KITTY BLAKE: Growing Blackberries on a Vase

Twelve various Royal Worcester small vases by Kitty Blake, 1930s-40s - photo by Bonhams

Kitty Blake worked from 1905 – 1953 at Royal Worcester. She was a driving force at the factory during her long period of work there.

Her brother, Edward, also had artistic talents and painted pheasants at the Locke factory. In June 1905, after James Hadley’s death, Royal Worcester purchased the Hadley factory for £7,500.

Blackberries and Buttercups

Royal Worcester Roses Vase by Kitty Blake, 1906 – photo by Antiques Atlas

Previously she had worked at Hadley and Sons – but they were bought out by Royal Worcester in 1905 for £7,500 when James Hadley died. So, Kitty ended up working for Royal Worcester. However, it was at James Hadley’s that she developed her characteristic bunches of blackberries style. There are several designs featuring blackberries with buttercups. These are highly desired pieces for collectors, as well as being realistic and very pretty.

At Worcester, she specialised in small fruits and flowers. Many of her pieces capture perfectly the Autumn colours, the reddish leaves and the glossy blackberries. Then, there are delicate items with white backgrounds and pretty coloured flowers. One example features a bunch of pansies nicely arranged. But her blackberries are perhaps unsurpassed by any other porcelain artists.

By the time Kitty Blake worked for the company, the painters were allowed to sign their work. In general, they signed on the edge of the painting, rather than the bottom of the piece.

A Royal Worcester Kitty Blake ‘Brambles’ coffee cup and saucer and pot pourri – photo by Busby Bridport Salerooms

Some of these items fetch comfortably over 1000 AUD when sold.

In 1914, the First World War started and the Worcester works were asked to make hard porcelain to be used in hospitals, laboratories and schools.

The Saucy Six

Kitty Blake was a popular member of the Worcester team. She was said to have a great sense of humour, vibrant energy and fun. She was said to have the “common touch”.

Among the male members of staff were the “seven terrible apprentices”. Not to be outdone, the women produced the Saucy Six – and Kitty starred in this role. Never seen without her red lipstick and cigarette, she was a real character. And they didn’t limit their activities to inside the factory, either.

A Very Talented Group

Hawkins book, a picture of a fairy and butterfly on flowers, painted by Kitty Blake, 1928 – photo by Museum of Royal Worcester

In fact, kitty Blake was fortunate in that she belonged to the Royal Worcester painters at a time when the company had assembled a particularly talented group of artists. This includes some well-known names like Harry and Walter Austin, William Bagnall, John Freeman, Harry Ayrton and the supremo fruit painter Richard Sebright. So, she was among highly talented people, which must have been exciting and at times challenging.

All that talent was placed under the leadership of the famous William Hawkins.

In 1928, when William Hawkins retired. the royal Worcester artists presented him with a book, as a token of their esteem. He too had a long history of 54 years with the company. The book had a beautiful picture painted by Kitty Blake, a picture of a fairy and butterfly on flowers – a wonderful leaving present for Mr Hawkins.

Hard Times

In 1926, the General Strike occurred, followed by the Wall Street Crash in 1929. Times were hard. Many of the staff at Royal Worcester supplemented their wages with outside or extra work – and Kitty was no exception. She made advertising posters for events held at the Royal Worcester factory.

Vintage Royal Worcester Squat Vase, Signed by Kitty Blake, Circa 1938 – photo by eBay | Arty Farty Collections

Changes at the Worcester works included the revolutionary introduction of fireproof porcelain in 1931, followed three years later by Charles Dyson Perrins buying Royal Worcester.

Then, came the Second World War in 1939 and the factory turned out sparkplugs and electrical resistors.

Then, in 1951, Princess Elizabeth visited the factory and opened a new museum there. And Kitty survived all these changes for all those years – painting her little fruits and pretty flowers.

Some of her Works

Her work seems notable for the wide variety of the shapes of the articles she painted. Very often, the colours are light but clear. She seems to have been fond of a particular shade of medium to light blue, which looks very attractive against the white backgrounds.

1. Pretty Pin Tray

Sweet Royal Worcester Floral Pin Dish /Tray Hand-Painted & Signed K. Blake – photo by eBay | Sportstar73

This is shown in the very pretty pin tray, at present, for sale for just £34.99 (64.97 AUD) on eBay.

It is described as a sweet Royal Worcester Cabinet Pin Dish hand-painted with blue flowers and signed by the talented artist K Blake.

The cute leaf-shaped dish has the Royal Worcester back stamp with a shape code 3297.

It has no chips or restoration but does have a hairline crack that is difficult to see and photograph. The lovely pin dish is just over 12 cm long and 9 cm wide.

2. Hand-painted vase

This is a lovely hand-painted vase dating from the mid-1920s signed K Blake. Sadly, was damaged and not restored very well. They say that if it could be properly restored, it would increase in value as well as being attractive to look at.

And when you look at a close up of the picture, the blackberries look ready to eat. But because of the damage, this vase sold for just £57 (105.83AUD).

3. The plate

A Royal Worcester plate hand-painted with blackberries by Kitty Blake, c.1937 – photo by eBay | Blue Cherry Antiques

And then there is a blackberry plate for £295 (547.73 AUD).

This blackberry decoration is not often found on plates, being more common on vases. But like many of her pieces, the edges are scalloped to add to its attractiveness. The plate has autumn leaves and blossom on an ivory background.

There is the Worcester mark in pink to the underside. With a date, the code is for 1937.

This plate is said to be in very good condition with slight wear and a few tiny scratches. It has a diameter of 22.2 cms (8 ¾ inches).

You can see her signature on the side of the painting.

1953 – an Eventful Year

The year that Kitty finally retired after 48 years of service was marked by the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and the successful ascent of Mount Everest, an eventful year indeed.

Kitty Blake has left us with some beautiful flower paintings and the most appetising blackberries you can find on a vase. Her work must be a welcome addition for any collector of Worcester Porcelain, or for anyone who likes pretty things.