French Liberty Bowl

Friench Liberty, [sic] Liverpool pearlware bowl, after Gillray. c.1792.

You may remember a post which appeared on this blog some time ago, in which we looked at a nice example of a creamware tankard that had been decorated with the one half of James Gillray’s French Liberty / British Slavery. It was particularly interesting to note that while the British half of this design appears to have been taken up and used by a number of provincial potteries, surviving examples of ceramics carrying French Liberty were far more rare. Indeed, David Drakard was only able to locate a single example of Gillray’s image of the onion chomping sans-culotte when he came to compile his exhaustive catalogue of caricature-printed creamware in the early 1990s.

I was therefore feeling particularly pleased with myself when I ran across this little beauty in a local saleroom recently. It’s a blue and white pearlware bowl, measuring 23cms in diameter, decorated with a copy of French Liberty. This example illustrates quite nicely how potters were sometimes required to alter caricature designs in order to ensure that complicated compositions fit into the restricted space left available on pots for a decorative design. In this case the potter, evidently a craftsman of some skill, has shifted the background of the design to the left, omitting the bowl of onions that appears in the original print and placing the fireplace and map to the sans-culotte’s side. The central figure now sits in front of a cartouche that carries his ironic speech about swimming in “de Milk and Honey” of liberty. There are two other things that I particularly like about this design, firstly that the potter has taken it upon himself to make additions to Gillray’s original image, adding a sheet of music for the revolutionary anthem “Ca Ira” next to the violin at the Jacobin’s feet and a flag of liberty to his right. And secondly, that the potter’s tenuous grasp of the written word has caused him to misspell both the title of the design and the ‘Libertas’ logo which appears on the flag.

The transfer-printing process and the practical impact this had on caricature designs used on pots is a subject I plan to explore in more detail in my next post.