An Introduction to Gouda Pottery

From the late 19th century and throughout both the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods Gouda Pottery produced distinctive, highly fashionable pieces of ornamental and functional ware. There are many pieces that are affordable for the new collector but there are also rare pieces that have the serious collector sit up and take notice.

Gouda is the output of not just one, but a large group of different factories working from Southern Holland, largely in the town of Gouda itself and potteries from nearby towns. This means there is a large output and dating and interpreting the backstamp can be quite difficult. While Gouda was initially best known in Holland, it has gained in popularity and is now collected world-wide.

From the early 18th century Delft tiles, basic domestic pottery and clay pipes were the mainstay of the pottery industry in Holland and they were made from local clay.  Because of its location, the town of Gouda, between Rotterdam and Utrecht, was ideally placed for trading routes across Europe, the United States and Australia.  During the hayday of the Gouda potteries in the 1920 and 1930s, their wares were being exported all over the world.

In 1894 Aart van der Want, a direct descendant of Pieter, who had founded a pottery in the 1750s, decided to try something new.  The increasing wealth of the middle classes brought with it an appreciation of new movements in painting and sculpture and Aart von der Want began to experiment using coloured glazes and contemporary ‘art pottery’ shapes.

1898 saw the coronation of Queen Wilhelmina and that year the Regina pottery was founded which alongside Plateelbakkerij Zuid Holland (generally abbreviated to PZH) set the high standards for  fashionable Art Pottery which was to be popular worldwide until the outbreak of the Second World War.

Prominent designers also added to the interest in decorative ceramics.  North of Gouda in the Hague an architect, T.A.C. Colenbrander, produced a range of shapes and patterns for the Rozenburg factory in the new Art Nouveau style that directly inspired and fed into the new potteries in Gouda.

Art Nouveau developed in the 1880s and lasted until the outbreak of the First World War.  Typically inspired by natural forms, extravagant curved lines and tendrils the most obvious British exponents were Liberty in London, artists like Aubrey Beardsley, Charles Rennie Macintosh and some of the Pre-Raphaelites.  All over Europe capital cities expressed this movement in their own way – the Metropolitan archways in Paris, The Secessionists in Vienna, Gaudi’s architecture in Spain.

As the public embraced this new fashionable style the potteries of Gouda were influenced and produced intricate hand painted vases, candlesticks, jardineres and a wealth of other forms.  Often in silhouette these pieces can look like a bud or flower head with the sinuous hand-painted decoration adding distinctive colour.  The work of the Brantjes (Haga) factory from the Art Noveau period is now highly sought after.

A major breakthrough came for the PZH factory in 1910 with the development of a matt glaze technique.  Because the factory feared rejection they did not put their name on the early pieces.  Similarly when selling wares to the Liberty shop in London, pieces were simply marked with the shop’s name as they feared that rival companies would try to break into their market.

The matt glazed pieces became a huge success and copies soon started to appear.  The exuberant and controlled Art Noveau patterns became slightly more relaxed in the 1920s.  The signature ochre outlines were filled with vivid colour and deep green and chocolate backgrounds contrasted with the bright yellows, oranges and vivid blues.  Later in the decade solid black backgrounds heightened the dramatic effect.  New patterns on vases, dressing table sets and candle sticks reflect the change in public taste and demonstrate the unique interior style of the moment.  Small sets like an ashtray and match holder are definitive ‘Jazz age’ accessories.

With the Wall Street crash in 1929 and the following depression in the United States the market for luxuries, like decorative pottery, dwindled in Europe and elswhere, resulting in large numbers of pottery staff being made redundant.  Simpler decoration was devised using spray glazes and the fulsome florals of the twenties moved a little more in line with the machine age.  William Sturmaan produced spray glaze designs for the Zenith factory during this period.

By 1937 the economy had recovered but with the onset of the Second World Ware in 1939 most factories were closed.  The Zuid-Holland factory was occupied and the remaining staff were forced to produce utility ware for the German home market.

In the post war era no cohesive style seems to have been found and the pottery is similar to German and Italian pottery of the 1950s.  With the recent interest in post war design some pieces by Plateelbakkerij Tiko and Plateelbakkerij Flora are becoming very collectable for their 1950s and 1960s contemporary decoration.

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