Charles Baldwyn, the son of a piano tuner and skilled musician was born in the earlier part of the Victorian era – which lasted from 1837 till the death of the queen in 1901. During this time the British Commonwealth was expanding, new industrial technologies were being introduced, trade and engineering were growing as was the population of Great Britain which almost doubled during her reign. No major wars were fought except for the short Crimea war.
Despite these advances, almost a fifth of poorer children born did not survive infancy although life expectancy had risen from around 38 years of age to 48 by the end of Queen Victoria’s reign.
Young Charles started work at the Worcester Porcelain factory when he was 15 years old. At first, he was employed as a general dog’s body – sweeping floors and clearing up – but he was a sociable chap and was soon friendly with the artists of that time. His friends included several famous ceramic artists like George Johnson, (game birds, farmyard scenes), Rickets, Richard Sebright (the foremost painter of fruit at the time often presented in elaborate frames), and William Hawkins, (portraits, interiors & still life). Charles became a keen member of the company’s cycling club.
This gave him opportunities to cycle around the countryside and study the wildlife. His special interest lay in sketching the birds, both in the wild and captured ones which he could buy or borrow. At this time in Britain, the study of natural history was becoming an increasingly popular although amateur pastime. People would specialise in such topics as beetles, butterflies, seashells – and his case, it was birds.
Like many employers of the time, the Worcester factory had quite a paternalistic attitude towards its employees. It directed them to paint what they considered they painted best – and some very high standards of artwork were produced. While Charles worked there, his speciality became swans in flight as well as birds in moonlit scenes. These quite quickly became his trademark or signature pieces. While he worked for the Royal Worcester no one else was permitted to paint swans in flight. They were seen as his own exclusive field. And he became extremely skilled at this his chosen metier.
In fact, he was so highly thought of that he was allowed the very special privilege of using his own mark – either C Baldwyn or simply BY long before 1900 when other Worcester artists eventually gained this privilege. He also gained a name for himself and he was popular with some of the Royal Worcester’s wealthier clients.
But he didn’t confine himself to decorating pottery – he also sketched and painted birds on card and canvas. His first work to be exhibited at the Royal Academy was a group of birds in a parch of teasel which was shown in 1886. It was something of an honour to show your work at the Royal Academy and he had several works exhibited there, mostly bird scenes with detailed naturalistic backgrounds.
In 1987, Charles married a local girl, Emily Hughes. His best man was another Royal Worcester artist by the name of William Hawkins. Sadly, his first daughter, Stella was carried off by meningitis at the age of 23 months and his son, Bernard died when he was only a year old in 1907. This was unfortunately not uncommon at that time.
Hard Times Ahead
But hard times were coming for Britain as she tried to keep her far-flung overseas communities together and fought the Boer War (1879 – 1902). People had less to spend on luxuries and many of the artists, including Charles, supplemented their wages by taking commissions for private work. One of the things they used to do was to buy the unfinished Worcester pieces. For example, he might buy a white tea-set and decorate it himself to sell on privately. He might collaborate with other artists in doing this – including Thomas Bott, a renowned Limoges enamels artist.
By 1904, the Worcester factory was finding quality clients more difficult to come by and Charles decided to leave and become a freelance watercolour painter. His agent was a Mr Waeve, who sold his paintings for him.
The Worcester Porcelain works still had some of his outlines and other employees painted them. This is a point to bear in mind if you are wanting to buy Charles’s original works. These will bear the Worcester marks but not his unique signature.
As with many high-quality works, there were always imitators – and the Worcester company became so concerned about them that they registered the Charles Baldwyn designs. People as far away as the USA and Japan copied his work and although they were generally of inferior quality they could look very similar and might be attractive for someone who is not too concerned with authenticity.
The quality of the imitations are not as good, but to a casual glance or an inexperienced eye, they did look very similar. The absence of the Worcester date mark might give an indication that this particular item is not a genuine Charles Baldwyn piece.
The Value of his Work
Charles Baldwyn’s works are highly prized and can be very expensive. The prices range from around $250 for a pencil sketch to $13,000 or more for an elaborate and genuine vase. His unique signature pieces of swans in flight are beautiful irrespective of the price tag, but collectors need to be wary of the many imitations and it is helpful to have his own signature as well as the Worcester marks on the pieces.
The Royal Worcester was renowned for producing beautiful and high-quality pottery, and they were able to employ highly talented artists and designers. Amongst them, Charles Baldwyn stands out for his very special talent and his love for natural history. His talent lives on in the Worcester pottery he designed and painted, as well as his card and canvas work. You are indeed fortunate if you to own one of his lovely vases, potpourri pots, drawings or paintings.