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SNAPPY DRESSERS; Dr Christopher Dresser was one of his era's foremost creative forces, as his delightful pottery designs illustrate.

NEVER heard of Linthorpe Art Pottery? OK, you're forgivenunless you have any connection to Middlesbrough.

Never heard of Dr Christopher Dresser? Get back to the classroom - he's only one of the most important artist designers of the Aesthetic Movement. Read on and learn about both, and why the two are linked inextricably.

Established in 1879 on the site of the failed Sun Brick Works in Linthorpe village, the pottery was Dresser's answer to the crippling unemployment in the post-industrial North Yorkshire town on the south bank of the River Tees.

Using the same local clay that made Sun bricks, Dresser produced pots good enough to persuade landowner John Harrison to support his scheme to introduce a factory making decorative wares never seen before.

The charismatic young designer was among a handful who dared to be different. When Britain was at its zenith during the Victorian period, good taste and design were forfeited for the sake of innovation and massproduction.

It has been estimated that more furniture was produced in the six decades of Queen Victoria's reign, than in all the previous centuries put together.

Aesthetic judgement became subservient to efficient manufacture, with the result that design took on a new conservatism. Manufacturers had no reason to go to the expense of commissioning new designs, while their respective markets remained aesthetically uncommitted.

Dresser, who was years ahead of his time, turned that on its head.

Using mass-production methods, he imbued the simplest of domestic objects with a high degree of sophistication in what was the first hint at modernism and functionalism.

He could turn his hand to designing almost anything for the home, from wallpaper to toast racks. Even cast iron garden chairs and hat stands can be found with the Dresser touch of distinction.

By 1899, he was hailed in the pages of The Studio - the bible of Victorian and Edwardian craftsmen artists - as "perhaps the greatest of commercial designers, imposing his fantasy and invention upon the ordinary output of British industry".

From the start, Linthorpe Art Pottery was just as different. Greatly admired by critics, it was influenced heavily by Dresser's fascination with Egyptian, Moorish, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Peruvian and The charismatic young designer was among a handful who dared to be different... On Dresser's highly individual design ethos Celtic designs and it tapped into the Victorian fixation with the vogue of "Orientalism".

Linthorpe's seemingly simple designs and vivid glazes were designed to be beautiful yet functional and being produced in large numbers relative to that of other art pottery manufacturers, it was inexpensive to purchase, making it highly popular with the masses.

Soon the business that started in one room with a single thrower's wheel and turning lathe was employing 100 staff, prompting Harrison to agree to build a factory and kilns.

Acting as Art Superintendent, Dresser attracted skilled workers from the Staffordshire Potteries and elsewhere and soon the pottery became the largest on Teesside.

In 1883, Linthorpe Art Pottery won a gold medal at an exhibition at Alexandra Palace, where it also received royal patronage: Alexandra Princess of Wales purchased a vase there and in 1889, she and her husband, later Edward VII, were given two peacock jardinieres on stands following their visit to open Middlesbrough town hall.

The response from the public was immediate and Linthorpe entered its golden period.

Encouraged by the ever-inventive Dresser, it was suggested that the business should branch out to produce wallpaper, decorative glass and beaten metalwork. Silver edging and handles enhanced some of his proposed pottery designs.

But such innovation was to result in the pottery's demise and the expansion never happened. The first ceramics produced in the UK using gas-fired kilns produced mixed results, not helped by the unpredictable effects using multiple firings and experimental glazes intended to run during firing.

The cost of considerable wastage together with everchanging public taste flowed to the bottom line and the business closed in 1889.

Linthorpe's loss was its competitors' gain, however, their skilled workers finding ready employment elsewhere in the industry, but in its 10-year existence thousands of brightly coloured pieces flowed from the works, many with uniquely beautiful glaze effects coupled with Dresser's extraordinary designs.

FACT FILE CHRISTOPHER Dresser (1834-1904), the son of a tax collector, was born in Glasgow but moved to London in 1847, having won a scholarship at the exceptionally early age of 13 to study at the Government School of Design at Somerset House.

He studied design and botany and won numerous medals and prizes, subsequently gaining a doctorate at the University of Jena in Thuringia, Germany. At 18, he became a lecturer in botany at the Department of Science and Art in South Kensington.

Dresser published The Art of Decorative Design in 1862 and in 1867, he visited Japan as official representative of the British government, exchanging the best examples of European design for their Japanese equivalents.

At the same time he also collected Japanese works of art for sale at Tiffany's in New York. He published a lengthy account of his visit in 1882 entitled "Japan, its Architecture, Art and Art Manufacturers".

In 1879, he formed a partnership with Charles Holmes of Bradford to import oriental wares to England. At the same time he was working extensively as a freelance designer for potters Minton and Wedgwood in the Staffordshire Potteries and William Ault at Swadlincote, near Burton-on-Trent; carpets for Brinton and Lewis; Clutha Glass in Glasgow and Coalbrookdale ironworks at Madeley, Shropshire.

His association with the Linthorpe ceased in 1882 and as a result, examples of Dresserdesigned Linthorpe are scarce today and change hands for large sums.

| A private collection of Linthorpe art pottery is to be sold by Tennants at the Auction Centre, Leyburn, North Yorkshire, today. A fully illustrated catalogue is available on Tennants' website. All estimates are plus buyer's premium of 20% plus VAT.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 8, 2018
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