Frederick Marshall, a stonemason, married Elizabeth Vasler in St Nicholas’s Church, Rochester, Kent, in June 1841. Just over a year later, they had a son whom they called Mark. Mark was to become one of the most creative and innovative craftsmen associated with Royal Doulton. He produced a huge variety of exuberant and exciting works from his Lambeth studio.
Mark came from a fairly big family of 5 children but sadly his mother, Elizabeth, died when she was only 39 years old. Frederick remarried. His new wife was only 10 years older than Mark and 4 more children arrived, tho’ only one survived to adulthood. In Victorian households, this mortality rate was not uncommon. Mark himself married Helen Relf in 1864.
Marshall, like George Tinworth, trained at the Lambeth School of Art. From there, he went on to work at a local stonemasons yard. Here, he carved decorations for neo-gothic churches.
For a brief period, he worked for the Martin Brothers, art potters whose London workshop represented the changes from Victorian to more modern ceramics. They specialized in eccentric designs and were known for their famous birds. These early experiences shaped Marshall’s taste for weird and wonderful Doulton designs, like his reptiles and dragons which circle his vases, and the grotesque masks which embellish his jugs.
It was during this period that his unique style of fantastic animals, sometimes half hidden in foliage, established a pattern of decorative art for him. Indeed, many of his pieces bring to mind the medieval cathedral builders and their stone and wooden carvings of imaginary animals and caricatures of people. His work includes one example where a strange dragon-like creature climbs around the vase with its young ones hiding in the foliage. Measuring 20 inches in height, this vase has been valued over $58,000.
Marshall joined Doulton in 1874, and he brought his very personal style with him. His early vases (and there are many of them) tend to have fanciful animals sculpted in high relief perhaps hiding amongst the leaves. But he was influenced by the recent discoveries made at the time – eg by Charles Darwin, who had published his “Origin of the Species” in 1859. He, too, was fascinated by the relationship between animals and humans. He produced items showing animals dressed as humans, such as the two fully-dressed rabbits facing opposite ways on opposite sides of a container in his “The Waning of the Honeymoon”.
He also drew on literature, notably Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. He produced stoneware pieces inspired by Tenniel’s illustration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, which includes some of his well-known pieces, like the Rath from the Jabberwocky poem. They were produced in many different colourways and different styles.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, he produced-used a range of grotesque figures and had a considerable influence on Doultons. He usually marked them with the initials ‘MYM’.
He also made stoneware paperweights, menu or flower holders, of characters like the Cheshire Cat and the Mock Turtle. His friends called these his ‘beautiful uglies’ and they watched as he made them, ‘as easily as a bird sings.’ His sense of humour shows in so many of his pieces and delighted visitors to the Lambeth studios.
In contrast, he produced a series of pottery reliefs depicting scenes from the Bible, which were displayed at the Royal Academy and were much admired.
He was also influenced by the Art Nouveau style as exemplified by a stunning and elegant vase, just 12.5 ins high. It features fine tube lining and precise glazing in lovely colours. Very different from some of his grotesques.
The first Royal Doulton lady figurines were modelled by Marshall. It is said that his wife, Helen, inspired some of his designs. He designed stoneware figurines depicting the fashion throughout the ages. His “Victorian Lady” is very rare and resembles the “Crinoline” which George Lambert modelled in 1913. Then, we have his “Georgian lady”, where Marshall may have drawn his ideas from DC Calthrop’s book “English costume”.
The Doulton art directors in Lambeth and Burslem worked together closely, and it is likely that it was the Lambeth stoneware signs by Mark Marshall, Leslie Harradine and John Broad that persuaded Charles Noke to launch the HN collection of figurines in Staffordshire.
Marqueterie Ware with William Rix
William Rix, the manager of Doulton’s art department, and Mark Marshall produced a range of Marqueteries and Mark was able to incorporate his popular reptilian designs in his own manner. They were well suited this medium. The Marqueterie Ware created by William Rix is one of the rarest kinds of pottery made by Royal Doulton. The pots were made of several different clay colours, thin layers were pressed together to form a many-coloured block of clay, then they cut off a slice to make into a bowl or vase. These rare pieces were made until 1906 and had a special mark including “Doulton & Rix patent, Marqueterie.”
Some of Mark Marshal’s best work was Carrara ware. Carrara ware carries a special back stamp and is a stoneware with a white matt glaze that imitates a dull marble effect.
One example is the A 7.25in (18cm) Doulton Lambeth Carrara ware two handled vase designed by Mark Marshall. It’s detailed decoration and interesting shape are typical of Marshall’s exuberant style. Not only does it have Mark’s monogram but also that of several assistants.
Mark Marshall was quite possibly the most original and creative designer in the history of Doulton. He worked at Doultons from 1878 to 1912, and from the beginning of his career there, his imagination was unrestrained. The diversity of his output was amazing. Even in his early years, he would use the form of an animal as the base of a vase. The variety of colours and shapes when making vases knew no rivals, but apart from that, he ventured into fantastic and grotesque shapes.
He has left us with a legacy of many imaginative and sometimes very beautiful pieces of pottery which are collector’s items to this day. His work to some extent mirrored the surrounding social structure of his society, but his imagination was unbounded.