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East Meets Southwest: The Japanese influence on North Devon Pottery.

Green and cream pitcher featuring Japanese fish design.

Pitcher designed by Thomas Liverton and C.H. Brannam (1897) © MBND.

'...Japanese arts started to be collected on a scale that had never existed before'.

During the nineteenth century the popularity of Japanese culture swept through Western Europe. This is the story of how Japonisme influenced local potters who fused it with North Devon’s traditional practice, to produce a golden era of fine art pottery.

In 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry sailed a fleet of war vessels into the Bay of Edo and forced the Shogun (military leaders) to end sakoku, a policy that had existed in Japan for over two hundred years restricting trade with other countries. New treaties with European nations meant the Japanese arts started to be collected on a scale that had never existed before.

Japanese inspired ceramics from the Art Pottery collection © MBND.

Following the opening up of trade, Japanese goods started arriving in shops in Paris and London and the fascination with Japanese art began. When Japan formally participated in the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris, ‘Japonisme’ (coined by connoisseur Philip Burty) began to influence the arts and crafts industries throughout Great Britain.

In Barnstaple, Japonisme has filtered through to the Literary and Scientific Institution. William Frederick Rock, a benefactor of the Institution, provided important contemporary texts on Japanese art, including Samuel Siegfried Bing’s Artistic Japan. Whilst at the School of Art the accomplished potter and tutor Alexander Lauder encouraged pottery apprentices to examine Japanese design.

Green candle holder featuring horned dragon.

Dragon candle holder, C.H. Brannam (1902) © MBND.

'...(this new) design breathed new life into North Devon pottery'.

Local potters such as Brannam Pottery, Alexander Lauder and William Baron started to experiment with Japanese motifs of fish and birds among floral scenes. Sgraffito, (a traditional technique that involved coating a vase in white slip and scratching out designs) combined with “pâte-sur-pâte”, easily replicated the simple lines and bold colours of traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

This new approach to design breathed new life into North Devon pottery. Craftsmanship surged as noted by Hugh Strong in 1888, ‘the potters often scratched their images into the pots without copying a pre-drawn image’. The height of this success came when in 1882 Liberty & Co. known for selling Asian decorative arts, became the sole London agent for Brannam, whose pottery at Litchdon Street, placed North Devon as a leader in Japonisme ceramics.

Japanese inspired ceramics from the Art Pottery collection © MBND.

The Art Pottery gallery is on permanent display on the first floor of the museum.

Written by Bruce Tollafield

Editor Adam Murray

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