Discovering an Unusual Australian Metalwork Teapot

Kettle Leonard Joel

This unusual Australian metalwork teapot has aroused plenty of discussion and puzzlement over its unknown maker and unique design. Before it goes under the hammer in our forthcoming Decorative Arts and Asian Works of Art auction on 7 March, I thought it best to take my questions to Daniel McOwan, an authority in Australian craft metalwork, glass and ceramics.

Kettle Leonard Joel

Jug, pitcher or teapot? Do you think this piece was designed with a specific function in mind?

(D.M.) Given its physical size and its squat shape, my first impression is that this is intended to be a teapot. Given the absence of some form of strainer it is also possible that it is a hot water jug. Gilding metal (an alloy of copper and zinc, constituting the body of the teapot) is a great conductor of heat, and the handle design is intended to separate hand and pot. The lid is also equipped with an insulating wooden handle as well suggesting its use for a hot liquid. Teapot – or hot water jug are my best guesses.

There is a maker’s mark stamped to the base but little is known about its origins. Considering the level of craftsmanship and choice of materials, what can you deduce about the maker?

(D.M.) The design and manufacture are reasonably proficient suggesting manufacture by a trained metalsmith e.g. the riveting and the bezel mounting of the handle on the lid and the hinge on the lid. The production of a stamp is a specialised skill so whoever made this piece had intentions of continuing or ongoing production using this stamp.

Can you comment on the influences behind its distinctive design?

(D.M.) The arched form of the handle and general curves of the form suggests two sources of influence. Firstly, the Bauhaus with its notion that all forms needed to be revived using the primary forms of sphere, cube and pyramid. This led to teapots such as those by Marianne Brandt, based on spheres and circles. The second influence that comes to mind is the organic modernism of Danish 50’s silver. If these are the influences, they would date this piece to sometime around the Second World War.

Metalwork teapot

What makes this piece important to a collector of Australian post war design?

(D.M.) The originality of its design for its period. It still comes across as an innovative design today.

Daniel McOwan was Director of Hamilton Art Gallery from 1988 to 2015. More recently he has worked in his own consultancy Art Assessment Agency speaking and writing on the decorative arts, and following his curatorial interests in international glass, metalwork and ceramics.

-Dominic Kavanagh, Decorative Arts Specialist
with Daniel McOwan

February 2022