A Pair Of Red Earthenware Vases With Sgraffito Decoration On Cream Slip Designed By E.W. Godwin For William Watt & Co
circa 1880 – Incised marks to bases: “J.G. & E.W.G.” and “W.W.”
(JG believed to be the initials of the (unknown) potter.)
Finding this pair of Godwin vases, now in the permanent collection of The Victoria & Albert Museum, was one of the highlights in my long and continuing career in dealing with architect-designed objects from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Previously unknown and unrecorded they came to my attention as if they wanted to be found and rescued from obscurity, for posterity.
Offered at a major London auction house but catalogued as by CH Brannam, the Devon Art Potter, they metaphorically winked at me from a top-shelf cluttered with other pieces of generic Devon pottery. As I took them down to properly view, I had an overwhelming feeling that I was handling treasure. (I later said that I felt an electrical charge down my arm, apt given where they were probably originally exhibited!) On turning them over I saw the initials EWG and WW. (EW Godwin and William Watt).
Further research has led me to believe that these art pottery Godwin vases were exhibited in The International Electric Exhibition of 1881 held in The Crystal Palace. To quote from The Furniture Gazette of April 1st 1881
“The first room of the series has been fitted up decorated and furnished by Messrs. Wm. Watt and Co., of Grafton Street, as an Early English reception or morning room. The ceiling……., and, above the dado, a frieze of embossed leather paper. The furniture and fittings, drawn by Mr. E.W. Godwin, F.S.A., for Messrs. Watt & Co., and executed by the firm, are taken from the best accessible old examples. They include the Shakespeare chimney-piece, single and armchairs, Jacobean sideboard, Nuremberg hanging cabinet, tables, and writing desk. The glass and earthenware are examples of Old Flemish or Early English design. ………….
“Early English” would accurately describe the sgraffito decorated slipware of these vases.
As surely proof positive of the identity of the designer, one of the Godwin vases has a sgraffito representation of a coffee table designed by Godwin and first made by Watt in about 1867. This design was soon much plagiarised by other makers, and is recorded as such by Godwin in his diaries. The word in vertical lettering beside the table, “KAWPHYRITE”, an Anglo-Greek invention, seems to be a play on the word “copyright”, and is incorporated in the design as a joke referring to this plagiarism.
In conclusion, it seems probable that these vases, designed in about 1880 by E.W. Godwin, were made for William Watt, either as articles for sale or simply as display items for furniture. From the evidence available, only a very small quantity of this type of hand-made art pottery was ever made, or indeed designed, and these Godwin vases are, to date, the sole known survivors from the ceramic designs of this immensely innovative and influential Victorian architect.