The pioneer studio potter, Merric Boyd, set a new direction for Australian ceramics in the early decades of the 20th century after establishing his pottery at Murrumbeena, on the outskirts of Melbourne in 1911. This vase, with its vigorous modelling and glaze colouration, reflects Boyd's interest in using the qualities of clay to achieve sculptural form and a sense of connectedness with Australia's natural environment. Following his service in the First World War, he worked and studied in the English Staffordshire potteries from 1917 to 1919. On his return to Australia, his robust evocations of the Australian landscape offered an alternative to the refined imported porcelains, with their floral imagery and fashionable design, available at the time.
As Australian decorative arts and design began to reflect and celebrate the post-Federation period's burgeoning interest in native flora and fauna, crafts such as china-painting, woodcarving and metalwork entered the repertoire of leisure skills of many women. Their work celebrated Australian nature, popularising the idea of the bush in the comfort of the growing suburbs. Jessie Simpson painted this vase in 1917, placing the image of that quintessential suburban companion, the magpie, within a decorative frieze below an unusual black-painted band. Its bold design reflects the transition from the Federation period's earnest expressions of Australia's indigenous natural environment to the more decorative geometric style of domestic objects and decoration (now known as Art Deco) that became popular during the 1920s.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002
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