Past Events

Public Lecture Course: Ceramics in Britain, 1750 to Now

  • 5 November to 10 December 2020
  • Pre-recorded lectures to be released weekly at 3 PM GMT on Thursdays and a live Q&A (Zoom) on 10 December 2020 at 6 PM GMT
  • Online

This course, delivered by experts in the field, will explore five key influential developments in the history of British ceramics since the mid-eighteenth century, examining the multiple ways in which innovators, entrepreneurs, and artists have reinvigorated the field.

While the story of ceramics is a global one, Britain has played a leading role in the last three centuries, a period in which British invention has shaped developments and brought constant renewal to the industry.

By 1750, ceramics of different types were available to all levels of society. However, the uniquely British innovation of combining print culture and ceramics, transfer-printing political propaganda, and the graphic satire of London’s leading caricaturists onto earthenware, enabled these contemporary controversial messages to be understood by all classes. During the same period, scientific experimentation by Josiah Wedgwood led to the invention of new bodies and glazes, many copying the ceramics and glass of ancient Greece and Rome. His range and ambition, summed up by his aim to become ‘Vase Maker General to the Universe’, helped to change ceramic tastes to an unprecedented degree.

The production of an abundance of styles characterised the nineteenth century. However, blue and white – one of the most distinctive visual effects in ceramics – became, and remained, more popular than any other. Heavily influenced by porcelain exported from Asia, Britain became the leading ceramic producer of this style, driving international trade and retail opportunities. ‘Chinamania’ gripped the nation; debates about taste and authenticity drove collectors, consumers, and creators.

Ceramics was largely unaffected by the first wave of anti-industrialism in England. Neither William Morris nor the Arts and Crafts movement fully established a new type of pottery. However, an urge to turn away from the industrially-produced ceramics of the late nineteenth century, combined with a renewed interest in form, earlier Chinese ceramics, and abstract art, gave rise to a wave of pioneering British potters who insisted on the importance of the handmade and established the role of the ‘artist-potter’. This philosophy was widely popularised by the influential studio potter, Bernard Leach, who spent formative periods in China and Japan and wrote that ‘all my life I have been a courier between East and West’.

While studio ceramics continue to flourish today, global economics and advanced production technology have greatly impacted the ceramics industry in Staffordshire, the traditional heartland of British ceramics production. Artists have played a key role in documenting and commentating on these changes. The course will conclude with an artist’s examination of the decline of ceramic manufacturing and its associated artisanal skills, emphasising the importance of sustaining the intangible heritage of this longstanding and important industry.

No prior art historical knowledge is necessary.

See below for details on each lecture and how to follow the series. You can now watch the lectures here.