Jonathan Mallinson

Published On


Page Range

pp. 259–290


  • English

Print Length

32 pages

12. 1932–35: Individuality and Industrial Art

  • Jonathan Mallinson (author)
The chapter explores Moorcroft’s creative principles against the background of the Gorrell report and the continuing debate about industrial design, energised by high-profile exhibitions at Dorland Hall (1933), Harrod’s (1934) and the Royal Academy (1935), each with its own priorities. Moorcroft continued to promote the value of individuality, craft and ornament, as opposed to the functionalist machine aesthetic championed by Pevsner or Read, but he overlapped in significant ways with modernist thinking. He was no less critical of contemporary industrial design, often characterised by angular shapes and strident ornament, and he shared the belief that good design should be judged by its coherence and suitability to the manufacturing process, that it should reflect inner conviction rather than commercial opportunism, and that it gives to everyday objects an essential and uplifting beauty. This overlap was exemplified in the widespread admiration for the formal purity of his Powder Blue tea ware which, although launched in 1914, already anticipated modern design values of the 1930s, ‘undatedly perfect’ in Pevsner’s words. These principles also informed Moorcroft’s decorative pottery which continued to attract critical attention, not from the perspective of industrial design (as was now often the case in reviews of studio pottery), but as art work singled out for its expressiveness. But in a letter to The Times he provocatively disowned the label ‘artist’, applied to him by the British Pottery Manufacturers Federation, rejecting the implication that (his) art was elitist, or affordable only by connoisseurs. All his work was seen to have the same quality of design and production, whatever its cost or function, and he presented himself as a fusion of artist and industrialist, a position particularly significant at a time when modern critical thinking was encouraging the collaboration of designers and manufacturers. Amid an ongoing debate about the nature and importance of a national design tradition, Moorcroft’s work was often regarded as English on account of its individuality, irreducible to a (mere) style. Mussolini’s purchase of a flambé vase at the Milan Triennial Exhibition of 1933, reported in the national press, was seen as evidence of the international appeal of this pottery.


Jonathan Mallinson

Emeritus Professor of French at University of Oxford

Jonathan Mallinson is Emeritus Professor of Early Modern French Literature and Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford. He has written extensively on prose fiction, comedy and satire of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and has edited works by Molière, Voltaire and Graffigny. His interest in British art pottery and its reception dates back many years.