WILLIAM HAWKINS: Animating Porcelains with Paintings

William Hawkins retirement, 1928, The painters are posed in front of the Regency Museum with Mr Hawkins seated in the middle. - photo by Museum of Royal Worcester

William started working at the Royal Worcester when he was 16 years old and continued to work there until two years before he died in 1930. These years, spanning over half a century (1874 – 1928) saw many changes both in the company and in the British way of life. They include the end of the Victorian era and the 1914-1918 WW1 years.

Like the other Royal Worcester artists, William had his own speciality – in his case, it was portraits, figures and still life work. He later became director of the Worcester Art School.

Times Changed at the Royal Worcester Company

Pershore plums by Octar Copson, 1880 – photo by Royal Worcester Works Museum | Wikipedia

Many important changes took place during the times William worked at the Worcester factory. These included displays at the Paris exhibition in 1878 and the first of the famous fruit pieces painted in 1880 by Octar Copson. Pierced porcelain was perfected by George Owen in 1893.

The 1914-1918 War

During the World War of 1914-1918, the Royal Worcester Company would have lost men given to fight in the trenches. The government required the factory to produce practical items suitable for schools and hospitals.

After the War Years

Foreman painter, William Hawkins at his desk with brush in hand and pot of fat oil at his side. Five vases are lined up in front, possibly for checking and passing. – photo by Museum of Royal Worcester

The world was never the same after the war. Royal Worcester moved towards more functional tableware, more practical items and less flamboyant articles. They introduced boxed coffee sets, chic new lampshades with geometric designs and bowls to float flower heads in. William would have seen all this. And yet, some intricate china was made for export just after the war.

Although there was a euphoric atmosphere when the war ended, times became hard; the great depression took over and many of his work colleagues needed to find extra employment. The Royal Worcester factory narrowly escaped closure. People were not buying, money was hard to come by.

At this time, William executed some interesting portraits of Aborigines, which were destined for the market in Australia. *******This seems unlikely and I could find no corroboration.

Despite this, the early 1920s was a time of exceptional talent in the Worcester works.

Worcester Fruit

A pair of Royal Worcester vases and covers, dated 1918, painted by William Hawkins – photo by Bonhams

Most especially this flowering of talent was displayed by the artists who depicted fruit. They had evolved a certain process to ensure the high quality of work was maintained throughout the system. And throughout most of the 1920s, it was William Hawkins who was the foreman of the men’s painting room until he retired in 1928. Even though this was not his own speciality, he had responsibilities for the process and, in fact, he was no mean hand himself.

In the eighteenth century, they painted the fruit onto a white background. By the mid-nineteenth century, the way they made the pieces was evolving into the same process used today.

The artist has a variety of translucent colours on his palette. These give a 3D appearance of depth – you could almost pick the fruit. Then it is the turn of the guilder, who applies 22-carat gold by hand, with great care. This gives the finished product a look of luxury and brilliance.

After that, the item is burnished to bring out the full splendour of the gold, before passing through quality control to ensure each piece is up to the very high standard expected at Royal Worcester.

Some of William Hawkins Work

William Hawkins, Porcelain Painting, Royal Worcester, 1884 Porcelain, polychrome painted – photo by the-saleroom.com | Lot 96

It can be quite difficult to find samples of William’s work for sale, but here are some recent acquisitions.

This picture is signed and dated lower right ‘W. A. Hawkins. 1884. It depicts The Six Swans by the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. The painting itself measures 22 by 36 cms. It was in good condition with an estimated value of 700 euro though the eventual price paid is not revealed.

A pair of Royal Worcester vases and covers, dated 1918, were sold at auction for £1,875 in 2017 in London.

And A large vase (51.1cm high,) by William Hawkins, was sold in 2005 for £ 3,407 despite some restoration to the rim.

A large vase by William Hawkins – photo by Pinterest

This had scroll handles and gadrooned borders, painted with a still life of mixed fruit and flowers. Surrounding this was a raised and detailed gilt scroll border on a cobalt blue ground. You can note the stepped circular base. The marks were in green paint.

The Royal Worcester Company has been renowned for the skill of its artists and the beauty of the intricate pieces it produced. And none were more respected than William Hawkins. He worked during a time of great change, and his unique, wonderfully decorated items are a collector’s dream, though not easy to find now.