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Designing Britain 1945 - 1975 > Oral testimony and the Interpretation of the Crafts > Themes > Picassoettes
 
THE PICASSOETTES: an introduction

This module grew out of the author's interest in the objects produced by a small group of ceramists for central London coffee bars of the mid-1950s. William Newland, Margaret Hine and Nicholas Vergette worked on ceramic tiles, sculptures and decorative items for a number of small independently run coffee bars which began to appear in central London in the mid-1950s. When Vergette left to work in America in 1958, Newland and his wife Margaret Hine continued to work on interior design schemes for a number of coffee bars and most notably for the growing Golden Egg chain of coffee bar/restaurants in the early 1960s.


Known as the Bayswater Group and in retrospect as the Picassoettes, these three artists typified a style of work that grew out of the Central School of Art and Design and was renowned for the use of brightly coloured tin-glazed earthenwares. Seen as the antithesis of the Bernard Leach 'school' of Orientally inspired stonewares, the work of these artists quickly went out of fashion and until Tanya Harrod's 1989 article, 'The Forgotten Fifties',1 they were largely overlooked.


The following excerpt from an interview with Kenneth Clark, (a friend and colleague of Newland, Hine and Vergette), demonstrates how their work was perceived as being different:
 
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Bill Newland, Margaret Hine and Nicholas Vergette: they were doing designing up to a point, for instance they did a lot of work for the blossoming of coffee houses there were in London at that time. Coffee was fashionable and coffee houses were being set up everywhere: Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road, Charing Cross Road: all over the place in London and they did lots of decorative pieces: figures on horses, animals, birds, plaques, plates, all put on the walls round these coffee houses. So in a sense they were designing not for a very specific purpose, they were designing for an interior and they made you a whole lot of plates to go on a particular wall or a group of, I remember one of Bill's donkeys with panniers on them and someone sitting on the donkey. All these things went in almost as entertainment, into these coffee houses…And it was certainly contemporary yes. And Bill will say I think they were very influenced by what Picasso had just been doing in Vallauris. So this was the very strong counter element to the Leach tradition which was what's known as Anglo-Oriental. Very much to do with stoneware, muted colours and you know, nobody would dare dream of using colour in stoneware such as a bright blue glaze or a turquoise glaze you know it was all delightful, subtle, muted, rich tenmokus or celadons and that was the ideal. So this was a completely different field, a different approach: still ceramics.2
Copyright the National Electronic and Video Archive of the Crafts, 2002.
 
Activity:

Write 500 words in response to each of the following activities:

• Find out more about Bernard Leach, the style of ceramics he was renowned for and why the work of the Picassoettes was so different from it. Use the reading list as a starting point.
• Find out who Kenneth Clark was. Where was he a colleague of Newland, Hine and Vergette?
 
In his article for the catalogue of the 1996 William Newland retrospective exhibition, Peter Dormer wrote,
 
…apart from some decorative reliefs beneath the roof lines of the better class of new office blocks, or some fancy tile work in the foyers of some council built tower blocks and, of course, the free for all of the Cathedral at Coventry, coffee bars were about the only outlet for the modern potter who wanted to practice ceramics as an applied art.3
 
Newland, Hine and Vergette were making ceramics for public spaces at a time when it was far from the norm. It was much more usual for ceramists to make functional wares or one off pieces for gallery exhibitions.
Whilst some articles and books include images of their pots and accounts of their work, very little has been written about the coffee bars. Tanya Harrod wrote in her 1989 article, that 'the history of the coffee-bars of the post-war period has yet to be written'.4 This module seeks to begin the writing of that history and to look at the work of a group of craftspeople who have been largely ignored.
 
William Newland, lion, 1955.
OTC00031 William Newland, lion, 1955.


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William Newland, double bull, 1955.
OTC00030 William Newland, double bull, 1955.


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Nicholas Vergette, Cactus pot, 1953.
OTC00317 Nicholas Vergette, Cactus pot, 1953.


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William Newland, maiolica plant pot, 1953.
OTC00026 William Newland, maiolica plant pot, 1953.

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William Newland,maiolica plant pot in room setting.
OTC00037 William Newland,maiolica plant pot in room setting.


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Throwing on a potter's wheel, (image of William Newland, early 1950s)
OTC00039 Throwing on a potter's wheel, (image of William Newland, early 1950s)


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Newland was a member of the Studio Club, a nightclub in Swallow Street, Soho, whose clientele included artists and poets and regularly hosted small exhibitions. Newland said that this led to some commissions from the Kaye brothers, (who later set up the Golden Egg restaurants):
 
... because we were at the Studio Club and because we were doing
Italian tin-glaze as it were, the architect walked down and said
you must come and do the first, you know come and work on the
coffee bar with these Italianate sort of designs. Which we did,
and there were two Jewish brothers who financed the thing called,
not Kray, Kaye, and they started building one every two to three
months and it was marvellous: very, very lucrative… 5
 
click here to hear audio )">Listen to audio
Newland's feeling was that they were doing unusual, colourful
ceramics at a time when muted stonewares were the norm.
Furthermore, their work was being displayed in the very place
where the coffee bar phenomenon began - Soho. They were in the
right place at the right time.
Copyright the National Electronic and Video Archive of the Crafts, 2002.
 
Activity:

Write 500 words in response to the following activities:

The pots which are illustrated on this page were all made during the period that the Picassoettes worked on the coffee bars and are all made of tin-glazed earthenware. What are the important characteristics of tin-glazed earthenware? As a material, what did it offer the Picassoettes and those who commissioned their work in the coffee bars?
 
Footnotes:

1. Tanya Harrod, 'The forgotten fifties', Crafts, 1989, pp.30-33.
2. NEVAC, MD 171, (00:35:17 onwards), audio recording of Kenneth Clark, 1997.
3. Peter Dormer in Aberystwyth Arts Centre. William Newland : it's all there in front of you : ceramic work from 1947 to the present, 1996, p.32.
4. Harrod, p.33.
5. NEVAC, AC118side1, (00:31:37 onwards), audio recording of William Newland, 1994.
 
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