THIS early 20th-century piglet is an example of a Scottish decorative pottery known as Wemyss ("weems") ware. Later this month, Sotheby's will auction it off in Scotland as one rare item among a range of Wemyss ware pieces - pigs and cats, matchbox holders and mugs, plates and bowls.
Wemyss ware was made in the east-coast town of Kirkaldy, starting in the 1880s. Kirkaldy boasted several potteries. The Fife Pottery, owned by Robert Heron & Son, made Wemyss ware, among other things.
Some locals were amazed when, in the 1960s, collectors started buying Wemyss ware for high prices. To them it was utilitarian kitchen or bedroom crockery. But from the outset, Wemyss ware was not inexpensive (though there was a lively trade in cheaper "seconds"). Unique pieces could be commissioned. Large items, or sets, were sold to wealthy or aristocratic buyers.
The forms of Wemyss pottery are generally simple and pleasing. In the case of the animals there is an added comic element. But what makes it distinctive is hand-painted decoration. A Wemyss piece is generally treated as a background for this bold, subtle painting. Apart from the roses on this piglet (animals decorated with plant life appear in many cultures and periods), decorations include everything from geese to gooseberries, honeysuckle to bees, swallows to black chickens.
The artist who initiated these enchanting decorations was not Scottish, but Bohemian. Karel Nekola was invited to the Fife Potteries as a young man, and then fell in love with Scotland. He stayed. And flourished. And painted pottery.
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