Goddesses and Cupids by Albion Birks

This pair of vases in the shape of oriental lamps, painted by Alboin Birks in 1889, is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This pair of vases in the shape of oriental lamps, painted by Albion Birks in 1889, is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Albion Birks, a British ceramic artist who worked at the Mintons porcelain factory, is known for his work in the pâte-sur-pâte technique. The technique was developed in the 1850s at the French manufactory in Sèvres. Marc-Louis Solon, who first worked in Sèvres and moved to England during the Franco-Prussian War, improved this technique while working for Mintons Ltd. It was here that he created the most impressive examples of work in the pâte-sur-pâte style. Among the apprentices who learned the craft under Marc-Louis Solon, one of the best was Alboin Birks (1860–1940), who began his career as an apprentice at Mintons in 1876 and worked there for almost 60 years.

Cupid with a bow among flowers (fragment).
Cupid with a bow among flowers (fragment).
Cupid chasing a bird (fragment).
Cupid chasing a bird (fragment).

Pâte-sur-pâte, a French term that literally means “pasta on pasta.” This technique allows you to create a relief design by brushing successive layers of white slip (porcelain mass diluted to the consistency of paint) with the obligatory drying of each layer. It takes several weeks, or even months, to create a piece of pottery using this technique. The pâte-sur-pâte method allowed the master to achieve a translucent, almost unearthly effect in the image of light fluttering clothes of goddesses and nymphs, flowing water or transparent dragonfly wings. For such painstaking work, the artist needed talent and great patience. And Albion Birks had it all.

Two vases depicting the dancing muse Terpsichore, height 34 cm, Alboin Birks and Lawrence Birks, Mintons, 1892 and 1902.
Two vases depicting the dancing muse Terpsichore, height 34 cm, Alboin Birks and Lawrence Birks, Mintons, 1892 and 1902.

These two similar vases were created at different times, 10 years apart and by different people. Classic style vase models have never gone out of fashion and have been used for decades. That’s why it’s a classic. The very first vase from this collection in the shape of an oriental lamp was created according to samples produced in Sevres back in the first half of the 19th century.

Pair of Rococo vases with putti, height 34 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1880.
Pair of Rococo vases with putti, height 34 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1880.
Pair of ivory vases with putti figurines in reserve, height 39.5 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1884.
Pair of ivory vases with putti figurines in reserve, height 39.5 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1884.

Laurence Arthur Birx, cousin of Alboin Birx, was also a student of Marc-Louis Solon and worked in the pâte-sur-pâte technique. After working at Mintons for 22 years, he founded his own porcelain factory in 1894. Lawrence’s and Alboin’s works are so similar that it would be difficult to tell them apart if they were not signed. I will give here another example of the work of Lawrence Birks. It is believed that the next pair of vases he painted were created for one of the international exhibitions of the late 19th century.

Vase depicting cupid playing a pipe, height 25.4 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1890, from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Vase depicting cupid playing a pipe, height 25.4 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1890, from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Mintons artists signed their work with monograms. Alboin Birx signed with the monogram “AB” and Lawrence with the monogram “LB”. It is believed that the “LAB” monogram was used for the Birx brothers’ collaborations.

Vase in the form of a pilgrim's flask, ivory, with classical figures in medallions, height 26.7 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1890.
Vase in the form of a pilgrim’s flask, ivory, with classical figures in medallions, height 26.7 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1890.
Pair of vases depicting frolicking putti, height 21.6 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1893.
Pair of vases depicting frolicking putti, height 21.6 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1893.
Vase depicting Cupids among vines, height 22 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1896.
Vase depicting Cupids among vines, height 22 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1896.
Pair of pilgrim flask vases depicting cupids with garlands of flowers, height 26cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1885.
Pair of pilgrim flask vases depicting cupids with garlands of flowers, height 26cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1885.
Tobacco tin depicting six cupids in a circle in a tug of war, 14 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1895.
Tobacco tin depicting six cupids in a circle in a tug of war, 14 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1895.
Vase with cupids playing musical instruments, height 22.5 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1898.
Vase with cupids playing musical instruments, height 22.5 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1898.
Vase depicting Bacchus holding a cup, height 27.3 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1889.
Vase depicting Bacchus holding a cup, height 27.3 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1889.
Two handled Grecian urn vase, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1900.
Two handled Grecian urn vase, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1900.
Pair of vases in the shape of a pilgrim's flask, height 15 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1900.
Pair of vases in the shape of a pilgrim’s flask, height 15 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1900.
Vase depicting Venus and Cupid at rest, height 17.6 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1900.
Vase depicting Venus and Cupid at rest, height 17.6 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1900.
Vase depicting Diana, height 22.5 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1900.
Vase depicting Diana, height 22.5 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1900.
Plate with openwork edges depicting Cupid among flowers, diameter 23 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1905.
Plate with openwork edges depicting Cupid among flowers, diameter 23 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1905.
Vase depicting Venus teaching Cupid archery, h. 19.4 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1910.
Vase depicting Venus teaching Cupid archery, h. 19.4 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, circa 1910.
Pair of vases depicting nymphs seated on pedestals, one playing a tambourine, the other holding an incense burner on her lap, height 24.6 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1910.
Pair of vases depicting nymphs seated on pedestals, one playing a tambourine, the other holding an incense burner on her lap, height 24.6 cm, Alboin Birks, Mintons, 1910.
The reverses of the vases are decorated with a design depicting putti flying around a tree house.
The reverses of the vases are decorated with a design depicting putti flying around a tree house.
Pair of 'Seasons' vases, Lawrence Birks, Mintons, circa 1887.
Pair of ‘Seasons’ vases, Lawrence Birks, Mintons, circa 1887.
Pair of shield shaped vases decorated with emblems of peace and war surrounded by putti and winged hermas, monogram LAB (Lawrence and Alboin Birks), Mintons, circa 1880.
Pair of shield shaped vases decorated with emblems of peace and war surrounded by putti and winged hermas, monogram LAB (Lawrence and Alboin Birks), Mintons, circa 1880.
Documents from the personal archive of Alboin Birks with his sketches and photographs.
Documents from the personal archive of Albion Birks with his sketches and photographs.
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