Wedgwood and Artists: Barlaston Mug

Wedgwood and Artists: Barlaston Mug

Wedgwood is renowned for its commemorative ware. One of the most deceptively simple, although important to the history of World War II, commemorative pieces ever designed was the 1940 Barlaston mug by Eric Ravilious. The mug celebrates the company’s move to its new purpose-built factory at Barlaston. It was a momentous decision to relocate from Etruria, the factory Josiah had founded in 1769, especially as Britain was amid World War II.

To mark this historic event, Eric Ravilious was asked to design a commemorative Queen’s ware mug. By April 1940, samples of the mug were ready and Ravilious wrote to Tom Wedgwood, ‘I am very pleased indeed that the yellow and grey version seems the better one. I’ve no other criticism, the bright orange and blue one isn’t really very good – the other one is splendidly rich in effect, much richer than I thought it would be.’

The mug features a head and shoulders portrait of Josiah Wedgwood I. Impressions of the kilns used to fire ware appear on either side of the portrait, complete with stylised flames. Ravilious has also given a sense of both times past and continuity with simple drawings of some of the teaware shapes produced by the company throughout its history.

As with many of Ravilious’s designs his artistic talents shine through. Already renowned as a wood engraver, water colourist and designer, he wrote of himself in May 1936, ‘I’m trying my hand at pottery designs…’ and added, ‘…I shall love doing this job.’

Ravilious used the new lithographic process and enhanced it by hand colouring, rather than using the more traditional skills of transfer-printing and hand-enamelling. It is fitting that such a revolutionary and eye-catching commemorative design should have been produced using this new method.

During the next four years Ravilious produced many spirited designs for Wedgwood, but his death on active service as a war artist in 1942 terminated a most promising career as a ceramic designer. Today, his designs are universally admired and sought after.