Antiques Column with Michael Dowse: Illustrator was in tune with a more playful era

A piece of nursery ware by Lucie Atwell
A piece of nursery ware by Lucie Atwell

Mabel Lucie Attwell (1879-1964) was a successful British illustrator.

She financed her own studies at both Heatherley’s School of Fine Art and St Martin’s School of Art, although disliking the formality of the training never completed either, preferring to branch out on her own.

She was represented by London art agents Francis and Mills and had immediate success with her drawings of children and fairies, so much so that in 1922 the ‘Lucie Attwell Annual’ was produced and became a lifetime series.

Attwell illustrated for books, cards, magazines and posters as well as having her images used by advertisers so it was no surprise that her pictures of cute chubby children, supposedly based on her own daughter, eventually got turned into patterns for ceramics namely nursery ware.

Although nursery ware, ceramics aimed at children, had been around since the early 19th century, they had always been designed around moral and educational messages which children would reveal as they ate their food.

By the early 20th century, however, the trends were changing and the serious themes were being replaced by more playful and relaxed ones perfectly in tune with Attwell’s illustrations.

In 1926 Shelley Potteries commissioned Attwell to produce a series of designs for a range of their nursery ware.

The first series included pictures of children, animals and Boo Boos (little elves in green suits) and was an immediate success with her wares even making it into the nursery of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and later Prince Charles. She continued to design for Shelley and in 1937 also extended her range to include figurines.