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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.
The Faience Manufacturing Company (1891-1892) was an early commercial art pottery established in Greenpoint, New York. The factory’s main production consisted of applied and decorative ornament on pottery in order to elevate the standards of factory-produced pottery to the status of art. Initially, the factory produced cream colored earthenware in the style of the fashionable French faience and Limoges pottery, most likely exhibited at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial. Faience or white tin-glazed earthenware used in France inspired the name of the company. The peak of the company’s creative and artistic output occurred in 1884 when the English potter, Edward Lycett, joined Faience Manufactory as its Artistic Director. Immigrating to New York City in 1861, Lycett very quickly received important commissions, such as the 1865 White House painted porcelain service for President Lincoln and for Tiffany & Company, where he produced the first vitrified china in America with pure gilt decoration. Travelling across the country, Lycett taught the decorative technique of china painting at major ceramic centers in America such as Cincinnati and East Liverpool where soon-to-be influential women to the art pottery movement, Maria Longworth Nicols and Mary Louise McLaughlin, began their careers as china painters. Within his own time, Lycett was dubbed “the pioneer of china painting in America” by ceramic historians. His contributions to Faience Manufacturing Company are also notable, as he introduced to the company the aesthetic taste of exoticism and a new porcelain body, although the name of “Faience” never changed. Produced in the style of the English factory, Royal Worcester, the porcelain produced under Edward Lycett’s reign at Faience Manufacturing Company became characterized for their Near Eastern forms, eccentric handles, and elaborate jewel-like ornament.
During his retirement in Atlanta, Georgia, Lycett spent time in his son’s studio –William Lycett—experimenting with new and “lost” glaze techniques. The iridescent blues, browns, and greens found on the tiles are claimed to be reproductions of the Persian lusters from antiquity. Lusters, or iridescence, were a growing interest with artist-potters during the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries. The process Lycett used on his surfaces was the in-glaze lusters, which involved mixing metallic oxides in the liquid glaze batch and produces an iridescent surface. The firing process is very difficult and needed to be completed at very high temperatures and a regulated atmosphere in the kiln. Although Lycett was not the first to re-discover the technique of luster glazes, he regarded his work highly. This group of framed carved tiles depicting stylized flowers exhibit Lycett’s use of iridescent glazes, imitated after the ancient Persian lusters. Interestingly, Lycett also attests to their use saying, "These tiles appear better if placed away from the light and at the proper angle of reflection opposite to the light."
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
c. 1880-1885
Lycett, Edward
place made
United States: New York, Brooklyn, Greenpoint
Physical Description
black (overall color)
polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic (overall material)
wood (overall material)
frame: 14 in x 5 in; 35.56 cm x 12.7 cm
part: tile: 4 1/4 in x 4 1/4 in; x 10.795 cm x 10.795 cm
part: tile: 4 1/4 in x 4 1/4 in; x 10.795 cm x 10.795 cm
part: tile: 4 1/4 in x 4 1/4 in; x 10.795 cm x 10.795 cm
overall: 3/4 in x 13 13/16 in x 5 3/16 in; 1.905 cm x 35.08375 cm x 13.17625 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
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