This jug 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.
During the late Victorian period, many potters like the Martin brothers took inspiration from Japanese and Chinese designs. Europeans were able to see the art of these rich cultures at the Exposition Universelle held in Paris in 1878. Japanese stoneware proved very popular and the forms and glazes seen on Chinese porcelain also made an impression, encouraging artists to explore new techniques. Ceramics were not the only form of inspiration. Books of woodblock prints by Japanese artists like Hokusai were in circulation around Europe during the 1870s.
Although the Martin brothers worked as a family unit, the artist H.F. Fawcett helped with some designs. Fawcett was especially fascinated by Japanese art and applied similar decorative schemes to the sketches he produced for the Martins. The dragon motifs we see incised on this jug reflect these influences.
This jug 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.