Martin Brothers Grotesque Creature Martin Brothers Grotesque Creature Martin Brothers Grotesque Creature Martin Brothers Grotesque Creature Martin Brothers Grotesque Creature Martin Brothers Grotesque Creature
A Sculptural Grotesque Stoneware Creature

By Martin Brothers, 1898

With a smiling expression and gnarled claws; in an olive-brown semi-matt glaze with ivory and dark brown highlights, the underside signed Martin Bros London & Southall 2-1898

6 in (15.3 cm) high, 6¼ in (15.9 cm) wide

Vance Jordan, New York

Boobies, Boojums and Snarks – The Ceramic Curiosities of the Martin Brothers 1880-1914, November – February 1982; Wilmington, Delaware Art Museum, March – April 1982; Syracuse, Everson Museum, May – June 1982

Boobies, Boojums and Snarks – The Ceramic Curiosities of the Martin Brothers 1880-1914, Exh. Cat., New York, Jordan-Volpe Gallery, 1981, p. 17, cat no. 104
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Robert Wallace Martin, the eldest of the Martin Brothers, was born in London on 4th May 1843. His career as an artist began in the studio of the sculptor John Birnie Philip, who had worked with Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (often considered the father of the Gothic Revival) on the new Houses of Parliament. Both Philip and R.W. Martin were strongly influenced by Pugin’s stylistic choices and embraced the Gothic Revival style. Martin’s pursuit of Gothic Revival endured throughout his career, exemplified in the ‘Wally bird’ tobacco jars and grotesque figures he later created, and for which the Martin Brothers became so well known.

Later influences on R.W. Martin’s Gothic Revival grotesques included Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense, as alluded to by Monkhouse in his Magazine of Art article of 1882, and The Descent of Man written by Charles Darwin and published in 1881.

Up to the 1870s when he joined with his three younger brothers to form their own pottery, R.W. Martin developed his techniques for working with stoneware, clay-fired at a higher temperature than most others. He learned this skill from Cazin at the Fulham Pottery. After forming his own pottery, R.W. Martin’s main production was salt-glazed stoneware. This involves throwing salt into the kiln during firing, giving the finished ceramic product an unusual texture.

Walter Frazer Martin and Edwin Bruce Martin were substantially younger than their brother Robert Wallace, born respectively in 1859 and 1860. R.W. Martin founded his own firm in 1873, but it was only after his younger brothers completed their training (their time at the Doulton pottery served as a major inspiration) that they joined their older brother. Another brother, Charles Douglas Martin (born 1846) also provided sales support for the business. In 1877 the four moved their pottery to Southall and changed the name to R.W. Martin and Brothers. In conjunction with this new studio, Charles Martin managed a showroom at 16 Brownlow Street in Holborn from 1878. The pottery closed in 1915.

Like other art potteries at the time, each brother had his own role within the studio. R.W. Martin managed the firm as a whole and worked on modelling, Walter was the main thrower, Edwin decorated the works and Charles served as the retailer.

The relationship between decoration and function in the Martins’ work was a fluid one, as spoon-warmers became the gaping mouths of fantastic monsters, and tobacco jars appeared as owl-like ‘Wally-birds’ – anthropomorphic vessels for the ‘weed of wisdom’. Eventually, the Martin Brothers freed ornament from any historical style. The resulting eclecticism and imaginative inventiveness which characterized their work puts them among the pioneers who liberated decorative art from the rigid historicism in which it had stagnated, and pointed the way to the more naturalistic style which would emerge as Art Nouveau.

The Martin Brothers enjoyed fame in their lifetime, but their works have since increased tenfold in value. Their ceramics are not only unique stand-alone pieces, but also vital additions to any 19th- and 20th-century decorative arts collection.