Aesthetic Ambitions: Edward Lycett and Brooklyn's Faience Manufacturing Company

Wednesday, February 16 to Wednesday, August 24, 2011,
Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature

The University of Richmond presents Aesthetic Ambitions: Edward Lycett and Brooklyn’s Faience Manufacturing Company, on view from February 16 to June 19, 2011. From 1881 to 1890, the Faience Manufacturing Company was a pre-eminent Brooklyn, New York, art pottery that earned praise for producing ornamental ceramics. These bold and eclectic wares display a synthesis of Chinese, Islamic, and Japanese influences characteristic of the Aesthetic Movement style.  The firm owed its artistic and commercial success to Edward Lycett, an English china painter who became its artistic director in 1884. This exhibition includes forty objects drawn from public and private collections.

Edward Lycett (American, born England, 1833-1910) immigrated to New York City in 1861. His early career included a White House commission to paint additional pieces of the Lincoln administration’s porcelain dinner service for President Andrew Johnson, and he held teaching positions in St. Louis, Missouri, and Cincinnati, Ohio. Lycett was employed by the Faience Manufacturing Company beginning in 1884, where he experimented with ceramic bodies and glazes, and designed opulent wares.  He supervised a team of talented artists, including James Callowhill of the English firm Worcester Royal Porcelain, who decorated the vessels with exotic motifs in vibrant hues and costly gold paste.  Lycett and his team of decorators produced pieces that were sold in the foremost jewelry and china shops throughout the United States.  

Highlights of the exhibition include an exceptional fish-bowl form vase by Edward Lycett and the Faience Manufacturing Company produced between 1886-1890.  The cream-colored earthenware vase displays cast and applied fish and seashells, swimming amidst painted polychromatic seaweed, and enriched with a raised gold paste decoration.  

Also featured is a monumental ewer, of 1886-1890, embellished with naturalistic decoration depicting a bird guarding a nest of chicks on a raspberry bush branch.  This ewer is the only known object that matches in form and motif a vessel depicted in Edward Lycett’s signed illustration published in November 1886 in The Decorator and Furnisher, a monthly periodical that offered advice about interior decoration and illustrated houses of the wealthy.  The illustration accompanied a review in which a critic praised the Faience Manufacturing Company for their “remarkable evidences of the advancement of art pottery making in this country.”

A large covered vase, circa 1887, impressive in size and technically complex in decoration, demonstrates the widespread appeal of the firm’s merchandise and the flamboyant wares that appealed to the affluent West Coast clientele.  The covered vase is painted on the base with the retail mark for fine crockery retailers Nathan, Dohrmann & Company of San Francisco and displays unusually intricate Royal Worcester-style reticulation in the beaded handles and pointed arch and acanthus leaf border that encircles the neck.  A broad band of daisies on a lustered mesh ground encircles the spherical body.  The polychrome enamel decoration, enriched with matte and burnished gilding, required multiple firings in the kiln.

Also on view in the exhibition are Lycett’s formula books, family photographs, and ephemera that illuminate the life and work of this prominent figure in American ceramic history.

The exhibition, organized by the University of Richmond Museums, was curated by Barbara Veith, independent scholar of American ceramics and glass, New York, and coordinated by Richard Waller, Executive Director, University Museums.  The accompanying catalogue, published by the University Museums, Aesthetic Ambitions: Edward Lycett and Brooklyn’s Faience Manufacturing Company is available for purchase at the University Museums.  The exhibition will travel to the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC, and be on view September 17, 2011 to February 25, 2012, and then to the Brooklyn Museum, opening in April 2012.
The Aesthetic Ambitions of Edward Lycett
Tuesday, February 15, 2011, 7-9 p.m.
7 p.m., Lecture, International Commons, Carole Weinstein International Center, The Aesthetic Ambitions of Edward Lycett, Barbara Veith, independent scholar of American ceramics and glass, and curator of Aesthetic Ambitions: Edward Lycett and Brooklyn’s Faience Manufacturing Company
8 to 9 p.m., Opening reception and preview of the exhibition, Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature