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Figurine of Paul Robeson as Othello

  • Object:

    Figurine

  • Place of origin:

    Brabourne Lees (made)

  • Date:

    1959 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Parkinson, Susan (maker)
    Parkinson, Susan (decorator)
    Richard Parkinson Pottery (makers)
    Briglin Pottery (made for)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Glazed porcelain

  • Credit Line:

    Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996

  • Museum number:

    S.1012-1996

  • Gallery location:

    Boardroom, case CA8, shelf 2

This figurine represents the black American baritone and actor Paul Robeson (1898-1976) as Othello, the role he first played in London in 1930 to Peggy Ashcroft's Desdemona. It is one of a set of five figures issued by Briglin Pottery, makers of decorative domestic earthenware, in 1959, a year after they decided to revive the Staffordshire tradition of pottery figures of performers. The actor Herbert Lom, the partner of Briglin's founder Brigitte Goldsmith, contacted Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Sir John Gielgud, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Paul Robeson, Maria Callas and Alec Guinness, who all agreed to feature. Lom wrote a leaflet advertising the proposed edition of 100 figures of seven personalities, which featured quotes from the subjects who all expressed delight at their inclusion.

Since Briglin's earthenware proved unsuitable, Lom commissioned Richard Parkinson to design and make the figures at his pottery, using continental-type porcelain, fired at high temperatures and decorated in green and black. The slip-cast figures proved tricky; the moulds had to be made in several pieces and most of them, except Paul Robeson and Vivien Leigh, had to be tall and thin, very different in style to the rest of Parkinson's pottery. After Robeson, the fifth model, the Parkinsons realised their charge of £2 a figure was unrealistic. Since Lom refused to raise the price, the project was terminated and only about six figures of Robeson were made. In 1959, however, the set featured in London's Design Centre where Briglin sold them for 10 guineas each, and 40 guineas a set. The Duke of Edinburgh and Charlton Heston each bought a set.

Physical description

Figurine of Paul Robeson as Othello, his hands down beside his sides, decorated in green and black, standing on an integral base inscribed on the front 'Paul Robeson' and on the back 'as Othello'. He is wearing a long, loose, patterned robe with elbow-length sleeves.

Place of Origin

Brabourne Lees (made)

Date

1959 (made)

Artist/maker

Parkinson, Susan (maker)
Parkinson, Susan (decorator)
Richard Parkinson Pottery (makers)
Briglin Pottery (made for)

Materials and Techniques

Glazed porcelain

Marks and inscriptions

'Paul Robeson' / 'as Othello'

Painted on the front and back of the hollow base respectively

'designed & made for BRIGLIN by Susan Parkinson'
On underside of base

Dimensions

Height: 34 cm, Width: 17 cm

Object history note

In 1959 Briglin Pottery, makers of decorative domestic earthenware, decided to revive the Staffordshire tradition, almost extinct since the 19th century, of making pottery figures of outstanding theatrical personalities of the day. One of the founders of Briglin was Brigitte Goldsmith whose partner was the actor Herbert Lom; he made contact with the personalities that Briglin wanted to feature. These were Sir Laurence Olivier as Henry V, Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra, Sir John Gielgud as Hamlet, Dame Margot Fonteyn as Ondine, Paul Robeson as Othello, Maria Callas as Violetta and Alec Guinness as himself. Briglin planned a limited edition of one hundred figures of seven personalities. Lom wrote a publicity brochure, with quotes from the actors saying they were delighted to be included, and that the tradition was to be revived.

Briglin Pottery used an earthenware body that was unsuitable for such detailed work so Lom, who lived near the Parkinsons in Kent, commissioned Richard and Susan Parkinsons to make the figures for £2 each. They were devised by Richard Parkinson, slip-cast from continental-type porcelain, fired at very high temperatures and decorated in green and black by Susan Parkinson. The figures were tricky to produce; the moulds had to be made in several pieces because of the detail, and because most of them, apart from Paul Robeson and Vivien Leigh, had to be relatively tall and thin, quite unlike the rest of the Parkinson's pottery. Vivien Leigh was the second to be made, and Susan Parkinson said it was difficult to produce a realistic model that looked well in a set with the others. In real life Paul Robeson was very tall and Viven Leigh very petite.

After creating the fifth model the Parkinsons realised that they could not continue to make them for the agreed price. Since Lom was adamant about pricing, only the first five of the set were made, with only about six of the Robeson figures being produced. Despite the termination of the project, the figures were displayed in the Design Centre in 1959 where Briglin sold them for 10 guineas each, or 40 guineas for the set. The Duke of Edinburgh and Charlton Heston each bought a set, and Brigitte Goldsmith personally presented Vivien Leigh with the figurines of herself and Laurence Olivier. Although not wanting the Parkinson Pottery's name to be associated with the figurines, they were allowed to mark them inside the base which was brushed with a band of colour on the white clay and scratched through: 'Made for Briglin Pottery by Susan Parkinson.'

Descriptive line

Porcelain figurine of Paul Robeson (1898-1976) as Othello, made for Briglin Pottery by Richard and Susan Parkinson, 1959

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Susan Parkinson and the Richard Parkinson Pottery by Carol Cashmore & Tim Vincent-Smith
Briglin Pottery 1948-1990 by Anthea Arnold

Materials

Hard paste porcelain; Glaze; Paint

Techniques

Moulding; Firing (heating); Painting; Glazing (coating)

Categories

Ceramics; Entertainment & Leisure; Porcelain; Figures & Decorative ceramics

Production Type

Limited edition

Collection

Theatre and Performance Collection

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