Doulton porcelain (bone china) plate painted by Louis Bilton with Australian wattle
Louis Bilton (c. 1860-1910) was an English artist who spent three years in Sydney in 1885-7 to make drawings of Australian flora for 'The Picturesque Atlas of Australasia', a monumental three-volume set published between 1886 and 1888, which became one of the most significant cultural projects in 19th-century Australia. Bilton secured this important commission courtesy of Julian R Ashton, a key contributor to the album alongside other artists such as Henry Fullwood, Tom Robert and Marian Ellis Rowan. While in Sydney, Bilton was a member of the Royal Art Society of NSW.
When Bilton took up employment as china painter with Doulton & Co in Burslem (Staffordshire, England) in 1892, many of his designs were based on a portfolio of Australian flowers he had sketched in New South Wales. Some of his designs were displayed at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and won worldwide acclaim (Doulton secured seven of the highest awards in Chicago, the most given to any ceramic company). 'Louis Bilton - wrote John Shorter Sr in 1905 - shares with Mrs Rowan, the premier position of accurate delineation of our Australian flora, and every National Art Gallery in Australasia I believe, has now permanent record of our gorgeous Flora from his fertile pencil.'*
One of a pair, this plate painted by Bilton is from a series of eight unpublished dessert/cabinet plates originally from a private collection in Adelaide. It joins the Powerhouse Museum's specialist collection of English bone china plates, cups and sources and vases exquisitely painted by leading Doulton and Worcester painters with various designs representing Australian flora. These striking objects were mostly intended for the Australian market at the end of the 19th century and particularly in the first two decades of the 20th century following Australia's Federation in 1901 which strengthened a growing sense of national confidence and identity at the time. Like other plates from this series, this plate is signed by Bilton and also annotated by him on the back with the name of the plant depicted. The design resembles parts of his most elaborate floral composition in the Atlas entitled 'Manly wild flower show' (page 70 ,vol 1). Not many surviving plates by Bilton are known to have these descriptions and only some are signed. A significant group of transfer-printed designs after Bilton was also made by Doulton. The Powerhouse Museum has ten other rare ceramics painted by Bilton - from the spectacular 1886 'Bush Beauties' wall plaque painted by him in Sydney with a design depicting waratah and the Wonga-Wonga Vine (Pandorea pandorana), to a Doulton ewer modelled by John Slater and painted by Bilton also with waratahs (c1892) to several plated and vases, some from the Chicago Exposition.
Australian flora designs painted by Bilton are among the most beautiful and are unique in that they were both designed and executed on ceramics by the same person. Bilton was also the only Doulton flower painter who actually lived in Australia closely observing and producing detailed studies of local flora; all other English ceramics in the genre were based on designs sent from Australia and painted by decorators unfamiliar with Australian plants and their 'true' colours.
*J Shorter, 'Modern pottery: with some photographs', Art & Architecture, Vol II, no 6, Nov-Dec 1905, p.247
Glenn R Cooke, 'Louis Bilton and Australian Flora', Australiana, August 2004, pp4-6.