. It has a mark – Kenyon – to the back but I am not convinced this is necessarily the maker (and is not someone I have ever heard of). So, an interesting mystery!
The Art Union of London was set up in 1837 as an organisation to distribute works of art among its subscribers by lottery (source: wikipedia). Subscribers paid a small fee each year to earn the chance of winning an art work which the Union had bought. The prizes typically included medals or bronzes, but also other art work like statues, prints and illustrated books. Sometimes these pieces appear at auction such as a cast iron tazza dated 1851 which was sold at Christies.
Interestingly, in 1896, the Art Union of London had an interest in repousse metalwork since one of the prizes was an electroplated repousse book cover dated 1896 by Miss M.Lilian Simpson.
It seems quite possible (to me at least) that John Pearson, possibly on behalf of the Guild of Handicraft, donated metalwork to the Art Union of London, although I am not aware of any documented link. The charger below, however, was recently sold at auction which is inscribed, on the back, ‘The Art Union of London’.
Interesting the dimensions of this charger – 39cm – are the same as the charger in the earlier post dated 1889 which is signed and dated. Stylistically, it seems to me to have many of the hallmarks of early work by John Pearson, in particular the focus on more natural decoration rather than wonderful creatures (compare, for example, the copper box dated 1891).
Nouveaudecoarts.com have provided images of another John Pearson piece they are selling – this time an 1898 bowl decorated with a galleon and small fish beneath the waves. This has a pattern number 2391 (I have added it to the gallery of pattern numbers which I am trying to develop to build up a catalogue of his work and changing styles).
The symbolism of the galleon was clearly influential throughout John Pearson’s career, along with other symbols such as the rising sun and the tree of life.
John Pearson’s earliest work features galleons, and they appear as a regular leitmotif throughout his life. A late photograph of John Pearson (undated but in the early 20th century) shows him in his workshop with a worked galleon on a firescreen, illustrating the longevity of the motif.
The galleon was, of course, a key symbol of the Arts and Crafts movement and was also a popular motif in De Morgan pottery, and in Arts and Crafts silverware (Ramsden and Carr for example).
Charles Ashbee, whose rebus for the Guild of Handicraft is shown here, used the galleon as a symbol of pioneering adventure.
I came across this jardiniere by John Pearson which is being sold by dealers I have not come across before nouveaudecoarts.com. They kindly allowed me to use the images on the site.
The jardiniere, which is quite large (approx. 8 inches tall), has four ‘hopeful looking fish’ which are all different, and which have the characteristic Pearson eyes. It has the ‘straight’ initials, is dated 1901 and has the pattern number 2699 (for a gallery of pieces with pattern numbers, see here).
I have been trying to work out how John Pearson and John Williams (both founder members of the Guild of Handicraft) influenced each other, and were themselves influenced by Charles Ashbee.
I came across a very interesting blog which focuses its interest mainly on the large copper frame designed by Charles Ashbee for Holman Hunt’s painting, May Morning on Magdalen Tower, but it also contains some interesting material about the three of them. The blog is worth reading in itself but the key things that came out of it for me were:
- It seems that John Williams came to the Guild in 1888 without any training. It is reasonable to suppose that John Pearson trained him.
- The frame was made at the Guild of Handicraft in Commercial Street, Whitechapel in 1889. It represents the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) and was apparently executed by John Williams.
- It was exhibited (without the picture) at the 1889 Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society where it was praised, partly because the “dull beaten copper” complemented, and did not interfere, with the picture (unlike the “glaring, shining yellow of the gilt frame”).
- The blog also refers to another collaboration, this time between John Williams and John Pearson, also in 1889 in which John Pearson designed the charger and John Williams, together with John Pearson, jointly executed the design. This charger which measures 62cm in diameter was sold at Christies in November 2000, for £5875.
The third in a trio of John Pearson pieces sold at Woolley and Wallis in Salisbury was this 39cm charger, fully signed and dated 1889, and which sold for £1700 plus commission:
See other examples of his work from 1889
Another piece sold at the Woolley and Wallis sale in October 2016 was this unmarked copper mirror, 61cm in diameter:
This large mirror sold for £4200 plus commission. The catalogue noted that, “An identical mirror can be seen at Standen House where the design is attributed to Charles Robert Ashbee and John Pearson”.
Looking at this caused me to look at the National Trust collection (opens a new tab) which includes a number of stunning John Pearson pieces. However, I have to say, a couple of National Trust attributions do not, to my mind, look much like the typical work of John Pearson, for example the copper pot (opens a new tab) at Standen House and the tile with a galleon at Wightwick Manor which they say is ‘probably’ by John Pearson. This also looks decidedly ‘iffy’ to me!
It would be interesting to see the reason and any designs for the attribution (not that I am doubting it). What struck me, in particular, was that a couple of pieces which came up for sale recently at Mellors and Kirk – a fender and a coalbox – also featured pairs of peacocks like this and were attributed to John Williams at Fivemiletown. The cataloguing also recorded that the most distinctive pices of pairs Fivemiletown work also feature pairs of peacocks (citing Paul Larmour, The Arts & Crafts Movement in Ireland, Belfast 1992, pp 39-44). It seems that, in the earlier years, there was a great deal of cross-fertilisation of ideas, and collaborative working – including joint working between John Pearson and John Williams.
The Woolley and Wallis Salisbury sale has just finished. One of the John Pearson pieces was this lovely mirror which I would guess dates from around 1894-95 (sorry about the image quality).
It was described as, “A John Pearson patinated copper wall mirror, circular, repousse hammered with a stylised bird perched on a flower stem repeat, covered in a deep brown patination, unsigned 40cm. diameter” and had an estimate of £1000 to £1500, but sold for £900 plus commission.
Interestingly what seems to be the same, or else an identical, mirror was sold at Wotton auction rooms as lot 403 in January 2015 for £1400 plus commission
(If anyone knows if this is the same or different piece, I would love to hear!).
The bad news: the-saleroom.com has introduced scrolling adverts on searches urging – or rather nagging or harassing – users to sign up to alerts (even if you already have the alert). Ok – an advert is fine – if it can be dismissed. A scrolling advert which pursues you down the page, though, is a pretty retrograde step which you generally do not see on reputable sites. A scrolling advert which cannot be dismissed is unbelievably shoddy for a site which, presumbly, wants to be seen as a premier site. I’m afraid it is not any more. What are they thinking of – that they will bully users into signing up? It is a shame because it has been a very good site until now.
The good news: On this site, you will certainly not see scrolling adverts. Scrolling adverts are just bad design, plain and simple. Which is not to say that I think the site is perfect. It isn’t (of course) and I am sure that there are things which could work better. But, unlike ATG, I will aim to respond to feedback. So, if there is any aspect of the site you are not happy with, or think could be improved, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Please use the contact page though since I have disabled comments because of too much spam.