Three examples of Cundall’s decorations in Pilkington’s lustreware. c. 1910. Source: Charles Cundall, fig. 13. Click on image to enlarge it.

Cundall’s work as a ceramicist by Andrew Lambirth

[Cundall’s] earliest professional artistic experience was not as an easel painter but as a pottery artist. In 1907 Cundall began an apprenticeship with Pilkington’s Pottery Company at Clifton Junction near Manchester. He was engaged to paint floral patterns on 'Lancastrian' lustre-ware and glazed tiles, and remained there for five years. During this time, he was fortunate in coming under the influence of a powerful triumvirate: Gordon Forsyth was his teacher, advisor and director whose own style was much influenced by Persian, Spanish and Grecian designs; William Burton who, as works managing director helped Cundall gain entrance to Manchester School of Art and contributed to the cost of his evening classes; and Lawrence Pilkington, musician, poet and patron. All encouraged the young artist, recognizing his talent and keen to see it prosper He also learnt much from Richard Joyce, another highly accomplished pottery artist, specializing in fish, animal and bird designs.

Cundall was soon known for his own stylized animal designs, painted on panels and tiles as well as bowls, but more on pots than anything else (Fig 13). After a mere year's experience, he was already flying high and, entering the 1908 National Competition for Applied Art, he won the gold medal. The Studio magazine commented:‘In the pottery section the chief honours were taken by Mr Charles E Cundall ... for a punch bowl and two vases in silver and ruby lustre of exceptional excellence. They were the work of a very young student [Cundall was 18], but there was no sign of immaturity in their design or in 1912 he won a scholarship to the Design School of the Royal College of Art in London on the strength of his work in pottery and stained glass, and left Pilkington’s. Twenty years later; in 1932, he painted William Burton’s portrait, posing him white-haired and distinguished, seated in front of some of his pots. (This is now in Manchester City Galleries.) In some ways, by painting this portrait, he was paying a debt of gratitude for all the support he had received at such a crucial juncture of his young life. At the RCA, he studied stained glass and lettering under the celebrated Edward Johnston, and architecture under Beresford Pile, though he probably gained most from that disciple of William Morris, W.R. Lethaby, first professor of Design at the College. But study was cut short by war, and in 1914 Cundall enlisted in the Public Schools Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. [29-30]

An example of Cundall’s painting


Lambirth, Andrew. “Charles Cundall: ‘a kind of imaginative concentration.’” Charles Cundall. Ed. Sacha Llewellyn and Paul Liss. London: Liss-LLwellyn Gallery, Sotheran’s, and Young Gallery, 2016. 27-53.

Last modified July 1999