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San Francisco exhibit showcases early 19-century transferware

A selection of blue-and-white transferware pottery from the 19th century is on display in a new exhibit at the San Francisco International Airport.
Weeping Willow Border Staffordshire platter

Staffordshire platter depicting a fishing scene, circa 1815-1830, part of the Weeping Willow Border series by James and Ralph Clews, pictured next to the original art by William Alexander from which the image on the platter hails.

SAN FRANCISCO – Blue-and-white transferware reached its peak in production and popularity in the first half of the 19th century.

Staffordshire potters in central England first developed a successful method for transferring designs onto wares. This involved using hand-engraved copperplates. Designs on wares often featured exotic, distant lands such as India, the Middle East, and China. Several 19 century illustrated books made by European travelers and artists helped fuel the British public’s fascination with foreign locales.

Role of 19th Century Travel Art in Transferware

In an era before photography, over-sized tomes, such as Thomas and William Daniell’s Oriental Scenery (1795-1807), depicted the landscapes and historic architecture of India. Such volumes featured outstanding examples of aquatints. These were produced using a printmaking technique that created tonal gradations resembling ink or watercolor washes. Because effective copyright law did not exist in England before 1842, potters began using images from publications on ceramics as early as 1810. Makers rarely copied scenes faithfully. Instead, they freely adapted imagery – adding, removing, and even reversing sections of prints.

This exhibition features blue-and-white wares made by Spode and a number of other British potters. Scenes featured on wares include famous architectural views of India. These include the Taj Mahal, drawn from A Picturesque Tour along the Rivers Ganges and Jumna in India (1824). In addition, scenes of Turkey and China taken from Views in the Ottoman Empire (1803) and A Picturesque Voyage to India by the Way of China (1810) appear.

The online version of the exhibit is viewable at From Print to Plate: Views of the East on Transferware appear in the International Terminal Main Hall Departures Lobby, San Francisco International Airport. This exhibition is on view through March 19, 2017.

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