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.
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.
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.
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.
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.