Martin Brothers vase (vase)

Ownership/credit: Purchased with support from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Art Fund.

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This vase was created by the Martin brothers. Working in the late 19th century, the four brothers were involved with the Victorian Arts and Craft movement and the Gothic Revival. They are renowned for their eccentric, fantastical designs and use of innovative ceramic techniques. Drawing inspiration from a wide range of sources, from medieval crafts to Japanese and Chinese pottery, each of their creations is totally unique.

In 1873 the brothers opened a shop in Fulham, later moving the business to Havelock Road on the canal in Southall, Middlesex, in 1877. Working as a family unit, the brothers handled each step of production themselves. Robert was the designer; Walter the potter and chemist; Edwin the engraver and decorator; and Charles the commercial manager. Each design was hand-crafted and during their 50 year enterprise, from 1873-1923, no two identical pieces were made.

In the nineteenth century, artists were inspired by medieval artistic production. Quality craftsmanship, individual creativity and the use of local materials were highly valued. Artists aimed to recover more humane methods of working to counter the growth of mass-manufacture in the new industrial Britain. This became known as the Arts and Crafts movement.

Witnessing the rise of industry and pollution, many Victorian artists and architects looked to the natural world and to the designs they found in medieval art for inspiration. The Martins helped to pioneer these ideas within the decorative arts. We see this in the floral designs decorating this vase, which echo those found in medieval art forms including illuminated manuscripts and stone carvings on gothic architecture.

This vase showcases the distinctive salt-glazed stoneware produced by the brothers. A strong, non-porous form of pottery, the salt-glazing technique involved a high-temperature firing method where salt was thrown into the kiln. The salt then fused with the clay, creating a semi-matt, speckled surface and a muted colour palette of brown, blue and green tones. Most glazing techniques hid the clay surface underneath. But the salt-glaze method allowed any decorative marks engraved into the clay before firing to remain visible. This added further surface texture to the unique ceramic.

This object is not on display.

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