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  • Place of origin:

    Southall (made)

  • Date:

    1903 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Martin Brothers (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    stoneware, wood (plinth)

  • Credit Line:

    The 2nd Lieutenant Francis Bedford Marsh (1914-1918) War Memorial Gift

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Ceramics, Room 143, The Timothy Sainsbury Gallery, case 4, shelf 3 []

If Martin-ware [… has] not the transparency of porcelain nor the elaborately and costly ornamentation of Sèvres [it is] pure and honest art work.

This is how the art critic Cosmo Monkhouse described the output of the Martin Brothers' studio in The Magazine of Art in 1882. Eccentric founder Robert Wallace Martin and his siblings Charles, Walter and Edwin epitomized the energy and experimentation of the nineteenth-century art pottery movement. They regarded pottery as a means of artistic expression, rather than a product of industrial manufacture, and were particularly inspired by the naturalistic and rustic flora and fauna forms of the sixteenth-century potter Bernard Palissy.
This jar is typical of the Martin Brothers' grotesque and eccentric stonewares and demonstrates a unique blend of fantasy and imagination. The function of these anthropomorphic lidded wares, which were produced in many different shapes and sizes, is unclear. They have been called 'tobacco jars', since Monkhouse used this term, but they are not airtight and the interiors are not finished to a standard fit for storage, suggesting an essentially ornamental and aesthetic purpose.
The Martin Brothers drew upon an eclectic range of sources for their work and it is possible that these jars were inspired by traditional English owl-shaped pottery jugs. Martin-ware birds are not of any known species, and in many examples the lidded heads are made to swivel on the body, further enhancing their irregular form, which evades both meaning and classification.

Physical description

Jar and lid in the form of a bird, with a large head - tapering towards the feet. Stoneware on a wooden stand.

Place of Origin

Southall (made)


1903 (made)


Martin Brothers (maker)

Materials and Techniques

stoneware, wood (plinth)

Marks and inscriptions

'Martin Bros London & Southall 11-1903'
incised to base


Height: 20.5 cm, Width: 9 cm, Depth: 9 cm

Object history note

Known as 'Wally birds' these grotesque bird-jars loosely inspired by gothic fantasy and Japanese art were very popular.

Exhibited at 'British Design at Home' in Japan.

Descriptive line

Jar with cover in the form of a bird, R.W. Martin & Bros., Southall, Middlesex, 1903

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

See Object Information file in Ceramics and Glass Section offices.

Labels and date

Tobacco jar 'Martin Ware'
made by the Martin Bros., Southall, Middlesex, England, 1903
Mark: 'Martin Bros London & Southall 11-1903', incised
Salt-glazed stoneware with coloured glaze

Circ.442&A-1919 The 2nd Lieutenant Francis Bedford Marsh (1914-1918) War Memorial Gift [23/05/2008]


Stoneware; Wood

Subjects depicted



ELISE; Ceramics; Art Pottery


Ceramics Collection

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