Saturday, January 12, 2013

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Martin-ware Tobacco Jar, 1903

“If Martin-ware [… has] not the transparency of porcelain nor the elaborately and costly ornamentation of Sèvres [it is] pure and honest art work.”

Cosmo Monkhouse, the renowned British art critic described the work of the Martin Brothers' studio in “The Magazine of Art” in 1882 with the above statement. The studio was founded by the allegedly eccentric founder Robert Wallace Martin and his siblings Charles, Walter and Edwin who, together, enjoyed a life of artistic experimentation with the forms of the flora and fauna of the sixteenth-century potter Bernard Palissy.

The brothers' works, known as Martinware, relied on grotesque and peculiar forms which demonstrated  a quirky amalgam of fantasy and imagination—producing a series of anthropomorphic lidded wares, known overall as “tobacco jars.”  

Martinware Bird, 1903
Glazed Pottery on wooden stand.
The Victoria and Albert Museum

Some art historians conjecture that the Brothers Martin were inspired by the traditional English owl-shaped pottery jugs as their wares often took on fantastical fowl forms.  Martin-ware birds are not of any known species—evading classification.  The heads are often made to swivel in odd directions, further adding to their whimsy.

Here, we see an example of a Martinware Tobacco Jar and lid in the form of a bird.  Like its pottery brethren, it features a large head - tapering towards the feet.   It was made in 1903 to be displayed on a wooden stand.  Marked “Martin Bros London & Southall 11-1903,” this jar, like other similar examples is known as a “Wally Bird” and was meant to appeal to a society that was growing to appreciate Japanese-inspired art.

The tobacco jar joins one of its owl brothers.  

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