Candle Holder Candle Holder (1899) by C.H. BrannamThe Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon
The End of Sakoku
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 scale that had never existed before.
Candle Holder (1898) by Stanley Williams and C.H. BrannamThe Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon
The Birth of Interpretation
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.
Vase Vase (1895) by William Baron and C.H. BrannamThe Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon
Japonisme in Barnstaple
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.
Dish by Alexander LauderThe Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon
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 Ukiyo-e woodblock prints.
Jar Jar by Alexander LauderThe Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon
Liberty & Co
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.
The Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon holds one of the finest collections of North Devon pottery from the medieval period to present day. The ceramics mentioned in this article can be found in our North Devon Art Pottery gallery, or online here on our Google Arts and Culture page.