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New Porcelain Techniques Revealed at Great Exhibitions (1851-1937)

The Crystal Palace opening in 1851, home of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London / Alamy

From the mid-19th century until the first half of the 20th century, many international fairs were held in England, America, Australia, and Europe, leading to the first ever worldwide fair of its kind; the Great Exhibition.

The Great Exhibition opened in london at Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in 1851 with 14,000 exhibits, and had a staggering attendance of six million visitors, an extraordinary number for the period. Our own Melbourne hosted an exhibition in 1880, held at the Exhibition building, designed and created exclusively for the fair, with a recorded attendance of 1.3 million visitors and showcasing 16,000 exhibits. 

The fairs were designed to showcase the best examples of arts and industry, providing each exhibitor an opportunity to unveil innovations and advancements in various areas such as design, technology, manufacturing, and the arts, with fierce competition between nations to excel and to achieve the prestigious awards and medals of the fair. 

A Kerr & Binns Worcester enamel-decorated
exhibition chalice. $15,000-20,000

In the area of porcelain there were many innovations in glazing, design, and decoration, including George Owen’s intricate pierced porcelain technique and Thomas Bott’s innovation with enamel decoration in Worcester porcelain. 

George Owen (1845-1912) created wonderfully intricate pierced porcelain vessels for the Worcester factory and developed this technique without requiring a pattern, executed all by hand. This delicate decoration simulated a netted honeycomb effect and was shrouded in mystery as Owen was protective over his technique. He operated predominately alone and in secret with tools of his own design, never sharing his method with fellow decorators. Owen was celebrated for his attention to detail, with some porcelain vessels pierced with thousands of incisions, created slowly over a period of months. The pieces astonished visitors at his world fair debut. 

A Royal Worcester pierced/reticulated porcelain. Shape 871. $20,000-30,000

Although rare to market, our forthcoming auction, The Andrew Morris Collection of Important Worcester and other Porcelain, holds several pieces of Owen porcelain including a signed George Owen Persian shape vase.  

Inspired by Limoges enamels on copper, Thomas Bott (1829-1870) developed the application and decoration of Limoges enamel on porcelain, exhibiting in both the Paris Exhibition Universelle of 1855 and the London exhibition of 1862. During the height of the Renaissance revival this 15th century enamel technique became very popular; it is like pate-sur-pate, however thinner and finer. It is credited to Bott licking his brush to form a fine point. Unfortunately, in creating his legacy, Bott also ensured his premature death from lead poisoning. 

Within the Morris collection are various examples decorated by Bott and previously exhibited at the world fairs including the Kerr & Binns porcelain chalice. This fine example of exquisite Limoges enamelling was featured in the 1862 London fair. A true treasure for any collector, the chalice is also accompanied by documentation; a chromolithograph from photographs supplied by the London photographic and Stereoscopic company of masterpieces of the Industrial Art & Sculpture at the International exhibition, 1862 (London). 

Exhibition pieces are rare on the public market and are predominately held in institutional collections. Our own National Gallery of Victoria holds works from some of the Great Exhibitions, partly formed from the bequest of Dr Robert Wilson, who had in turn originally acquired many pieces from Leonard Joel over decades. It is a pleasure to able to celebrate and offer these pieces to the public. 

Chiara Curcio, Head of Decorative Arts, Design & Interiors

Banner Image: A Royal Worcester Porcelain ‘Countess of Dudley’ Service Covered Sugar Bowl. $5,000-7,000

February 2024