20 February 2013
THE EUROPEAN INFLUENCE
In my post on William Newland, I mentioned that he and his colleagues, Margaret Hine and Nicholas Vergette, had been called The Picassoettes by Bernard Leach because they were influenced by Picasso’s ceramics. Picasso took up ceramics in his mid-60s, embarking on a new stage of his career at a time when most people are thinking of retiring, and producing hundreds of pieces over the following years. Picasso’s ceramics were seen in Britain for the first time in 1950 in a show at the Royal Academy, which caused a stir and encouraged many people to take up pottery.
I’ve been reading Newland’s papers in the Central Saint Martins archive, and he writes a lot about this period in the early fifties. He was training art teachers at London’s Institute of Education and lots of them were inspired by Picasso’s ceramics. He records an enthusiasm for ceramics in schools, many of which equipped pottery studios in the fifties. Three education authorities in particular sent traveling exhibitions of studio pottery round schools: the West Riding of Yorkshire, Leicester and Hertfordshire.
In a recorded interview, Newland said of his enthusiasm for European pottery and Picasso ceramics, “It wasn’t that we were anti-Leach, it’s just that we had other things to do.” But reading his papers, you detect considerable irritation with Leach, whom he regarded as pretentious and full of himself. Referring to Leach’s oriental style, Newland said he could never see the point of sitting in Bloomsbury painting bamboo with a Chinese brush. He also mentions the exhibition of Ceramics in the Home, organised in 1951 by The Observer newspaper. It showed work by Newland, Vergette and Hine, Hans Coper and Lucie Rie. Leach wasn’t included, said Newland, which made him cross, so he asked his MP to intervene on his behalf. It was at that point that Leach dubbed the others “Picassoettes”. Newland says that they could just as well be called Miroettes, because Picasso was only one of their influences – many continental artists turned to pottery: Picasso, Miró, Lurçat – and there were other influences: Gio Ponti, Corbusier and Domus magazine, for example.
One artist not mentioned by Newland is Gino Severini. I didn’t know he had worked in ceramics until I saw these pieces in a shop in Cortona, Severini’s birth place. They are painted in overglaze colours on blanks which had been made in a factory.