China Painting

Porcelain plaque - PCD 94-458-005
Porcelain plaque
ca. 1880-1895
Painted by a student of J.H. Griffiths
CMC 983.70.19

In England, china painting had become widely fashionable in the 1870s, when wealthy young women of conspicuous leisure took up china painting as a "hobby". A gallery was established in Regent Street by the firm of Howell & James, where annual exhibits of china painting were organized. These became juried shows, judged by Royal Academicians - thus china painting achieved artistic and social status by the mid 1870s.

This fashionable interest in the hand-decoration of ceramics must be seen within the context of the Arts and Crafts Movement, with its emphasis on hand-crafted, individually-designed objects and the personal contribution of the hand craft worker. The Arts and Crafts Movement had its commercial disciples, too, notably Herbert Minton and Henry Doulton who admitted into their mechanized pottery factories artistic young women, trained in Schools of Art, to produce art pottery - as well as lesser talents who were employed in the "hand-colouring work" of the factory.

Thus in the 1870-1890 period there were many women employed in a wide range of ceramic production - from Sir Henry Doulton's artisans and lady artists in the factory to the genteel amateurs taking part in what was called "the china craze" or "china-mania" of the period. Among these practitioners were some women who later achieved distinction and created for themselves, from this "new art", a professional career - one of the few occupations available to educated young women at that time.

Porcelain plate - PCD 94-421-019
Porcelain plate
Signed: J.H. Griffiths
CMC 983.70.1

In Canada, as in Britain, china painting was not only an occupational but an artistic endeavour. One of the best-known teachers in the latter part of the nineteenth century was John Howard Griffiths (1826-1898) of London, Ontario. After learning the skill at Mintons in Stoke-on-Trent, England, he and his older brother James (d. 1896) emigrated to Canada at mid-century. In 1889, John H. Griffiths won a special silver medal at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (now the Canadian National Exhibition) for china painting.

With the establishment of the Women's Art Association of Canada (WAAC), china painters became a recognized group within the association, and there were active china painters at many of the WAAC branches. They held exhibitions and submitted pieces of painted china for review at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition. China painting in Canada in the 1890s was influenced not only by national sentiment, but by the Arts and Crafts and Aesthetic movements.

China painting was an artistic endeavour in which women predominated, and was considered an appropriate activity for middle-class women in late-Victorian society. For some women it was a pleasant diversion, for others a serious art form; it also provided a respectable means of earning an income.

Porcelain blank - PCD 94-458-022
Porcelain blank for a dinner plate
Maker: Wedgwood
Left in J.H. Griffiths' studio after his death
CMC 983.70.20

China painters in Canada in the nineteenth century purchased "blanks" from porcelain factories in France, Germany, England and the United States.

A blank is a commercially produced porcelain form, plain white with a clear glaze. The paste and the glaze are designed to take multiple firings. Many shapes were available in the 1890s and ranged in price from a few cents to $12 for large or elaborately moulded pieces.

The blanks provided for the commemorative dinner service were manufactured by Doulton & Co. Ltd. of Burslem, England. These blanks were sold to the artists for $8.40 a dozen. Each artist was to receive $60.00 a dozen for her finished work, less 10 per cent paid to the Women's Art Association of Canada. Sir Henry Doulton himself took an interest in the ambitious project.

The china painter outlined a design with a china-pencil on the glazed surface of a blank. China-painting colours were commercially produced and consisted of mineral oxides and a low-temperature flux in powdered form. These colours were sold in small glass vials or packaged in small envelopes. They were manufactured in Europe, England and the United States.


Menu | Introduction | History | Dinner Service
Creating the Dinner Service | Splendid Gift
Victorian Dining | China Painting
Further Reading | Web Sites | Credits