Women in Our Collection

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we take a close look at some of the named female makers in the Chitra Collection.

The history of women and tea is rich and complex. Often historians of the beverage have focused upon those women who made tea fashionable, such as Queen Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705), or those who commissioned and used impressive tea sets. Today, we turn away from the patrons to the women artists and artisans, whose stories have often been neglected by the history of art. As is so often the case, achievements made by women have been connected to, or overshadowed by the men in their life, be that father, husband or colleague. Hester Bateman and Anne Tanqueray, silversmiths in the 18th century, were only able to use their own initials for their maker’s mark because they were widowed. Moreover, there are many craftswomen whose names have been completely forgotten as they were seen as lesser skilled imitators of their male counterparts. The following group spans over 300 years and represents innovation at its best, from great entrepreneurial minds to contemporary artists pushing the constraints of materiality and form.

18th Century: Running a Family Business

Success in Silver: Two Entrepreneurial Silversmiths

Anne Tanqueray (1691-1733)

This bullet teapot bears the marks of Anne Tanqueray, daughter of a Huguenot silversmith, who married her father’s apprentice, David Tanqueray, in 1717. Upon her husband’s death, she continued the business and registered two marks at Goldsmiths Hall – she was the earliest recorded Huguenot woman goldsmith to do so. These marks were recorded alongside her husband’s original mark, with his name struck through and hers written above, a highly unusual occurrence at this time. Her workshop was noted for its quality and skill and in 1729 became subordinate goldsmith to the King. This example accords with Huguenot ideals with its dignified ornamentation and clarity of form.  Her business acumen produced a long-lasting legacy – her grandson would go on to create Tanqueray gin in 1830![1]

Anne Tanqueray, Teapot, London, England, 1729

Hester Bateman (1708-1794)

Hester Bateman, Teapot, England, 1786
Peter & Ann Bateman, Teapot,
England, 1794-1795

Hester Bateman is often regarded as the most renowned woman silversmith of the 18th century.  She learned the silversmith’s trade from her husband John Bateman who was a gold chain maker and wire drawer. Following his death in 1760, she set up her own business which she would run for 30 years, before it was taken over by her sons and daughter in law. The firm continued to thrive up until the mid-19th century. Another teapot in our collection was made by her son and daughter in law, Peter & Ann Bateman and was later given as a wedding gift to Mary Churchill by her father’s war cabinet in 1947. The success of Hester Bateman’s workshop lay in the adoption of modern technology which allowed her to produce cheaper, domestic tableware using a limited range of ornamentation for mostly middle-class customers. Growing up without access to formal education, Bateman was probably illiterate, rendering her accomplishments truly remarkable.[2]

Two Hausmaler Sisters

Sabina Aufenwerth (1691-1733)

Meissen porcelain was often decorated by hausmaler or home painters, who worked at home or in workshops. The first recorded workshop in Augsburg was run by the eminent goldsmith and copperplate engraver Johann Aufenwerth (ca.1659-1723) together with his three daughters, Johanna, Anna Elisabeth and Sabina. They applied ‘fire paintings’ (coloured enamel decoration) and gilding to white or sometimes sparsely painted earthenware and porcelain which they bought directly from the manufactory. This process is made most evident if we compare the ‘Wasserman’ teapot in our collection with the same design in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the latter, the white surface is adorned with vivid colour and gold by the Aufenwerth workshop, most likely Sabina.

‘Wasserman Thee Potte’, Meissen manufactory, Germany, ca. 1730
Teapot, Meissen manufactory Germany Decoration attributed to Aufenwerth, ca. 1719–30 Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Teapot, Meissen porcelain manufactory, Germany, Aufenwerth workshop (painter), 1720-1735

 This teapot in our collection was probably also painted by Sabina. Little is known about her, with decoration of this type being previously attributed to her male contemporaries such as Johann Philiipp Danhofer Danhofer or Christian Daniel Busch in Bayreut. The chinoiserie scenes painted by the Aufenwerth sisters are in the style of Johann Gregorius Höroldt (1696–1775), however scholars have admired the spontaneity which characterises their work. [3]

Anna Elizaebth Wald née Aufenwerth

Anna Elizabeth Wald, along with her sister Sabina, took over their father Johann Aufenwerth’s painting workshop in Augsburg upon his death in 1728. They are the first documented female ‘Hausmalerei’ artists and specialised in decorative gilding and enamel painting of chinoiserie scenes. The Aufenwerth’s workshop was very successful, partly due to the rich and extensive gilding that we see on this tea bowl and saucer. Indeed, their workshop became one of the most lucrative and prosperous of the hausmalers.

Tea bowl and saucer, Meissen porcelain manufactory, Germany, Anna Elizabeth Wald (decorator), ca.1725-30

19th and 20th century: Tradition and Innovation

Maria Semenova (active 1896-1917)

Maria Semenova was one of the few women who owned a silversmithing and enamelling workshop in Russia at the end of the 19 century. She had inherited her father’s workshop after his death in 1896 and went on to specialise in the production of exquisite silver items decorated using niello and hand crafted enamels. By 1905 the workshop had expanded, counting an impressive 100 employees working for her. Although her designs appear modern, some clearly inspired by the contemporary Art Nouveau movement, her designers were also looking towards Russia’s historic past, inspired by the Pan-Slavic revival. Enamel had been produced in Russia, as early as the Kievan period (9th-13th century)! Moreover, Russia had a rich decorative tradition in enamel, with influences coming from neighbouring Byzantium, later Turkey, Paris, Persia and Scandinavia.

Semenova is the most well represented woman artist in the Chitra Collection, with five individual pieces and one seven-piece set cared for by the museum.

Maria Semenova, Tea glass, holder and spoon, Moscow, Russia, 1899-1908
Maria Semenova, Tea caddy, Russia, 1899-1908

Jian Rong (1919-2008)

Jian Rong, Teapot, China, late 20th century

Jiang Rong (1919-2008) is known as the first Chinese female master of zisha pottery, producing highly inventive teawares and decorative objects that were inspired by her first-hand experience and study of nature. Zisha is a purple-reddish clay that is found in abundance throughout the Jiangsu Province in Eastern-central China. Listed as a national ‘intangible cultural heritage’, the clay has been used in Chinese pottery from as early as the Song Dynasty (960-1279)

Jian Rong, Teapot, China, late 20th century

Born into a family of potters, Jiang Rong began to learn the craft from her father when she was only 11 years old.  Her technical training involved copying the works of the past Zisha masters before creating her own original designs. By the 1950s, Jian Rong was appointed by the local government as advisor to local zisha manufactories. She said of her work:  ‘Functionality and beauty are my main concerns in every creation. Be it an object meant to be lifelike, or one evolved from a physical likeness of the world around us, I have always tried my best not to copy my predecessors, while not losing touch with the great tradition of Zisha art.’[4]

21st Century: Reimagining the Teapot

Tara Coomber

Tara Coomber graduated in 1998 from the School of Jewellery, Birmingham, later achieving many awards for design, silversmithing and stone setting. The original design of this dramatic and elegant teapot was made in response to a brief, set in 1998 by Coomber’s tutor at Birmingham, Derek Birch, to create a teapot or coffee pot that could hold one litre of liquid. In 2004, four smaller teapots of the same design were produced, each holding 750 ml, of which this is one. Coomber has cited Henning Koppel’s (1918-1981) work for Georg Jensen as one of her earlier influences, admiring the organic quality of his silver pieces. The teapot is simultaneously robust and delicate. The dark ebony coloured wood and sharp diagonal angles lends the work a sense of power, and yet it balances on the tiniest of points, creating the appearance of elevation. The dynamic momentum in its form suggests the leap forward into the 21st century.

Tara Coomber, Teapot, England, 2004
Sarah Hutchison, Teapot, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2016

Sarah Hutchison

Sarah Hutchison graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2004 and subsequently went on to win two national awards for her silverware and jewellery. This teapot was commissioned for the Chitra Collection in 2016, based on a design that she made for the 2006 exhibition ‘Silver for the Stars which was created by the Incorporation of Goldsmiths in Edinburgh. The exhibition paired ten contemporary silversmiths in Scotland with Scottish celebrities and included works designed for Sean Connery, Billy Connolly and Ewan McGregor. The design of this teapot is inspired by the essence of Sharleen Spiteri – the frontwoman of the band Texas. When asked how Spiteri inspired the piece, Hutchison stated: “She is also regarded as a beautiful, feminine woman, despite often being described as androgynous. The bold circular shape of the pot inner body and the strong solid handle symbolise this bold, independent woman. The outer fringe is delicate and beautiful with a subtle sparkle, like her also, while all the time protecting the two from one another”.

[1] Murdoch, Tessa, Europe Divided, Huguenot Refugee Art & Culture, London: V&A Publishing, 2021, p. 180-192
[2] Michelle Hassell, ‘Hester Bateman – British silversmith and entrepreneur (1709-94’, National Trust for Scotland, https://www.nts.org.uk/stories/hester-bateman-british-silversmith-and-entrepreneur (Date last accessed: 01/03/2023)
[3] ‘Teapot with cover Manufactory Meissen Manufactory German Decoration attributed to the Aufenwerth Germay, ca. 1719–30, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/205267 (Date last accessed: 01/03/2023)
[4] Tangren Gongyi, ‘Achievement In Art: A Master Of Decorative Art In Zisha, Jiang Rong’, https://www.umiteasets.com/blogs/umi-tea-sets-blog/achievement-in-art-a-master-of-decorative-art-in-zisha-jiang-rong (Date last accessed: 01/03/2023)