The Wallace Collection

A Staffordshire Earthenware Jug, possibly by Ralph Shaw, c.1730-36
Treasure of the Month - August 2010

A Staffordshire Earthenware Jug, possibly by Ralph Shaw, c.1730-36

This rare jug (C196) is the only piece of English earthenware in the Wallace Collection.

It is unusual to find such a homely piece amongst the fine continental ceramics collected by Sir Richard Wallace (1818-90) and the Hertford family. Although we do not know when the jug was acquired, it seems that in the 19th century it was thought to be Spanish. The jug is described in the Bethnal Green catalogue of the exhibition of Sir Richard Wallace’s Collection

(1872-5) as ‘Jug enamelled earthenware, Spanish 18th century’. It was also listed in the 1890 inventory of Hertford House as being displayed next to the Spanish and Italian earthenwares.

The beautiful quality of decoration on the jug does relate to Mediteranean ceramics. The foliate flowers, prancing horses and birds are created using a technique called sgraffito (incised). The darker earthenware body of the jug is coated in a layer of light coloured slip, the patterns then incised through the top layer to create the bold colour contrast. It was a Middle-Eastern and Cypriot technique which developed in Italy and France during the 14th-16th centuries (see dishes C10 & C83 on the top shelf of this case) and by the 17th century was practised by potters all over Europe.

This decoration, although similar to Mediteranean pottery, probably reflects the English country tradition for harvest wares. Larger jugs and flasks were created for communal drinking, to be taken into the fields to celebrate the completion of the harvest and adorned with similar rustic motifs to represent nature’s bounty. This jug could have been used for harvest celebrations but perhaps in a domestic setting on the farmhouse table.

By the early-18th century potteries in Staffordshire had become well known for producing bold coloured earthenware. The potter Ralph Shaw, of Burslem (active c.1733) possibly created this jug. He applied for a patent in 1733 for a decorative technique ‘of a true chocolate colour, striped with white’ which relates to the sgraffito work. Local potters contested Shaw’s right to such a monopoly and overturned the patent, an indication of the commercial popularity for this type of pottery at the time.

Staffordshire earthenwares with this distinctive decoration are extremely rare and this is the largest example known to survive.

A mug on display in the Ceramics Study Galleries at the V&A, dated ‘1741/7’ is also thought to be by Ralph Shaw or one of his imitators. A mug now in a private collection, inscribed ‘John Shaw 1742’, was possibly made by another family member.

Gallery Talks

Tuesday 10 and 24 August at 1pm with Rebecca Wallis.

Further Reading

A.V.B.Norman, Catalogue of Ceramics I, Trustees of the Wallace Collection, London, 1976, pp 368-9 (available in the shop).

© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2010.

Text by Rebecca Wallis.

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