Published 12th March 2014
Pate sur pate (translated as 'paste on paste') is a decorative technique for porcelain stumbled upon at Sevres in the mid 1850s and subsequently perfected by Marc Louis Solon. It was a style of decoration that under the hands of Frederick Alfred Rhead, Lawrence and Albion Birks, Frederick Schenck and several others also became very popular in England during the latter decades of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
The process is very time consuming and involves painting primarily white clay slips, though a wider palette can be used, on a dark background. After each has dried, successive further layers are applied before being scraped and carved back to form the required decoration in low relief.
After firing, if all had gone to plan, the finished piece had a translucent ghost like quality – needless to say the painstaking method was time consuming and often ended in failure - and bearing in mind it's French roots - the decoration was invariably Neoclassical or Renaissance in influence; as a result the technique never really became main stream and remained affordable only to the deepest of pockets.
However, when faced with a good vase or plaque from Minton, Wedgwood, George Jones or Birks Rawlins & Co one can see why they attracted such attention.
Frederick Rhead did try to champion affordable pate sur pate whilst at Woods & Sons and although the results were striking, they were never really truly affordable by the general public.
There are techniques that to the naked eye look very similar to pate sur pate, amongst these is the so called Limoges enamel mastered by Thomas Bott for Kerr & Binns of Worcester. Whilst almost identical, the Worcester technique involved decoration with white enamel or glazes, rather than layers of slip, being painted on to a dark background.
Whilst the decorative results were similar (unsurprisingly influenced by Limoges enamel on copper) and equally applauded when first in production in the 1870s, there was an unseen catch. Thomas Bott used to lick his brush to get a point so he could paint the finer detail on his work. Unfortunately, he died prematurely at the age of forty years old from Arsenic poisoning.
I can't help admiring the quality of decoration that can be created by using what is in effect mud, but guess the moral of the story is keep your raw materials simple and stay away from anything that appears on the Periodic Table!
English Pate sur Pate Porcelain was written on Wednesday, 12th March 2014.