In 1851, on the 2nd of November, a little girl was born to Benjamin Barlow and his wife Hannah. They called the baby Hannah. She was destined to become one of the most popular and sought after Doulton artists.
The Barlow Family
Benjamin Iram Barlow was a bank manager and Hannah was born at home in Church End House, Little Hadham, Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire. There were 9 children in the family and 4 of them worked for at least a while at the Doulton factory. It must have been a busy household and a very talented family. But it was Hannah and her younger sister, Florence Elizabeth who became the best-known artists. When Hannah was 15 her father died unexpectedly, and she had to face the commercial world.
The Lambeth Link
Hannah studied at the Lambeth School of Art, which was developing a close relationship with Doulton potteries. Her tutor was John Sparks, the proprietor, who was a close friend of Henry Doulton. Hannah became the first woman artist to be employed by Doulton potteries. She started work there at the age of 19 and only retired in 1913 at the age of 62.
When Florence followed her in 1873 they agreed that Hannah would specialise in animals and Florence would paint birds and flowers. Sometimes they both worked on the same piece and very occasionally a third sister, Lucy, was involved. You just might be lucky enough to find one of these rare pieces with all three signature marks on it.
Their older and very talented brother, Arthur, sadly dies after working for only 8 years at Royal Doulton. His naturalistic designs are much sought after. Lucy only worked there for about 4 years when she helped to create the beautiful borders which characterise many of her sisters’ works.
Doulton Working Practices
Hannah was fortunate in working at Royal Doulton. She used a pen and a pencil to draw freely in her sketchbooks, usually drawing birds and animals. She was able to study her subjects; a cattle show at Bushy Park, dog shows at Crystal Palace as well as her family home in the Essex countryside. You can find her sketchbook in the Sir Henry Doulton Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.
Hannah worked alongside a number of talented women artists at Royal Doulton, where working conditions for women were unusually enlightened, making it possible for original works to be completed. The earlier pieces were unique and never exactly repeated. This was in contrast to the trend toward mass production although that later came into the Lambeth factory as well. Hannah shared a studio with her sister Florence. Although they sometimes collaborated, they also worked separately. They each had their own team of women to provide the final decoration so that they could concentrate on the major part of the work.
The Growth of Hannah’s Reputation
Initially, Hannah decorated salt-glazed stoneware and was a skilled tube liner. Then, she became known for her incised sgraffito work. Sgraffito is a type of decoration whereby a needle-like tool is used to scratch or incise a pattern, then it is brushed with a coloured stain, often blue, which seeps into the incisions. After the firing, the patterns are readily apparent.
Graffiti derives from the Italian word which means scratched. This is applied to the drawing or writing that has been scratched or scribbled on a wall, often illicitly. Graffito is the singular form of the noun. You can find examples of graffiti from ancient times right up to the present. Roman soldiers made graffiti. Graffiti artists also existed in ancient Egypt – and, of course, we have our own graffiti artists now like Banksy.
Hannah and Her Animals
Hannah had been brought up in the country and her love for animals and her knowledge about them is a strong feature of her work. Indeed, she even had her own private zoo at her home, which may have contained over 100 animals. She also paid regular visits to the zoo in London. Her favourite subjects were farm animals and she drew many horses. It may have been her remarkable talent for drawing animals that first got her noticed – and the subject suits the medium very well.
After working at Royal Doulton for just 5 years, Hannah lost the use of her right hand, possibly a work-related injury due to handling heavy, wet clay. She learnt to become equally proficient in the use of her left hand and became not only highly skilled but also very prolific. In one day she could produce up to 20 high-quality pots – although she often worked on just the animal band, leaving the rest to others to finish. The process she used was time-consuming and expensive for the consumer. She first made a sketch before incising into the wet clay before firing. Today, not many factories can afford the high labour costs to produce such high-quality porcelain.
Today, her work is in demand and a single piece can cost upwards of £2,500 if in good condition. She marked all her work with a distinctive monogram, which helps to prove authenticity. But even when the monogram is faded or absent, her unique style and the quality of her work defines her craftsmanship.
An Example Taken From Auction in December 2017 describes the pot:
A rare Doulton Lambeth stoneware vase by Hannah Barlow, dated 1878, baluster form, incised with a pride of resting lions, between foliate bands and applied florets, glazed green and blue on a buff ground, impressed factory mark, date and unusual incised monogram, incised monogram to the side of vase also, 19.5cm. high.
Estimate: £800 – 1,200
Hammer Price £ 1,200
You can see a selection of her vases at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. There is a selection of vases decorated by Hannah with her sister Florence at Artnet.
Serious collectors are buying up her work as quickly as they appear on the market. So, they are likely to become rarer and much more costly. If you can get to own a genuine Hannah Barlow Royal Doulton work, then you probably have a piece that is delightful to gaze at but that will also retain its value for many years to come.
You may be fortunate enough to find two artists monograms when Hannah and Florence worked on the same item. Very occasionally, will you find that rarely – three talented sisters monograms on one piece of work. Imagine three sisters working in the same factory and on the same piece of pottery. Hannah, Florence, and Lucy together.
Hannah retired in 1913 and died in 1916 at 46 Binfield Road, Clapham, London. She was buried in Norwood cemetery.
Hannah’s legacy of distinctive and alluring animal decorations on stoneware and ceramic pots has given pleasure to thousands of people all over the world. She worked for Royal Doulton for over 40 years, producing a huge range of beautiful and collectible pottery. Her distinctive animal motives and the care taken over each piece make then popular collector’s items. But they are valuable simply for the pleasure of gazing at them or even handling them – with bated breath.