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New Ceramic Acquisitions

The Sainsbury Centre has recently acquired three exciting works by leading ceramic artists, Alison Britton (b.1948) and Elizabeth Fritsch (b.1940).

Alison Britton, Quirk, 2019. Courtesy: The artist and Corvi-Mora, London

Their artistic practice and reputations are closely associated with the radical ‘New Ceramics’ movement, which came out of London’s Royal College of Art in the 1970s. The progressive, exploratory works of Britton and Fritsch liberated the medium by blurring the disciplinary boundaries that had once separated pottery from sculpture and painting. Both artists hand-build their ceramic structures, creating abstractions of the traditional vessel form.

Quirk (2019) is a wonderful example of Alison Britton’s approach to making. First displayed in Corvi-Mora’s Heat-work exhibition in 2020, Quirk was selected for its ‘jaunty personality’. Gently comical, Quirk has a backward slouch, a round ‘pot-bellied’ body, a short tubular spout and side lugs that jut out like ears. The vessel’s anthropomorphic quality animates the clay.

Alison Britton, Quirk, 2019. Courtesy: The artist and Corvi-Mora, London


Britton’s originality is found in her methods of constructing semi-functional vessels that break with convention. Britton first applies her slip decoration to slabs of rolled out clay before assembling the cut sections into three-dimensional forms. Vanessa Tothill, Assistant Curator, says, ‘By allowing the surface decoration to influence her placement of the clay sections, Britton intuitively develops her abstract vessels. The spontaneity of this process imbues her ceramics with dynamism and life.’

Alison Britton, Turquoise Pot with Red Lines, 1991. © Alison Britton


Turquoise Pot with Red Lines (1991) was generously donated to the Sainsbury Centre by the artist. Britton enjoys the ‘relaxedness’ of this earlier work, which reveals ‘a mixture of daring and caution’. These two ceramics demonstrate the range of Britton’s oeuvre, showing her deconstructing the vessel as a form, and adding painterly marks in slips and underglaze pigments.

Elizabeth Fritsch’s pots capture the jangle of modern life with their crisp lines and geometric decoration. Fritsch explores what she describes as the ‘two and a half dimension’, challenging the notion of hollowness by flattening her forms. While her early ‘optical pots’ had more in common with trompe l’oeil paintings than studio pottery, rhythmical patterns in applied engobes wrap all the way around Fritsch’s later works.

Elizabeth Fritsch, Blown Away Vase; Collision of Particles, 2009. Image courtesy of Adrian Sassoon, London. Photography by Sylvain Deleu.


Impressed by the size and complexity of Fritsch’s Blown Away Vase; Collision of Particles (2009), the Centre was determined to acquire this tall, coil-built vessel from Adrian Sassoon. Its leaning form with elliptical rim has been sculpted to give the vase a distinctive asymmetrical shape. Here, Fritsch expresses her combined interest in music and mathematics, producing harmony and discord through the arrangement of cubes.

Robert and Lisa Sainsbury were passionate about studio ceramics and amassed an enviable collection that included twentieth-century greats Lucie Rie and Hans Coper. The Centre is delighted that works by Britton and Fritsch will be displayed alongside their male contemporaries, drawing much-needed attention to the women artists who were central to the development of post-modern ceramics. Chief Curator, Tania Moore, says,

‘The inclusion of important figures like Britton and Fritsch helps to address the gender imbalance prevalent in many cultural institutions and demonstrates the radical contribution women have made to the arts in the UK.’

The arrival of these works will have a lasting impact at the Centre. Calvin Winner, Head of Collections, explains, ‘although the Centre has one of the best collections of studio ceramics in the UK, neither of these important artists were previously represented. While neither Britton nor Fritsch abandoned the vessel, they both explored the abstract form and pursued the painterly possibilities of surface decoration’.

Britton’s Quirk has entered the collection thanks to generous funding from the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Art Fund. Fritsch’s Blown Away Vase; Collision of Particles was acquired by the Centre with support from the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Joyce and Michael Morris Bequest.

To read more about Alison Britton visit:

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