One of the most unusual (and therefore most sought after) Charlotte Rhead patterns depicts her interpretation of a scene from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. This collection of poems was produced by Edward Fitzgerald in the mid 19th Century and was his translation of some verses written by Omar Khayyám, a Persian poet, mathematician & astronomer (1048-1131). It proved very popular when first published in 1859 and influenced a number of significant figures of the time, including William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and other artists, who contributed their bespoke illustrations to later editions. Whilst it is felt that some of the translations were not entirely accurate and true to the original text, as a collection it is clear why it captured the imagination of artists in the late 19th century, with its romantic & classical themes tying in with the pre-raphaelite and later movements. But how, you may ask, does 20th century pottery designer Charlotte Rhead come in to all this?!
The answer lies (as it often did with her work), in the influence of her father, Frederick Alfred Rhead. He was another of the 19th century artists to have been inspired by The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, and painted his own scene from the book – ‘When the Angel with his Darker Draught Draws up to Thee’, from verse 48 (shown above left). Following this, he went on to produce a stunning vase for Minton carrying the same image in pâte-sur-pâte decoration. This vase (also shown above), as well as the original painting, sold recently as part of the Rhead-Cronin collection – with the vase going for £17,000 plus fees. Any holistic view of her patterns will show that Charlotte was not afraid to re-produce ideas or use inspiration from her family’s illustrations when designing ceramic artwork – from the early home-produced tube-lined tiles and right through her time at the various potteries that she worked for.
Her Omar pattern (#4036) was produced whilst she was at AG Richardson (Crown Ducal) in the 1930s, and appeared on a variety of items. It was displayed at the British Industries Fair in 1935 and was something of a departure from the floral patterns that she was best known for at the time. The pattern features a seated male underneath a tree (as per the image at the top of the page), with tube-lined text reading ‘Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough A flask of wine A book of verse and Thou’, taken from one of the more popular verses in the Rubáiyát. There isn’t really a comparable pattern of this style by Charlotte Rhead, certainly on commercially produced pottery, so it is intriguing as to why she produced it when she did. One possibility, and it is purely my own guess(!), is that it was some form of tribute to her father, who died in 1933 whilst Charlotte was at Richardsons. Regardless, it is an attractive pattern and one that if you see, you should buy!