Throughout her career Hannah Barlow decorated thousands of ceramic works for Doulton & Co., and was at the forefront of a pioneering experiment in the nineteenth century employing women in a previously male arena. Barlow became the first woman to work for Doulton & Co., becoming a forerunner to many of the great woman ceramic artists of the following generations, having studied at the Lambeth School of Art before joining the recently established Doulton art pottery studio in Lambeth in 1871, followed by her sister Florence in 1873. She would work at the firm painting Art Pottery for over forty years and by mutual agreement Florence specialised in flowers and birds, and Hannah in horses and other animals.
From an early age Hannah Barlow’s love of animals was expressed in sketches she produced, working in pen, pencil and watercolour, seizing every opportunity to sketch animals directly from nature or memory, and producing works full of vigour that were the results of frequent visits to places and shows such as the cattle show at Windsor and dog show at Crystal Palace.
The current group of drawings date from the late 1860s and early 1870s, a period which also marked her time at the Lambeth School of Art and the beginning of her career at Doulton & Co., containing an array of sketches that displays her humour and enthusiastic love of animals. At the Lambeth School of Art she developed many of the ideas that would form the basis for work at Doulton for her career, and the half-hour timed sketches which were an important feature of the curriculum at the School explain how she gained the ability in achieving rapid and direct responses in her work.
Throughout her sketchbooks a number of her favourite themes reoccur frequently including her concern for the weak, whether animal or children fending off confrontations with man or beast, and designs for pottery including decorative handles for vases overflowing with naturalistic elements reminiscent of majolica, and oval relief mirrors that ingeniously use animals such as hares and foxes entwined within the borders. Many of the designs and sketches do draw close comparison to works carried out at Doulton but they do not appear to be a direct copy from this source, as her method of work was based on a spontaneous response to nature.
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