This vase was created by the four Martin brothers, Victorian pioneers in the production of studio pottery. Working during the 19th century Gothic revival and the Arts and Craft Movement, they are renowned for their eccentric, fantastical gothic designs. During the later years of their production the brothers, particularly Edwin, began to use abstract decoration on their pottery. The Martins were among the pioneers who led the decorative arts in a ‘back to nature’ movement which ended in the Art Nouveau style.
The ‘back to nature’ movement involved the abstraction of nature, where textures and forms relate to natural phenomena without having any direct reference to a specific natural object. ‘Material honesty’ was favoured, which involved exploiting the characteristics of a material to create decoration. This is seen in the Martin’s use of clay; nibs, bumps, veins or incised hatchings were incorporated into the material to create gourd-like vases such as this. The muted brown and green tones, along with the dull surface of this pot, also match the natural aesthetics of the movement.
The brothers established their shop in Fulham, London, in 1873. In 1877 the business moved to Havelock Road on the canal in Southall, Middlesex. 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, created in 1898, 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 would then fuse with the clay, creating a semi-matt, speckled surface and a muted colour palette of brown, blue and green tones. Whereas many stoneware glazes obscure the body, the salt-glaze method highlighted the impressed and incised decoration on the surface of the pottery.