Sensational Sung

by Louise Irvine

Peacocks, exotic birds of paradise and imperial Chinese dragons soar through fiery red skies in our Innovations gallery. This iconic Sung peacock jardiniere has flown from England via Australia to Arizona before landing here in Florida. We are forever indebted to the late Dave Bearman for creating a fabulous Royal Doulton collection and helping to make our sensational Sung gallery one of the most striking exhibits at WMODA.

Dave Bearman was passionate about Royal Doulton and put together an amazing collection over a period of 25 years. He began in 1991 with figures and character jugs but soon developed a taste for Doulton’s experimental glazes and determined to build the finest Sung ware collection in the world. I first saw Dave’s collection at his home in Ohio where he had commissioned Amish Mennonite craftsmen to carve display furniture for his prized possessions. Dave and his devoted wife Sheila entertained guests royally with unique dinner parties in a customized wine cellar designed by Dave to show off his Royal Doulton treasures. Dave’s job as a chief financial officer brought him to Florida for a few years while he built his dream retirement home in Arizona.  His ambitions were fully realized with a spectacular display of Sung wares in his study and library.

Assisted by specialist dealers, including Ed Pascoe and Arron Rimpley, Dave acquired choice examples of Sung ware from all over the world. The peacock jardiniere was a highlight of the Sydney Royal Doulton exhibition in 1979 and was one of Dave’s favorite pieces. It was acquired from the Shorter family, who were Doulton’s Australasian agents for two generations, and became major donors to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney.

Dave acquired around fifty Sung vases of varying shapes and sizes and his aim was to represent the wide variety of decorative techniques and subjects used by Charles J. Noke and his team at Doulton’s Burslem studio. Noke launched his Sung glazes in 1920 after years of experimentation with metallic oxides and firing techniques for the flambé range. Noke called his new ware Sung as a tribute to the ancient dynasty of Chinese potters who pioneered the use of high temperature glazes.  In the creation of Sung wares, lustrous red glazes were combined with deep blue, violet, yellow and green feathered effects, which varied dramatically with the fluctuations of each kiln firing. On first encountering Doulton’s Sung ware, J. F. Blacker, the eminent ceramic historian proclaimed:  “There scarcely seems to be any limit to the range of colors applied to this most interesting ware, with its marvels of luster coloring, varying from the tint of hoary lichen of old thorn trees to the rainbow tints of a soap bubble, glowing and glimmering with colored fire.”

In his quest to turn common clay into dazzling works of art, Noke likened himself to an ancient alchemist, an image that was used on the cover of the first promotional catalog for Sung wares. Two Alchemist vases from the Bearman collection are now on display at WMODA. During the 1920s and 30s, Noke worked with Arthur Eaton and Fred Allen to paint his experimental wares and Dave found many stunning signed examples of their work, including dramatic dragons, sinuous snakes, glimmering shoals of fish and stylised trees at sunset. Noke was fascinated with the visions of fairyland in Barrie’s classic book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Arthur Rackham’s illustrations of the gnomes who lived in the tree roots can be seen in several Sung vases at WMODA.  Rackham’s illustrations for Wagner’s Rhinegold operas also inspired the Valkyries vase. The heroic design painted by Eaton depicts the warrior women from Norse mythology galloping across a blood-red sky with swords drawn.

In the 1940s and 50s, Fred Moore was responsible for decorating many of the Sung wares and Dave was very pleased to have found a massive ginger jar with the signatures of Moore, Derek Brownsword and Noke’s son, Cecil Jack, who succeeded his father as art director.  Experimentation with flambe glazes continued into the 1960s and Dave acquired an interesting piece from the Royal Doulton Archives sale featuring a peacock with lustrous plumage by John Piers. Dave began to downsize his Sung collection in 2013 and was delighted that many of his key pieces were acquired by Arthur Wiener for his new museum. Dave now has an enduring legacy of his successful Sung quest at WMODA.