Inspired by the decoration and setting of the Rothschild mansion, a leading ceramicist has created an array of remarkable vessels, says Lesley Jackson
Lesley Jackson discovers a ceramic collection inspired by Waddesdon
BACK in 2005, Kate Malone held an exhibition at Blackwell—baillie Scott’s Arts-and-crafts house in the Lake District—which included several vases inspired by the decorative carving and plasterwork in the house. These pieces hinted at the possibilities inherent in future collaborations and, with her latest show, ‘Kate Malone: Inspired by Waddesdon’, this potential has been realised.
Waddesdon Manor, the ornate neo-renaissance château in Buckinghamshire built by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild in the 1870s, provides the ideal venue for Miss Malone’s remarkable talents. Best known to the public as one of the judges on the BBC’S hit TV series The Great British Pottery Throw Down, she has been creating remarkable organic vessels with ravishing multicoloured glazes for the past 30 years and is renowned for her exuberant pumpkins and pineapples.
A natural potter who is literally at one with clay, she works instinctively, rolling, pinching and sculpting this soft, malleable material into astonishingly elaborate multilayered shapes. She’s a modeller rather than a thrower, so many of her pieces are moulded or coil-built, but the vessels themselves are often just the starting point. It’s their surface decor
ation— their relief patterns and dazzling crystalline glazes—that make them really stand out. What makes Miss Malone particularly exceptional is her mastery of ‘kiln craft’— the chemistry of firing — as well as the crafting of the pieces themselves.
For a potter celebrated for her virtuosity, Miss Malone has scaled new heights in ‘Inspired by Waddesdon’. The title accurately conveys the depth of her engagement with Waddesdon in order to create these pieces. She has immersed herself in all aspects of the building, the gardens, the collections and the estate. As well as honouring the achievements of the gardeners and labourers, she set out to capture the personalities of the two key individuals who created Waddesdon—baron Ferdinand Rothschild, who commissioned the building and amassed the collections of fine and decorative art, and his sister Alice, a passionate horticulturalist who developed the gardens here and at nearby Eythrope.
Both are ‘represented’ in ceramic form, not through busts but vessels. The Baron Ferdinand Lidded Vase is tall and slim with a conical hat, surmounted by a slightly comical bird encrusted with tiny flowers. The vessel itself is reliefdecorated with a pattern derived from the rusticated masonry at Waddesdon, overlaid with crisscrossing garlands of leaves. Whereas Baron Ferdinand is lean, the Miss Alice Lidded Vase is decidedly portly and has a finial in the shape of a miniature pumpkin. A dense leafy trellis grows over the surface of the vessel, which is covered with tiny turquoise flowers.
Among the treasures inside the house, Miss Malone was captivated by the wealth of passe-
menterie— intricate furnishing accessories fashioned from knotted and tasselled cords. Remarkably, she was able to interpret these effects in ceramic form by rolling strings of clay, twisting them into ropes and tying them in knots. The dexterity (and patience) required to manipulate and arrange such complex decoration—as on her Passementerie Knotted Gourd —is simply breathtaking.
As for Waddesdon’s celebrated collection of Meissen and Sèvres porcelain, she has responded imaginatively, creating pieces that echo their Rococo forms and decoration, but with ingenious personal twists. On Monsieur Hébert’s Lidded Sèvres Jar, for example, a gorgeous feathery turquoise-green crystalline glaze evokes Sèvres’s petit verd ground.
Given her empathy with the natural world, it is hardly surprising that garden produce should loom so large. Pumpkins and gourds have long been a source of inspiration, so the potter was in her element in the Eythrope potager, even casting pieces directly from the fruit itself. Vegetables of all kinds also appear in abundance— everything from artichokes to fennel— each piece good enough to eat.
Ceramics is an international language and Miss Malone is a great traveller, but her work is quintessentially English. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the vessels created in response to the woodlands at Waddesdon, especially a pair of lidded vases called Praise to the Oak Tree and Praise to the Beech Tree, decorated with sprigged leaves and clusters of acorns and beech nuts. Her Oak Estate Urn, with its branch-shaped handles and rows of trees overlaid with twining leaves and acorns, is a paean to this most glorious of English trees. Also impressive are her Waddesdon Estate Vases, a pair of monumental vessels adorned with clumps of sprigged trees inspired by estate maps from the archives. Waddesdon’s role as a vehicle for human creativity has been revitalised afresh by Miss Malone’s fertile response to this extraordinary place.
‘Kate Malone: Inspired by Waddesdon’ is at Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, until October 16 (www.waddesdon.org.uk; 01296 653226)
Next week: ‘COLOUR: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts’ at the Fitzwilliam
Kate Malone’s Praise to the Beech Tree ( below left) and Praise to the Oak Tree ( below right) are inspired by the woodlands at Waddesdon
This curtain with sections of Beauvais tapestry ( right) inspired the Waddesdon Passementerie Vase and Knotted Gourd ( below)
Left: Miss Alice Lidded Vase. Right: Craft and Creativity Pumpkin