It was in 1856 that another daughter was born to Benjamin Iram and Hannah Barlow. This little girl grew up to become one of the most successful artists working at Royal Doulton, and her beautiful pieces are much sought after collector’s items.
Benjamin was a bank manager, and when Florence was born the family lived in Hadlam, Hertfordshire, England. Of their nine children, four of them worked for Royal Doulton for varying periods of time. It was a happy and prosperous family, where they owned an estate of 250 hectares. When their father died in 1866, the family lived in reduced circumstances but they still retained the property and a number of animals, including Hannah’s “zoo”.
The girls studied under John Sparks, the principal of the Lambeth school of art. He was friendly with Henry Doulton and the two developed a close working relationship, with Henry employing students from the Lambeth School of art to decorate his pottery.
The Family Artists
Florence’s older brother, Arthur, was producing some stunning works. He used a combination of carving, incising and modelling to depict flowers and leaves in a very naturalistic way. Sadly, he died at the age of 34, after just eight years working for Royal Doulton.
Her elder sister Hannah started working at Royal Doulton in 1871. Two years later, Florence joined her. A fourth sibling, Lucy, worked at Lambeth from 1882 to 1885. Lucy worked mainly on the edging or borders of the work. But it was Florence and Hannah who stayed longest and produced the most. They became the better-known individuals among the talented Barlow family.
When Florence joined Royal Doulton, she and her sister Hannah decided that Hannah would concentrate on animal motifs while Florence would specialise in flowers and birds. This division of subjects was a successful combination of their talent. But sometimes, both sisters would work on the same item, even occasionally being joined by Lucy. She generally worked on the decorative borders of the items while Florence and Hannah placed their animals and flowers between them. The sisters shared a studio, but each had their own assistants to complete the less demanding part of the work for them.
The Artist’s Monograms or Marks
Each artist had their own mark or monogram. When you find all three in one piece, that really is a find to delight you, but they are not common. You can easily recognise the sister’s signs once you have seen them. Hannah’s appears to be two letter ‘B’s back to back, FEB is for Florence, and Lucy have an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ joined by the upright of an elongated letter ‘L’. Arthur’s monogram looks like a capital ‘A’ in a spin. These are very rare and very much desired.
Whereas Hannah specialised in Sgraffiti technique, Florence, while being competent in this, concentrated on ceramic painting. She would build up layer after layer of translucent slip (clay suspension on water) to create a pattern that stood up in relief from the surface. The technique is known as pâte-sur-pâte. Like many interesting finds, this was discovered by accident in France in Manufacture of Sèvres pottery. They were trying to recreate a decorative technique from a Chinese vase, but mistook the way and perfected pâte-sur-pâte.
The pâte-sur-pâte technique requires the artist to be extremely patient, and the brushwork is exceedingly delicate. Otherwise, the result is imperfect. Florence became the master of this. She had great skill in the way of using colour to make light and shade, which suits her preferred subjects of birds in flight very well. The delicate shading of tone gives a delightful and quite realistic effect.
Conditions of work at the Royal Doulton Factory encouraged the artist’s to produce unique works, in contrast to the general trend toward uniformity and catering for the mass market. The company provided model working conditions for the women. And as the times and demand changed, as the twentieth century came in, Florance was able to adapt her style to the newer fashion. Her work became more Art Nouveau and formalised, but it is for her earlier works that she is most noted for.
Florence exhibited her work at various exhibitions and galleries, including the following:
In 1876, The Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition
In 1884 & 1885, The Royal Academy – watercolours
In 1883 & 1889, The Royal Society of British Artists
In 1904, The Louisiana Purchase Exhibition
Here is an example or a description from an auction in 2011. Note the hammer price!
Estimate: £250 – 350
Hammer Price £ 3,800
Vase of buff-coloured stoneware, with incised pâte-sur-pâte decoration, painted in brown, white and green. Elongated ovoid body, long tapering neck with bulbous swelling at the lower end, two openwork scroll handles. The body is painted with two birds among grass and marguerites on a ground incised with a honeycomb pattern. Round the shoulder and the lower part of the neck are rows of leaves.
You can see some examples of her work in the Victoria and Albert Museum, including a three handled mug in salt-glazed stoneware. It was made at the Doulton Lambeth factory between 1900 -1909 – but designed some years earlier in 1887-1893. You can see many more wonderful examples at artnet.
Florence retired in 1909 and died in London the same year. She had worked in the Royal Doulton factory in Lambeth for almost 40 years, producing delicate and elegant designs which are in great demand today. We do not see her work coming on the market as often as her sister Hannah’s, but when it does come up it is quickly snatched up. Her unique style and attention to fine detail make her work recognisable, even when her monogram is faded or missing.
For anyone lucky enough to have acquired a Florence Barlow work, they own a beautiful piece of pottery or porcelain which can give pleasure for many, many years – and is also likely to be a sound investment since her available work is getting harder to find at auction, local or international.
All the Barlow sisters were talented artists, and if you have the good fortune to own one of their pieces, then you are fortunate indeed.