In Search of the Picassoettes Jeffrey Jones    


Both William Newland and Bernard Leach were ready in their own ways to call on the name of Picasso to bolster their respective artistic agendas. Leach, as well as Newland, made many references to Picasso in the course of his numerous writings, often describing him as an acrobat.46 It was in 1958, at around the time of the Goldsmith's exhibition, that Leach made the reference quoted previously in this article to Picasso as 'a great and most inventive artist' whose followers in Paris were known as 'les Picassiettes '.47 It was two years later that the second reference to the Picassiettes appeared in A Potter in Japan. But although A Potter in Japan was published in Britain in 1960 it had previously been published in Japan in 1955 and is in fact the diary of Leach's travels in Japan between 1952 and 1954. The reference to the Picassiettes is included in an entry dated April 11th 1954, some four years before the review of the Goldsmith's exhibition appeared in the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post. There is thus no evidence from these examples that Leach specifically had the three British potters in his sights; indeed it is obvious that Leach was thinking about Picasso's influence in broad international terms. Nor is it obvious from the review of the Goldsmith's exhibition in the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post that the three Bayswater potters formed a definable group; work by Newland and Hine was indeed shown there alongside work by their contemporaries such as Molly Winterburn but Nicholas Vergette is not mentioned in the review.

So, Picassoettes, Picassiettes, Picassettes: which is it to be and to whom or to what should the term(s) refer? Further instances of the use of these variants may well come to light in the future, but we may never know the full details of the forces within the British studio pottery movement of the 1950s which blew around the influence of Picasso. There was perhaps a bit of devilment in all this on both sides which echoed the spirit of Picasso, and the 'acrobat' himself might have delighted in the twists and turns of the adoption of a term which even now can be construed as an insult or a complement. The story of the Bayswater Picassoettes offers a fascinating insight into the dynamics of the British studio pottery world of the 1950s and more generally into the process of historical myth-making which continues even today. The story may not be over yet, but whatever happens it is probable that William Newland, Margaret Hine and Nicholas Vergette will irrevocably retain their status as 'The Picassoettes'. Why not? It suits them and it always did.

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46 See for example Bernard Leach, Beyond East and West: Memoirs, Portraits and Essays, London, Faber and Faber, 1978, p.121 - 'I cannot regard (Picasso) as a good potter, but he is the greatest acrobat in the history of art' back to article

47 Leach, 'The Contemporary Studio-Potter', footnote p.47 back to article

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Modern Art in
Post War Britain

Picasso and
the Potters

Dora Billington and
the Bayswater Three

The Oral Testimony
of William Newland


Acknowledgements & Bibliography

In Search of the Picassoettes • Issue 1