IT will be necessary one day to write the history of the Schools of Art, and the rise of the decorative potteries at Lambeth will be an important incident therein. Then fitting praise will be awarded first of all to Mr. F. Sparkes, the first master of the school. Then also the name of Mr. Henry Doulton will be remembered with honour as the wise and generous capitalist and employer of labour, who set himself to stimulate the production of beautiful things, taking good care not, as others have done, to assume the merit of the brains and imagination he could command, but to give honour where honour was due, so that the names of his artists go everywhere with his own. The present article is concerned with only one of many. That one is George Tinworth. This strange and powerful designer began life as a wheelwright's son, and knew not only the pinch of poverty, but the harshness of a father. He knew also the love of a mother who encouraged his artistic impulses, and bred in him that religious enthusiasm which has been the main inspiration of his art. Working nightly for years at the Lambeth School of Art, alter hard days at tinkering carts, he acquired, under Mr. Sparkes, a thorough knowledge of modelling, and, after gaining several prizes, entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1864. There he won the second silver medal in 1865, and the first in the antique school in 1867. In 1866 he exhibited at the Royal Academy. Next year, his father dying, Mr. Sparkes introduced him to Mr. Doulton, whose pots were then more useful than artistic. AVith him he has stayed ever since, taking no little share in the development of the famous pottery, and finding” by degrees an increasing held for the exercise of his peculiar talents. Here lie moulded in clay those vivid scenes, suggested to his imagination” by the Bible, which are the truest expression of himself. Here he designed the beautiful reredos of York Minster, the panels of which have from time to time appeared at the Royal Academy, and all the works which form the exhibition in Conduit Street which is the theme of this note.
The City of Refuge
Such knowledge of the figure as he obtained in his studies under Mr. Sparkes and at the Royal Academy, such decorative ingenuity as has been developed by his experience as a potter, have aided him greatly in his more ambitious efforts; but his strong creative faculty has nevertheless acted with less regard to the fundamental distinctions between graphic and plastic art than might have been expected in one so soundly trained. This artistic perversity may be roughly compared with that of an author who interrupts the flow of prose with a lyric lilt, or writes verse without a careful selection and arrangement of words. It renders absolutely valueless a good deal of clever modern sculpture. But it does not render Mr. Tinworth's work valueless, because he has a true imaginative vision which makes itself felt in spite of technical errors, and is of higher human interest than all scholastic aeeuracy. Oddly as it may sound, it is not as a sculptor that he claims our special attention, but rather as a dramatic seer with plastic instincts. As a poet he is near Bunyan, a designer near Hogarth. The latter he resembles much, not not only in his humour, but in the strong literary quality of his works, which would often be unintelligible without written explanations.
The Distress of Herod
His works, the greater and the less alike, are quick with human life and character, his conceptions are forcible, bis invention is unfailing, and his impulse is always individual and sincere. In the pictorial absolutely necessary to the expression of the central telling of a story he has few rivals; the fulness idea; but his anxiety seems to be rather to put in and vividness of his reprosentations are limited only by the means of his expression, and these he forces with extraordinary success to perform services to which their nature is not apt. Most artists do not, and rightly, attempt such feats; but even if they are right and Mr. Tinworth is wrong, it is impossible not to admire the ingenuity with which he overcomes or goes near to overcoming the natural stubbornness of his materials. In his rendering of the Agony of the Garden, for instance, he contrives to represent with great force the solemn gloom of Gethsemane — an effect altogether foreign from the nature of sculp- ture. In "The Brink of the Hill" he manages to suggest the vanishing of Christ's figure, although it stands there in solid palpable clay before us. Such enterprises” by artists untrammelled” by conventions are always interesting. However unsafe, too, they may be as examples, it is to such defiance of established rules that some of the most precious of human achievements in art are due.
Mr. Ruskin has well described Mr. Tinworth's mind as "full of fire and zealous faculty, breaking its way through all conventionalism to such truth as it can conceive." Now the truth he conceives comes generally embodied in crowds of figures with abundant realistic and symbolic accessories. His imagination does not concentrate the truth into an isolated figure or group worthy of undivided attention — it takes a comprehensive, almost a panoramic, view of dramatic events. With most artists who deal with subjects of high spiritual significance, it is a predominant care to eliminate every item which is not absolutely necessary to the expression of the central idea; but his anxiety seems to be rather to put in as much as he can without absolutely obscuring it.
The Remorse of Judas
He is probably the first who, in representing the Adoration of the Magi, thought it necessary to state strongly that there were other visitors in the inn, unconscious of the eternal moment, and among them a common mother with a common baby. In another panel the soldier who is twisting the Crown of Thorns has pricked his finger, and is sucking it with a woeful expression much enjoyed” by his comrade. In "The Tribute Money," children are looking into the fish's mouth in the hope of finding another coin. All these touches are characteristic of the very peculiar tone and temper of Mr. Tinworth's mind, which from its want of certain sensibilities — such as reticence in facial expression, a blindness in respect of what to others is ludicrous and pathetic, and a deficient perception of the relative artistic force of the parts of his own conceptions — has filled his compositions with apparent faults; while it has enabled him to give us a fuller and more popular dramatisation of Biblical events than would otherwise have been possible to him. Leaving out all questions of right or wrong in art, and taking one of the panels in which the dignity of the central figure suffers most from the collision with its rude realistic surroundings — "The Entry into Jerusalem" — I doubt whether on the whole such a probable picture of the procession has ever been designed. Artistically, the Christ has not half the force of the ass's colt on which He rides; but as a picture of swarming human life and varied emotion, in richness of incident and completeness of its mise en scene, the thing is really astonishing.
The Dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael
In this and in most of the larger panels the main fault is that the most striking figures are often fouud playing secondary parts. In the " Going to Calvary" the interest centres neither in Christ nor Simon the Cyrenian, but in the thieves, especially the unrepentant thief. In the "Barabbas" again the robber is far more effective than either the Christ or the Pilate. In the " Preparing for the Crucitixion " the attention is diverted from the otherwise noble impersonation of Christ to the clever figure of the soldier engaged in hunting a pin among the folds of his girdle. In "The Descent from the Cross" the soldier with the shears occupies the attention too much; while in all the larger panels what lives longest in the memory is the vigorous group of soldiers dicing at the foot of the cross.
This will partly indicate why we have preferred to illustrate Mr. Tinworth's invention” by a few of his less elaborate works. It is in these that the true force of his imagination is shown most purely, inasmuch as they are comparatively unencumbered with his luxuriant growth of minor fancies, and less disturbed” by incongruities of sentiment. As a specimen of his studies from life and his more purely sculp- turesque feeling, the low relief lent” by Mr. E. W. Gosse, the writer of the admirable preface to the Catalogue of the Conduit Street exhibition, would have been an excellent addition to our selection. Of his imaginative panels, I could have wished to add "The Taking of Samson," a design of exceeding force with a well-conceived figure of the treacherous Delilah; "The Brow of the Hill," for that wonderful suggestiveness of which I have already written; and "The Raising of Lazarus" and "The Last Supper," for the freshness of their conception.
In "The Remorse of Judas" the action of Judas is passionate in the extreme, and is well contrasted with the indifference of the chief priests and elders. The suddenness and severity of his repentance, and the impetuosity with which he seeks to rid himself of the wages of his sin, are truly conveyed in that prostrate tiyure of despair. You hardly need to know that the wretch went out and hanged himself. "The Dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael" is an instance of the fulness with which Mr. Tinworth is determined to tell his story. Hagar and Ishmael, Sarah and Abraham and Isaac, all fit in, and he has found room besides for three trees and the tent, a well, a bucket, a jar, a cock, and a basket of bread. Although the distress of Herod at the request of Salome is often marked” by the old artists, his "exceeding" sorrow has never, as far as I know, been shown so strongly as in our second panel. Notwithstanding the presence of his guests, the Tetrarch buries his head between his arms and grasps the table-cloth convulsively. This work shows how inadequate sculp- ture in small is to represent slight distinctions of expression. No amount of labour could give much distinctness of character to bearded heads of this size, The shades in the hollows of mouth, eyes, and nostrils reduce them to masks. In "The City of Refuge" the potency of Mr. Tinworth's imagination is far better exemplified. Whether in ink or paint or terra-cotta or marble, a design like this could not fail to be effective. The Woman outside the door is in the way; we could dispense with the head above the Avenger's arm; the design would gain greatly” by an uninterrupted space between the Avenger and the door. Otherwise I can find no fault with this energetic and pregnant conception. Mr. Tinworth had no need to write "Justice" on the hatchet-blade. His tale for once is completely told without or symbol.
It is perhaps useless to speculate as to the future development of Mr. Tinworth's genius. It is easier to point out, as I have done, the reasons why the way in which he exercises his natural endowments is not satisfactory than to state how they might be better employed. His strong perception of character would seem peculiarly to fit him for a depictor of modern life; but, on the other hand, an imagination and an intellect so fed upon the Bible might find such a career poor and cold. One would like to see the what he could do with the paint-brush and etching-needle; but in his case nature and accident seem to have elected for him somewhat authori- tatively his means of expression. Mr. Gosse looks for his future development in the direction of pure or purer sculpture. But though much might be expected from this direction of his talent, it seems to me that it would tend to a tearing asunder of his complex gifts, and the leaving behind of their more individual and remarkable part. Each step towards cold clear heights of intellectual art would lift the him further from the raciness, the homely vigour, and the human sympathy of his natural self; and if we should lose a humorist we gain a sculptor. We may well be content with him as he is — an original and thoroughly English designer, none of whose faults are without redeeming qualities, and whose vivid vision, fervid feeling, and strong grasp of cha- racter are far more valuable than any amount of featureless orthodoxy.
Last modified 5 September 2013