Lycett tile

Lycett tile

Usage conditions apply
China painting swept across America in the late nineteenth century as one of the most prevalent decorative pottery techniques, especially among young women. Considered a respectable form of work and creative outlet for women, china painting incorporated the element of hand craft that helped elevate standards of design during a period of mass production and industrialism. The technique of china painting could be done conveniently at home or in large pottery settings. Also known as “mineral painting,” after its materials, a china painter used enamels, low firing colors produced from various mineral-oxides, as a “painting” medium on pre-fired porcelain white porcelain, also known as blanks. These blank porcelain pieces were often imported from European countries, France and Germany in particular, and came in a variety of dinner ware forms and vases. The china painting technique of decorating porcelain was popularized in America by the highly influential Englishman, Edward Lycett. Trained as a potter in the English tradition at Spode pottery in Staffordshire, England, Lycett moved to America in 1861, where he almost immediately gained prestigious commissions for the White House and Tiffany & Co. His devotion to experimenting with materials and teaching pottery techniques across the country established Edward Lycett as the “pioneer of china painting in America” during his own lifetime. Ultimately, the creativity fostered by the china painting movement and the influence of Edward Lycett launched the American ceramic industry towards new and exciting avenues of decorative pottery.
In 1890, at the age of 57, Edward Lycett left Faience Manufacturing when it was sold as an agent to a French porcelain company. This, however, was not a setback in Lycett’s ceramic venture. Although retired, Edward Lycett continued to follow his passion for new ceramic inventions. He soon moved to Atlanta, Georgia to work in his son’s studio where he and continued to experiment with clay and glaze materials as well as different firing techniques with William until he died in 1910 at the age of 77.
This framed soapstone tile, made during Edward Lycett’s retirement in Atlanta, Georgia, features the iridescent glazes – the result of endless experimentation. Titled “Murrhine”, Lycett believed these tiles to be a rediscovery of the precious murrhine stone found by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. True murrhine came from Parthia and Caramaria. Supposedly a natural mineral, murrhine was said to be located in the veins of the earth, and after being carved into shapes it was baked. Murrhine was introduced in Rome at the Triumph of Pompeii when six vases and other specimens found among the treasures were exhibited. Philosopher and naturalist, Pliny the Elder, described this material as being layers of colored bands with crystal and gem deposits that played with the colors of the rainbow. False or imitation murrhine was made of glass at Alexandria in Egypt and sought to reproduce this rainbow effect, similar to the iridescence of his glazes.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Object Type
date made
Lycett, Edward
place made
United States: Georgia, Atlanta
Physical Description
black (overall color)
blue (overall color)
green (overall color)
polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)
stone (overall material)
wood (overall material)
framed: 6 1/8 in x 10 1/4 in; x 15.5575 cm x 26.035 cm
tile: 2 7/8 in x 7 3/8 in; x 7.3025 cm x 18.7325 cm
overall: 1 1/8 in x 10 1/4 in x 6 1/8 in; 2.8575 cm x 26.035 cm x 15.5575 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Edward Lycett
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Domestic Furnishings
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object