Tea cup and saucer, 'Xmas Bells', and side plate, 'Lilac Daisy', hand-painted, porcelain, manufactured by Aynsley, England, and D & Co, France, hand-painted by Muriel Cornish, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, c. 1920-1929
These examples of Muriel Cornish's china painting reflect the fascination in applied and decorative art with Australian flora seen throughout the 1920s, as well as an adherence to the fluid forms of Art Nouveau. The combination of nationalist designs drawn from nature with an organic decorative style already faded in its birthplace of France is surprisingly successful and testimony to Cornish's artistic eye and painterly skill. The popularity of using Australian flora and fauna as decorative motifs was popularised in the teaching at Sydney Technical College by Lucien Henri (taught 1881-96) and J.A. Peach (taught 1896-1929), as well as by Richard T. Baker, curator at the Technological Museum, later to become the Powerhouse Museum. Baker published a book in 1915 championing the waratah bush's flower as Australia's national emblem, and in addition set up an exhibition on the use of Australian flora in the applied arts - an event designed to encourage the widespread use of Australian motifs.
China painting for pleasure was seen as a genteel pursuit suitable for 'women of gentle birth' and emulated the professional female china painters of Doulton, Wedgwood and Minton who decorated their ranges of 'artware' porcelain (De Torres in Edwards 1992: 5). So-called artware was made to satisfy the desire for hand-made items as popularised by the Arts and Crafts movement of the last half of the 19th century and beginning with the philosophy and products of William Morris and Co. in England. The Arts and Crafts Society of NSW had counterparts in other states but differed in that NSW was dominated by women. From its inception in 1906, the Society had annual exhibitions from which the Museum of Applied Arts (later Powerhouse) and Art Gallery of NSW both acquired examples (Edwards 1992: 1-4).
The cup, saucer and side plate painted by Muriel Cornish widen the repertoire of designs held in the Powerhouse Museum collection and complement the examples of embroidery also by her in the collection. As a practitioner in the crafts world of the 1920s to 1930s, Cornish played a role in perpetuating an interest in national symbols, and celebrating Australia's unique flora.
Paul Donnelly, Curator of Design, History & Society, November 2008
Peter Timms, 'Australian Studio Pottery & China Painting', Oxford University Press, 1986: 35; 128-29
Ann Stephen, 'Lucien Henri', Powerhouse Publishing, Sydney, 2002
Deborah Edwards, 'Australian Decorative Arts', Art Gallery of NSW, 1992: 1-7
The Aynsley tea cup, saucer and sideplate blanks were hand-painted by Muriel Cornish in Sydney, New South Wales, Austrtalia between 1920 and 1929.
China painting for pleasure was seen as a genteel pursuit suitable for 'women of gentle birth' and emulated the professional female china painters of Doulton, Wedgwood and Minton who decorated their ranges of 'artware' porcelain (De Torres in Edwards 1992: 5). In china painting, enamel paints mixed with flux were applied to the porcelain blanks purchased from a variety of often well-known international potteries including, as with this example, Aynsley of England. The painted cups etc. were fired at around 800 C degrees in a kiln, causing the paint to fuse with the glaze and become hardy enough to allow the piece to be used for normal domestic use.
Deborah Edwards, 'Australian Decorative Arts' Art Gallery of NSW, 1992: 1-7
Muriel Warren Cornish (1893-1940) was a craftswoman of note who was active in a variety of media between 1913 and 1940. She was born in Newcastle in 1893, daughter of Mabel and Arthur W. Cornish. In 1913 Cornish joined the Arts and Crafts Society of NSW where she primarily identified as a needleworker and needlework designer. However, as Peter Timms notes, members of the Society were encouraged to diversify their interests and among the additional craft practices that Cornish exhibited at the Society were examples of china painting which 'are notable for their delicate traceries of dotted lines, an almost direct translation of the embroidery technique' (Timms 1986: 35). In addition Cornish was an illustrator, print-maker and painter who had studied art privately with Albert Collins and had also attended Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School from 1930-33. She may also have studied with Adelaide Perry because she exhibited her work with a group representing that school in 1936 (Edwards 1992: 9). Cornish was a member of the Society of Women Artists in the 1920s and exhibited in 1936 with its reformed version, the Women's Industrial Arts Society. She died at Cremorne, Sydney, in 1940.
Peter Timms, 'Australian Studio Pottery & China Painting', Oxford University Press, 1986 pp 35; 128-29
Dictionary of Australian artists online http://www.daao.org.au/main/read/1897
Deborah Edwards, 'Australian Decorative Arts' Art Gallery of NSW, 1992