From the cobblestone streets of Staffordshire to the bustling lanes of London, Charles Vyse, one of the great luminaries of English pottery, left a profound imprint on the world of ceramic arts. Born into a lineage of Staffordshire potters in 1882, he embarked on an illustrious journey at a tender age. Vyse’s life and work resonate with the vibrancy and intensity that hallmark his artistry, telling a story of dedication, exploration, and innovation in the realm of ceramics. We explore the life and work of Charles Vyse including his figurines and his Chinese glazes.
Early Years and Artistic Foundations
Charles Vyse was born in 1871 and at aged just fourteen he was apprenticed to the globally renowned Doulton pottery in Burslem. Under the tutelage of Charles Noke, Vyse honed his skills as a modeller and designer. His striking potential was recognized by none other than Henry Doulton himself, guiding Vyse towards further formal education. This led him to the Hanley Art School, then to the esteemed Royal College of Art (RCA) in London on a scholarship.
The RCA served as a crucible for his talent. He specialized in sculpture during his tenure from 1905 to 1910. His educational journey included a traveling scholarship to Italy in 1909, which undoubtedly broadened his artistic horizons. He became a member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors in 1911, a testament to his growing reputation and skill.
Early Career and Distinct Style
In 1914, he unveiled a frieze at a new technical college in Stoke-on-Trent (now Staffordshire University). This piece of art, a depiction of potters and miners, carved from Hollington sandstone, signaled his artistic maturation. Its style echoed the influence of the New Sculpture movement, demonstrating Vyse’s knack for blending traditional and contemporary forms.
His innovative designs during the inter-war period were manifested in figurines like “Darling,” produced by Doulton. Yet, the true essence of Vyse’s work shines through the studio pottery he and his wife Nell established at Cheyne Walk in Chelsea in 1919. They immortalized the everyday faces of London in slip-cast statuettes, a concept that was embraced warmly by the public.
Studio Pottery and Legacy
Their studio wasn’t limited to these popular figurines. It ventured into revivalist oriental forms and glazes and also churned out art deco hand-decorated functional stoneware. Inspired by his neighbor George Eumorfopoulos’ collection of Asian pottery, Vyse delved into Sung style ceramics, an endeavor that would prove to be transformative.
Nell’s linguistic proficiency facilitated this journey, as she translated 19th-century German and French texts on early Chinese glazes. This led to the reinvigoration of chun, tenmoku, and T’zu-chou stoneware glazes. Vyse’s experiments with oriental glazes yielded a significant discovery: the blue hue in celadons was due to iron, not copper as previously believed.
Unfortunately, their Cheyne Walk studio was bombed during the Blitz in 1940. Vyse then began teaching at Farnham School of Art while his personal life took a sharp turn, with his marriage to Nell coming to an end. When the war ended, Vyse returned to his passion with the assistance of Barbara Waller, a Farnham student. The annual exhibitions at Walker’s Gallery resumed from 1950 until his retirement in 1963. Charles Vyse died in 1971.
The legacy of Charles Vyse, however, is far from retired. The figurines and pottery crafted by him and Nell are displayed in some of the world’s leading art venues like the Victoria and Albert Museum.