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The Heron, 1928 (circa)

William Staite Murray was one of the most influential British potters of the first half of the twentieth century. A teacher at the Royal College of Art in the 1920s and 30s, he developed his own kiln design and made original earthenware and stoneware pieces decorated with abstract designs. He regarded his pots as fine art rather than functional objects and regularly exhibited them alongside works by painters such as the Nicholsons and Christopher Wood.

In the winter of 1928 Jim Ede published in the magazine Artwork an article in which he compared Staite Murray’s pottery with the work of Ben and Winifred Nicholson. He wrote: “William Staite Murray would like to make pots which couldn’t be seen, pots so inevitably lovely in shape and colour that they become one with the beauty of created life. It is the wish of all and Murray reaches very near to his ideal. Pottery is midway between sculpture and painting – the alternating point of abstract and concrete plastic formal expression. It is the art of suggestion with the utmost economy, for its immediateness of expression in abstract form approaches more nearly to a songlike quality than any other medium. It has been neglected by artists and exploited by commercialism to such an extent that it has fallen from the high position it held in the art of the great peoples of the past. Staite Murray’s work is doing much to restore to pottery its ancient dignity; its execution is perfect and controlled and takes no mean position amongst other branches of plastic art. In his hands the melody of concrete idea emerges from the expressive urge of its architectural harmony and pottery becomes again a thing vigorous and intimate in which art and craft are deliciously balanced.”

Ede’s agreement with Staite Murray’s assessment of his work as ‘fine art’ rather than ‘craft’ greatly pleased the potter, who gave The Heron to Jim in gratitude for the article and for his enthusiasm. The jar is a refined essay in throwing and glazing techniques, demonstrating the skills that made Staite Murray’s pottery highly appreciated – and expensive – from the early stages of his career. It is said to have been broken by David Jones while visiting Ede’s home in London, and it was subsequently mended in gold by Staite Murray himself, adopting a traditional Japanese technique.

Provenance: gift of the artist to H.S. Ede, 1928

Painting [WSM 1]


Stoneware (glazed)

520 x 170 mm

About the artist

William Staite Murray trained at Camberwell College of Art, London. He taught pottery at the Royal College of Art between 1926 and 1940, and was a member of the Seven & Five Society.