The Magic of Royal Doulton Flambe

The Magic of Royal Doulton Flambe

Regardless of whether we are exhibiting at an antiques fair, or talking on the phone to a customer viewing our wares online, and regardless of the customer being a relative novice, or an experienced collector, one of the consistent comments we hear, is that there is something “special” about the rich Flambe glaze, which Royal Doulton, and other art pottery firms (like Moorcroft), are famous for.

Even to a first time “novice” – the “red stuff” captures their eye, their imagination, and in many cases becomes a “lookers” first foray into the world of “collecting” via a purchase.

Royal Doulton Flambe is seen in many forms, from the sculpture of Stalking Tigers and Foxes to Leaping Salmon, to figures in the form of Geishas and Genies, to teaware and bowls, plates and vases in Woodcut, Veined, Sung and the multicoloured Chang. 

Flambe (pronounced flom-bay, not flam-bee) is a French term used to describe the ancient Chinese high temperature glazes with a red colour. The effect results from a particular method of firing a glaze that involves varying the amount of oxygen in a kiln at certain stages of firing while adding copper oxide and other substances; and it is thought that the method was first discovered by the Chinese of the Ming dynasty, probably during the reign of Wan-li (1573-1620).

Flambe, in effect, is what is known as a transmutation glaze.

At the turn of the 20th century Royal Doulton Art Director, John Slater, and Charles J. Noke set about to re-create the mystery of Flambe glazes for Royal Doulton. By 1900 only a few pieces were successfully produced by Royal Doulton, as the firm struggled to consistently produce the desired effect. An enormous amount of money was invested in the production and development of the new Royal Doulton Flambe wares and very few items were produced with any degree of consistency.

In about 1902 Cuthbert Bailey, a ceramic chemist, and Bernard Moore, a young and talented potter joined the Royal Doulton team. This team of men were financially supported by the Royal Doulton firm to produce these Flambe glazes, and special kilns were built and numerous experimental compositions conducted. Moore, a young (and now infamous) Staffordshire potter, had already achieved success with unusual, experimental type glazes and was the first Englishman to successfully produce the Flambe glaze.

Henry Doulton encouraged, and financially supported numerous experiments by these 4 men, (John Slater, Charles J. Noke, Cuthbert Bailey and Bernard Moore), and the Flambe glaze. Success in creating the glaze was achieved and the wares first shown at the 1904 St Louis Exposition.

Royal Doulton Flambe received esteemed praise and an unprecedented 30 awards at St Louis. The Flambe glaze had arrived, and to this day captures the hearts and minds of collectors everywhere.

History shows that Bailey left Doulton in about 1907, and Noke took over the responsibility for further development and research of the transmutation glazes. Noke's  objective was to broaden the Flambe range of colours and textures and control some of the veined effects seen in earlier flambe items. 

One of Noke’s greatest achievements (and now a highly collectable branch of Flambe) was the development of the Sung Flambe wares, first seen in 1919. Sung wares are typified by bright yellows, purples, orange, blue, peacock feather colouring and black beneath the rich Flambe glaze. 

The catalyst for the development of Sung glazes came from the early Flambe experiments, these additional colours had appeared during firing and the Sung range was created around these colourful “mistakes”. The premier artists from the Doulton factory, Harry Nixon, Arthur Eaton and Fred Moore hand painted Sung items with fishes in underwater scenes, mythical images of fire breathing dragons, snakes striking at birds but to name a few. 

In 1925, the Royal Doulton creative team comprising Charles J. Noke, together with his son, Cecil and Harry Nixon developed another remarkable (and now rare and highly prized) art pottery product called Chang ware. This product was given it’s name after the ancient Chinese Potter, Chang the Elder. Chang wares have a glaze which flows like lava, which is allowed to run and crackle down the piece offering numerous colourful effects in rare cases. Generally Chang is seen in the reds, oranges and browns, but in rare occasions greens and blues can be seen.

As the late 1930’s saw a change in the buying tastes of the collecting public (and no doubt the influence of the Great Depression and ensuing World War that followed) – Chang was discontinued prior to the Second War when restrictions on the production of decorative china saw the product discontinued.

Today, Royal Doulton’s great experiment, that of Flambe and other transmutation glazes like Chang, are admired, collected and appreciated throughout the collecting world. The variances in colour and uniqueness continues to capture the hearts and minds of collectors, new and old.

This article was written by us and first published in Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure and Profit magazine some years ago.

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  • Robert Neilsen