Bernard Leach

Bernard Leach (British, 1887-1979)


Bernard Leach (1887-1979) is the pre-eminent British potter of the twentieth century. Having studied as a potter in Japan he established the Leach Pottery in St Ives in 1920, where he constructed the first Japanese-style kiln in Europe. By introducing traditional Eastern forms and techniques he influenced the direction studio pottery would take in both Europe and America.

Bernard Leach: Drawings at the Cambridge Book and Print Gallery is the first ever selling exhibition of Bernard Leach’s drawings, comprising work from throughout Leach’s life that has never before been seen. The drawings are mostly in pen, ink and wash, many on handmade Japanese papers, and were drawn in Japan, St Ives, and America.

Bernard Leach was always known as a phenomenal draughtsman, and drawing was his first artistic inclination. He studied drawing under Henry Tonks while at the Slade School, and then etching under Frank Brangwyn at the London School of Art. He went to Japan in 1909 with the idea of teaching etching; while there his etchings and drawings evolved to become closer to Japanese calligraphic styles, and he began to use soft ground etching and to pursue ink brush drawing. But it was pottery that became Leach’s calling, and he began to translate his drawings into designs for and on his pots, which would be celebrated as much for their decoration as for their forms. The extent of Leach’s graphic output has been little known, with many of his etchings being printed only posthumously and his drawings remaining unseen. Yet he continued to sketch throughout his life, and he writes in A Potter’s Book of his dependency on drawings ‘done at all sorts of odd moments when an idea of shape or pattern leaps to a visual image’.

The drawings here range from studies of Japanese potters to designs for specific kinds of pottery. They display Leach’s mastery of linear style, that can be at once precise and fluid. Here we discover Leach drawing a Japanese pottery on handmade Japanese paper, drawing up designs for his climbing kiln, designing a tea set for production at the Leach Pottery, and sketching the cover design for his book on his friend and Leach Pottery co-founder, the great Japanese potter Hamada Shōji. (Dr Peter Maber, April 2016)