There was also a softer focus in some of Robin’s output that can be seen in the image above illustrating Gray’s Elegy, with a long landscape vista in the background complementing a very evocative depiction of woodland. He also notably favoured misty country views as a background contrast to sharper focus foreground depictions of country flowers (see image at bottom).
Woods and trees provided notably favoured compositional subject matter for Tanner. Amongst many others, Tanner was very affected by the loss of the Elm from our rural landscapes, and produced work intended as an elegy on its departure.
Another core element of Robin’s oeuvre were sharply delineated images of flowers, grouped contextually by month or other theme. This example, Flowers in May, shows a display of flowers artfully displayed against the background of a Cotswolds graveyard headstone.
This is an artists re-imagining rather than a depiction directly from nature and with a strong pattern and design element. Tanner was a lifelong devotee of the art and design of William Morris, possibly an unspoken influence in this work.
Another significant influence on Robin’s output were historic printed and engraved images of horticultural subject matter. Indeed we hope to have on loan for our forthcoming show a folio of such prints purchased at the Tanner dispersal auction in 1996, and bearing Robin’s signature.
In this instance, Tanner has produced a still life of flowers almost in the Dutch manner. As was often his wont, he also also used in the composition an element of landscape and in the foreground a scene from rural craft – in this instance the thatching of circular ricks of corn so redolent of the Wiltshire countryside of the inter-war years.
Scenes from village life and local farms and rural dwellings were also a strongly favoured early theme, this example bearing comparison with Priory Farm produced by FL Griggs in 1913. The Tanner’s family photo album has a large section of images of vernacular architecture local to their marital home Old Chapel Field, built in 1930-1931.
It should however be emphasised that these works were by no means direct representations of actual buildings. Rather they were at times somewhat idealised recreations from the artists’s mind, and followed rural themes also employed by Sutherland and Drury in the mid to late 1920s.
This very evocative image of the late 1920s, Martin’s Hovel, is a good example of the influence of the somewhat mystical output of both William Blake and his devotee Edward Calvert. Tanner’s early career had similar evocative themes of the rural idyll and of the techniques of luminescence employed by Samuel Palmer.
Rural architecture and the work of fields are notably prominent, as are the large stooks of corn deliberately magnified in scale for the purpose of contextual emphasis. The prominent setting sun also quotes from Palmer.
The opening day of our next show, 19th May 2018, will mark the 30th anniversary to the day of the passing of Robin Tanner in 1988. Previous visitors to the Winchcombe Archive Collection at Long Room Gallery will be aware of the pastoral revival amongst young British artists of the 1920s largely inspired by the output of the 19th century romantic artist Samuel Palmer who became very much in vogue that decade.
At the core of these neo-pastoralists were a group who trained at or were associated with Goldsmiths College London. Probably the best known were Graham Sutherland and Paul Drury although Tanner, nicknamed country Robin by his friends, was very much part of this circle. Tanner was a teacher etcher at Goldsmiths and attended etching evening classes there run by the etcher Stanley Anderson. The Chipping Campden based artist and book illustrator FL Griggs was also a strong technical and thematic influence on that Goldsmiths group.
So there will be a strong art theme to our May/June 2018 Tanner retrospective and we will be showing prints by William Blake, Samuel Palmer and Edward Calvert to place in context a related selection of the output of Robin. A proportion of exhibits will also be for sale.
The show will also have as a focus, the arts and crafts haven that was the Tanner’s Wiltshire marital home, Old Chapel Field. Lastly there will be themed displays reflecting their mutual interest in children’s art, rural crafts and horticulture.
Please see below initial details of our talks series for this May which includes a blend of art, design and horticultural themes. All talks will take place at 3pm sharp and on this occasion we have also scheduled events on Sundays. Venues are in the Long Room Gallery and at the Methodist Church Hall next door.
The photograph above is of an Arita (Japanese) porcelain bowl of circa 1610 given to Bernard Leach by Shoji Hamada whilst both were still in Japan prior to their moving to England by 1919 and the establishment of the Leach Pottery in St Ives, Cornwall from 1920. As founder members of the Japanese Mingei (folkcraft) movement they were both fascinated by surviving examples of handmade objects by ‘unknown craftsmen’ – that is to say admired objects of ceramic craft not bearing an identifiable maker’s mark.
There is a dichotomy here in between certain aspects of artists and craftspeople. Both Hamada and Leach had harboured aspirations to make a living as artists. Leach had trained as an etcher at the Slade in London and had originally travelled to Japan just before WW1 to introduce the technique there before falling in love with pottery as a medium at a Tokyo Raku party.
Hamada in his writings also admitted artistic aspirations in his published writings but chose a career as a potter as he felt he was more likely to earn a living in this following. Hamada was to follow the precedent of his potter forebears in not applying a seal or signature to his pots after leaving St Ives in 1923.
In the context of the post Reformation era in Europe, artists would more typically sign their work. Conversely, with certain notable exceptions – the ‘Toft wares’ of 17th century Staffordshire, 18th century harvest and other wares of Bideford and Barnstaple being good examples – pottery output was typically anonymous. Workshops typically served local communities and villagers would generally know the maker personally so there was no need to sign work.
In the case of Leach, very much the artist manque, the application of his monogram or signature to work produced to his designs or with his influence was conversely the rule. As with the studio of a master artist on canvas or paper, where art produced from workshops was classically the work of several hands, be it in the preparation and sizing of canvas, the addition of supplementary details and so on, it was the name of the Master that predominated in the finished work. For canvas, substitute thrown or prepared ceramic form.
So for Leach the artist, the design to be applied to the finished pot was of equal importance to the form itself. The form was as much a receptacle for design than produced for its own practical purpose: the pot as art object.
Are pots and ceramics produced to Leach designs for him to embellish less valid and valuable than, say, a Shoji Hamada form made and decorated personally by the Japanese master at Mashiko? The output of both owed their genesis to the spirit of the individual creator-designer. How is ‘ownership’ of creation to be judged…
Returning to the Willow tree, the subject of my initial blog in this theme, this features as the sole motif on the Arita teabowl at the head of this piece. This was also to become a signature design initially for Bernard and subsequently even more strongly for his son David. The use of such a cultural symbol in English studio ceramics produced in the Eastern tradition continues the East-West dialogue highlighted in my first posting.
The ‘willow pattern’ design was first brought to European attention in the 18th century through the import of fine Ch’ien-lung (Quianlong) porcelains such as the above ‘biscuit back’ oblong dish. The design’s origin is buried deep in Chinese folklore but classically incorporates figures on a bridge in an imagined oriental landscape of a lake or inlet with pagoda style oriental buildings prominent.
The import of such fine blue and white porcelains was to have a major impact on pottery making both in continental Europe and in England, leading notably to the development of tin glazed delft wares with blue and white and on occasions polychrome brushwork. It was in part also the harbinger of a growing fascination with the Far East seen as the 18th century progressed in English furniture and decor popular in fashionable circles.
This visual dialogue in ceramics continued strongly into the 19th century in the mass market. This saw the manufacture of hugely popular and diverse transfer printed bone china wares, developed initially by engravers at the Spode works in Stoke on Trent in the late 18th century. Such wares became almost ubiquitous and alongside Italianate classical designs (see base of blog) dominated volume transfer printed tableware output in Victorian England.
Whilst the willow tree was but one of many motifs that featured, the latter became somewhat of a leitmotif for the oriental in the mass market. As to production techniques, in the Chinese context such wares were hand painted with at times an almost production line division of labour each worker adding a particular design element. As far as I am aware no individual designer has ever been identified and indeed the treatment and positioning of classical elements varied considerably in Ch’ien-lung wares.
In the English context, whilst some of the earliest soft paste blue and white porcelains continued to be hand decorated, engraved and transfer printed pattern designs were soon introduced. In the late 18th century Spode workshop context the names of individual design engravers is recorded.
Is this truly original design when so clearly influenced by established precursors? As far as making is concerned, whilst the Ch’ien-lung ‘originals’ appear individual were their methods so very different from the volume manufacturing workshops of 19th century Stoke?