The vogue for iridescent luster pottery was pioneered by William de Morgan in the 1870s. After much experimentation, he revived the lost art of luster painting, which originated in ancient Persia. During the firing process, oxygen was excluded from the kiln and mixtures of silver, copper and other metals deposited light reflecting metallic layers on the surface of the ware. De Morgan’s designs were used on vases and tiles which decorated Victorian smoking rooms and Turkish baths. His success encouraged other British potters to “chase the rainbow” and create their own luster glazes.
The Lure of Luster
At the Pilkington factory in Lancashire, established in 1892, William Burton developed an opalescent glaze which was called “Lancastrian” after the county. Burton commissioned leading artists of the period to design vases, plaques and tiles for his reduction fired glaze effects. In 1914, the Wedgwood factory in Staffordshire perfected a range of liquid luster glazes which were decorated with golden designs of butterflies, birds of paradise and shimmering shoals of fish. The designer Daisy Makeig-Jones became famous for her Fairyland Lustre Ware, populated with imps, goblins and fairies in fantasy forests. Her fanciful designs were launched in 1915 and remained popular until the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression damaged the luxury goods market.
The Secret of Sung
At Royal Doulton in the early 1900s, artists and chemists experimented to revive the lustrous rouge flambé glazes of the ancient Chinese potters. The exact process for Doulton’s high temperature transmutation glazes was a closely guarded secret, but essentially it depends on the color change that metallic oxides undergo when oxygen levels are reduced in the kiln firing and copper turns red instead of green. Feathered, veined and mottled effects, known as Sung Wares, became Doulton’s specialty and images of celestial dragons and soaring peacocks were painted under the flambé glazes.