10 March 2014

Spode and Variations on Indian Sporting Pattern

Visiting Aberystwyth University Ceramic Collection & Archive is a must for anyone who loves ceramics. Looking at their exhibition last week one of the pots immediately caught my eye. It was a large earthenware dish by Philip Eglin entitled 'The Bear Hunt' which he made for the British Ceramics Biennial 2011. This biennial event has been held at the former Spode factory in Stoke. Eglin's dish is described as being 'based on a 19th century Spode factory design'.

Spode's design is called Indian Sporting which was introduced in about 1815. It is a multi-scene pattern with a different image for each of the different shapes within a service. Transfer printed, it required many different hand-engraved copper plates to produce a whole set of tableware. This may well may have been a challenge for Spode's engravers who had probably never seen some of these exotic animals 'in the flesh'. The piece used by Eglin was the 10 inch plate printed with a scene called, by Spode, 'Death of the Bear'.
Left: Eglin 2011; Top Right: Spode plate 'Death of the Bear' c1815 (detail);
Bottom Right: Source print c1807
The inspiration for Eglin's 2011 piece obviously comes from the Spode design but in turn the Spode design was not their own original and the scenes were taken from a publication called 'Oriental Field Sports, Wild Sports of the East' written by Captain Thomas Williamson and illustrated by Samuel Howitt. Probably published around 1807/1809 in 2 volumes it had originally been produced in 20 parts between about 1805 and 1807.

This seems a popular design for modern artists to use as inspiration. The same Spode early 19th century plate was used by Phoebe Cummings in the British Ceramics Biennial 2013 who created an installation adjacent to an example of the Spode piece.
After the Death of the Bear, 2013. Clay, cement, steel, wire, and polythene, 7 x 5 x 3.5 meters.
View of work at the British Ceramics Biennial, Stoke-on-Trent, 2013
For their transfer printed Indian Sporting pattern Spode used adaptations from 17 of the original prints from 'Oriental Field Sports, Wild Sports of the East' plus sections of others to create the wonderful border pattern. The name of the scene is often printed on the back of the pieces. However, the Spode description is not always identical to that used in the original publication. Notice also, on the image of the sauce tureen below, the handle and knob sheet pattern which is used with this design which is the same as for Italian pattern.

It may seem odd to us today to see images of dead and dying animals on our dinnerware but it seems to have been quite acceptable, not only in 1815, but throughout the 19th century as well as into the 20th. Spode produced several patterns featuring hunting scenes. There were also patterns which featured dead/dying birds (these in some of the most expensive combinations of ceramic body, colour and decoration) and cock fighting. Many of these designs would just not be acceptable nor desirable today.
A backstamp from Spode's Indian Sporting pattern c1815
Many of the centres used on Indian Sporting pattern can be seen on Spode Exhibition Online.

Indian Sporting pattern was reintroduced in the late 1990s by Spode as part of 'The Blue Room Collection'.
Spode sauce tureen and stand featuring 'The Dead Hog'.