An Arts and Crafts Masterwork
Addison Le Boutillier succeeded George Kendrick as Director of Design at Grueby in 1902 and designed many of their tiles. He was an experienced draughtsman and masterful illustrator who had traveled the world, studying a variety of periods and styles from Etruscan to Celtic. Perhaps his most admired design is that of his fireplace frieze dubbed The Pines. Consisting of eight tiles, it displayed subtle variations in shape and glaze that provided a variety of color and tone highly prized by the artist and his colleagues. The overall design of The Pines perfectly encapsulates LeBoutillier's own declaration that "landscape and figures should be reduced to ornament" and are executed in an ancient Moorish process known as cuenca, involving a design being pressed into the clay which forms channels with low walls that kept Grueby’s thick glazes separate. The resulting stylized scene ranks among some of the best of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Le Boutillier remained at Grueby until at least 1911 and would produce over one hundred tile designs during his tenure.
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Grueby is a name synonymous with the American Arts & Crafts Movement and a marker of exceptional quality.
Grueby Faience Company was established in 1894 by William Henry Grueby. A great admirer of the matte glazes of French pottery and the refined simplicity of Japanese ceramics, Grueby founded his company with the intent of creating works of ceramic art that folded these two influences into a singular design philosophy that was wholly American. The bulk of Grueby’s creations were works of art pottery, though the company was also highly regarded for their production of some of the best architectural tiles in America.
The aesthetic of Grueby pottery has been described as ‘organic naturalism’ and can be identified by two defining characteristics: form and glaze. Most Grueby pottery features vegetal shaped forms, often bulbous and gourd-like, adorned with stylized foliate designs that were either placed above or carved into the vessel’s surface. The majority of these pieces were glazed in a matte cucumber green that would come to be the company’s hallmark. Other Grueby glazes exist, including light blue, soft yellow, and a handful of other earthen hues, though none of these are as quintessentially “Grueby” as the deep woods green seen on most of the manufacturer’s pieces.
Grueby pottery and tiles enjoyed great popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and were sold in fine design shops from Paris to New York City. Grueby even landed a partnership with Tiffany Studios, producing lamp bases for the renowned lighting and glass manufacturer. Before long, Grueby became a victim of its own success, inciting mass-market competition that led the company to declare bankruptcy in 1909. Grueby emerged from bankruptcy but was shut down shortly after due to a fire in their manufacturing wing. Grueby was able to rebuild, but the weight of tragedy had begun to take its toll. The company closed its doors for the last time in 1920.
In the modern secondary art market, pottery and architectural tiles by Grueby are highly collectible and sought after. Innovative in design, delightful in form, and steeped in history, Grueby pottery and tiles are true American treasures.
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Rare three-color vase with cinquefoils