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.
Witnessing the rise of industry and pollution, artists involved in the Arts and Crafts movement looked to the natural world for inspiration. The Martins helped to pioneer these ideas within the decorative arts and incorporated abstract natural forms into their pottery. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘back to nature’ style, where textures and forms relate to natural phenomena without having any direct reference to a specific natural object.
Many also supported the idea of material honesty. This meant that artists celebrated the special characteristics of a material, such as the grain of wood or the texture of clay, to create decorative effects. We see this in the Martin’s vases: nibs, bumps and veins were added to the clay to create gourd-like forms. The muted earth tones and dull surfaces of these pots also match the natural aesthetics of the movement.
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.
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.