Royal Doulton is one of the great British commercial ceramics makers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. It was founded in 1815 in London, with factories in Vauxhall and Lambeth. In 1882, the company moved from London to Staffordshire, specifically to the town of Burslem, one of the six towns that make-up Stoke-on-Trent (a powerhouse of 19th Century British ceramics production). Here, with space to grow, Royal Doulton expanded production significantly. 1882 was also the year that artist William Rowe joined the firm, a company which would employ him for six decades (until 1945).
William Rowe, a painter, designed ceramic works of all sorts for Royal Doulton pieces—vases, bowls, plates—in a wide range of styles, from the Aesthetic Movement to the Art Deco. But he is most well-known for overseeing the production of decorative tiles for Doulton—and tiles were an enormous part of the company's output. In the Victorian and Edwardian Ages, British buildings (private homes and public structures) were often clad, inside and out, in decorative tiles and other glazed ceramic "architectural elements" (trim, corbels, ledges). Some of these tiles were decorated and mass-produced as "individual units," intended to be installed en masse upon a flat surface. Other tiles were designed as "accent pieces," created to provide "architectural trim" within a larger installation. And some tiles were created to be installed as a group, an assemblage of decorated tiles which would create a painted picture or graphic presentation upon installation.
Because William Rowe's pieces were so numerous (and often utilitarian), his signature was only applied to a small percentage of his output (including the ashtray, shown above). But his decades-long contribution to Royal Doulton was enormous. His paintings have been exhibited at the Royal Academy and are included in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum.
The Royal Doulton octagonal ceramic ashtray, shown above, is glazed in cornflower blue and bears the initials "WR" on the bottom. Its date mark shows that it was produced between 1922 and 1930.
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