Vase, 'The swan vase', earthenware, painted by John Holloway, modelling attributed to Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, Wedgwood and Sons, Etruria, Staffordshire, England, 1875
This well documented vase* is a tour-de-force of ceramic production from Wedgwood, one of England's leading manufacturers in the late 1800s. Modelled and painted by some of the best ceramic artists available at the time, the vase was selected for Wedgwood's spectacular displays in at least two international exhibitions: in Sydney in 1879 and in Melbourne in 1880.
Before he worked for Wedgwood, the vase's painter, John Holloway, worked at the Minton ceramic factory, and his Minton works were displayed in the 1862 London international exhibition. Recent research has revealed the sources of two maritime scenes decorating the vase: Holloway based one scene on the engraving 'The Ramsgate life-boat: morning after a heavy gale - weather moderating' by Edward William Cooke (1811-1880). The scene was published in the Illustrated London News (16 April 1864) and later sold as an engraving to raise money for the first non-sinkable lifeboat. The vase painting shows the North Goodwin lightship and a Ramsgate pilot vessel, but not the lifeboat. Another scene is an interpretation of the engraving 'Homeward Bound, Distant View of Brill' by William Miller (1796 -1882) after a drawing by Clarkson Stanfield published in London in 1833 in 'Heath's Picturesque Annual, Travelling Sketches on the Rhine, and in Belgium and Holland'.
It is not known how many versions of the Swan vase were made by Wedgwood, but eight examples are known to have survived. Five are in museums, including one in the Art Gallery of South Australia with gilt swans and body painted by Thomas Allen, and two vases painted with mottled majolica glazes in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Only three vases feature handpainted scenes and all of these represent different styles, colour schemes and themes. Most have large swan figures on covers in place of the putto and swan featured in the Powerhouse example. Only two vases, this one and its pair with body covered in magnificent deep-red glaze, were displayed by Wedgwood in Australian international exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne.
The vase is part of a story of Australia's emergence as a nation. Not satisfied with only contributing to the great expos in Europe and North America, Australian colonies decided to organise their own in late 19th century. The Sydney International Exhibition of 1879 was first and attracted exhibits from 22 countries. Only a small proportion of what was sent to Sydney and displayed in the purpose-built Garden Palace survives today; this vase is a striking example. This museum and its original collection grew from the Sydney exhibition: its first collection was drawn from Garden Palace exhibits and the imposing building became the museum's first home. Tragically, a major fire in September 1882, just before the museum's formal opening, destroyed both almost completely. Destined for the Melbourne international exhibition of 1880-81, the vase had left Sydney long before.
The grand design and scale of the swan vase, and the fact that Wedgwood was prepared to risk sending it on such a long journey, highlights the importance of Australian markets to leading English manufacturers at the time. It joins a relatively small group of extant Wedgwood ceramics linked with colonial Australia, such as the 1789 Sydney Cove Medallions made from Sydney Cove clay and the Australian Flora dinner services of the late 1800s.
*Photographs that survive in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, and in the Powerhouse Museum's collection, illustrate the vase as part of the Thomas Webb display of British ceramics and glass in the Sydney International Exhibition. A complete costing for the production of the vase and an invoice for the Sydney exhibition remain in the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston, England.
Eva Czernis-Ryl, 2011
(with thanks to William Chapman)
This vase was designed and made at Josiah Wedgwood and Sons in 1875. Modelling by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887).
Exhibited in the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879 and the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufacturers and Agricultural and Industrial Products of all Nations in Melbourne, 1880-1881. A complete costing for production of the vase and an invoice for the Sydney exhibition remain in the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston, England. A Swan vase (possibly this one?) was exhibited in the International Exhibition of 1878 in Paris (Exposition Universelle de 1878). The vendor acquired this vase at Davidson Auctions, Sydney, 24 April 2010, lot 342. At the time of this sale, neither its international exhibitions provenance nor the artists involved in its production were recorded.