Friday, 24 June 2005

Set a trap for George Tinworth’s Doulton mice

Play Goers
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by Christopher Proudlove©

It's a long time since I watched a Punch and Judy show. It was probably 15 or 20 years ago on the prom with the young apprentices at Llandudno, North Wales. Happy days.

I remember it well. We were on holiday and I recall being amused to see a tiny mouse, unobserved by the rest of the crowd, snuffling around and snatching the odd crumb dropped by lunchtime picnickers.

The memories came flooding back, as they say, when I spotted the amusing little pottery group illustrated here.

It was made at Doulton in Lambeth, South London, in the days before the firm's move to the Staffordshire Potteries, when individuality and modeller talent was recognised and rewarded.

The group comes from the whimsical mind of George Tinworth (1843-1913. It's called Play Goers and shows a family of mice watching a Punch and Judy show to the musical accompaniment of a one-mouse band.

The first Doulton sculptor to model the creature for the company, Tinworth knew how to bring out the comedic best in a mouse.

A more unlikely a subject for one of Doulton's leading ceramic sculptors to make would be hard to imagine.

Most days would find Tinworth immersed in creating massive stoneware panels depicting biblical or historical scenes.

Examples can be seen in a number of cathedrals around the world, most notable among which are those in York Minster.

However, he is reported as having complained of being unable to finish such pieces satisfactorily "with a tired mind".

His jokey "humoresques", as he called them, showing animals in human situations, was his way of finding light relief.

Consequently, they were produced in small numbers and without documentation except for Tinworth's easily identified 'GT' monogram which many of them bear. Today they can make often staggering prices.

He modelled mice either singly as paperweights and chessmen, or in groups that tell a story.

For example, a menu holder, first produced at Doulton in 1885, is designed as an apple stall, with the mouse attendant asleep while another quietly steals an apple.

In Tea Time Scandal, a mouse tea party is in progress, while Menagerie is a clock case featuring 19 mice all engaged in various circus pursuits including a wheel of fortune and a shooting gallery.

Another shows mice in a rowing boat, made by Tinworth in about 1885 and called 'Cockneys at Brighton'. While one rows, another plays a concertina, much to the amusement of the young mice in the prow and the dolphin following alongside.

Tinworth was born in 1843, in the most unlikeliest of circumstances to have produced a gifted potter.

The son of an inebriate wheelwright, he was brought up in the squalid surroundings of Walworth in south east London, the only one of four sons to survive past infancy.

Schooling was negligible, but his Nonconformist mother brought him up on the Bible and taught him to read and recite the scriptures.

Among his boyhood jobs was working at a fireworks factory, where an incident with a leaking bag of gunpowder on a bus almost put an end to his young life.

By the time he was 16, with two jobs already behind him, he began working for his father, secretly using the tools to practise wood-carving.

At 19, and after pawning his overcoat to pay the fees, Tinworth joined evening classes at Lambeth School of Art, under the brilliant headmaster John Sparkes.

His father was deliberately kept ignorant of the boy's attendance, and Tinworth's progress there was exceptional.

Schools of the Royal Academy

He won a school prize at an annual show with a carved panel of Christ being mocked by the soldiers, and after three years, in 1864, he was admitted to the Schools of the Royal Academy to study fulltime.

To do so he had to ask his father's permission to attend. Grudgingly the old man agreed, on condition the boy worked for three or four hours before breakfast and again in the evening after school.

Two years, later Tinworth had won a number of medals and exhibited at the Royal Academy.

At about this time Henry Doulton, whose father John had founded the Lambeth Pottery, was working closely with Sparkes and the School of Art in developing his family's business.

Until then Doulton had concentrated on industrial ceramics, bathroom fittings and saltglaze drainage pipes.

The business had earned a fortune for its founder and in a move as much motivated by philanthropy as further profit making, John Doulton decided to diversify into arty decorative ceramics.

Coincidentally, Sparkes was growing concerned that Tinworth's talent was being wasted working in a wheelwright's shop.

The obvious happened as if preordained: by the end of 1866 Sparkes had been instrumental not only in persuading Doulton to offer Tinworth a job, but also in coaxing the latter to accept, even though neither truly knew what each had to offer the other.

The result was a less than auspicious start, modelling the Gothic decoration on the outsides of water filters - a Doulton standard product.

However, with the encouragement of first Sparkes and later the architect Edward Cresy, writer John Ruskin and eventually Henry Doulton himself, Tinworth went on to become one of the company's leading artists.

At first, he modelled several large terracotta medallions based on Greek and Sicilian designs. This was followed, in 1874, by him exhibiting three large panels at the Royal Academy and a further eight smaller examples the following year.

By 1894, he claimed to have produced at least 500 important biblical panels and countless other smaller examples, as well as busts, statues, figure groups vases, jugs, tankards and vases. His output continued almost unabated until his sudden death in 1913.

Tinworth's "humoresques" first appeared in the 1870s and many of them are unique. Others, however, were duplicated in small quantities from moulds, but all were finished by him individually before adding his incised initials.

Perhaps his most famous figures produced in this way, after his mice, are his boys and girls playing musical instruments, now extremely rare and sought after.

Pictures show, top: Play Goers - this charming Tinworth mouse group is modelled as a Punch and Judy show with attendant mice in green, buff, brown and blue glazed, the base has the usual impressed "GT" monogram and rose mark, and is inscribed with "LC", an assistant's initials. The piece measures 5½ inches in height and has a saleroom estimate of £1,500-2,500 ($2,700-4,500)

Below, left to right: Tinworth excelled at figure modelling, as this group proves. The pair of vases left and right are worth £3,000-4,000 ($5,500-9,000) and the clockcase, centre, £2,500-3,500 ($4,500-6,400). Interestingly, the penny farthing rider is a boy in this case and a milestone support at the rear reads "5 MILES TO LONDON". It's worth £1,200-1,500 ($2,000-2,700). The near identical figure but with a frog rider is named "Bicyclist"

The "GT" monogram used on much of Tinworth's work

A remarkable and rare Tinworth figural group, circa 1880s, titled The Swimming Bath. Notice the use of the blue glaze to represent water and the brown stoneware-coloured bodies in it, modelled with such precision that they do indeed appear to be swimming. It's worth £6,000-8,000 ($11,000-14,500)
Tinworth figure modelsTinworth GT monogramGeorge Tinworth Swimming Pool

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Anonymous Matt Hanna said...

What an interesting an informative article. Thank you. GT led a simple life working for Doulton Lambeth and deserves greater recognition for his contribution to British Art Pottery. He died in 1913 and was buried in the same graveyard as Sir Henry Doulton (and Sir Henry Tate). Both Doulton and Tate have grand terracotta Mausoleum at West Norwood Cemetery. Tinworths' memorial, of which there is no pictorial record, was obliterated in the 1980's/90's and the plot was resold and re-used. After some protestation from a descendant a simple plaque on the ground is all that records the final resting place of this master sculptor... but you have to look hard to find it.

5 July 2010 at 03:05  
Anonymous Christopher Proudlove said...

What a fascinating footnote. Thank you for sharing it ... and for your kind words.

5 July 2010 at 03:07  
Anonymous Pam said...

Loved the article and information on George Tinworth. I, too, have a lovely "Play Goers" sculpture from 1886 which may be auctioned soon. Thank you for the very informative biography - so interesting to hear about his childhood.

22 January 2011 at 12:13  
Anonymous GT said...

thank you for article, i have also heard he first discovered pottery by taking a piece of red clay out of the workings of men repairing drains in london. also does anyone know what he actually died of

24 March 2011 at 11:54  
Anonymous GT said...

i have one of the tinworth jester's, he made 12 for the art union, my paticular version looks different to the stock pictures, different base, but i imagine, as you say most pieces are one offs, so there may well be difference from piece to piece. i believe tinworth's work is the best investment i have in this current turbulent financial climate, better than any of the other pottery in my collection.
once again thanks for the article,
very best wishes ash

24 March 2011 at 11:59  

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