By Christopher Proudlove
They were purchased then by Manxman the late Peter Gelling, an archaeologist and antiquarian, but ended up in Devon by family descent. They are being put up for auction in Exeter on October 8. Ironically, Knox was a painter first and a Liberty designer, for which he was best known, second. The son of Scot William Knox, a master machine maker who made his fortune running steam boats carrying tourists to the rs, olou terc Isle of Man ferries, Archie was born a w ox’s in Cronkbourne, near Tromode. g Kn t Office n i r atu an Pos The boy was educated at Douglas Grammar ps fe M stam Isle of f o School, where his headmaster, a noted archaeologist, e t e h s t The ced by encouraged the boy’s interest in the island’s ancient carved u prod crosses, and at the Douglas School of Art, where he gave full rein to designs featuring their Celtic and Norse designs. Knox’s fascination with the complex interlocking motifs, which were later reflected in his work for Liberty’s, remained with him for Archibald Knox – painter and designer the rest of his life. In 1882 Knox was appointed pupil teacher at the school but t’s a long time since I visited the Isle on Man. The family moved to London in 1897 to teach at Redhill School of Art, where photo album has a snap of me alighting from the steps of a his friend and fellow Manxman, A. J. Collister, was headmaster. It BEA Viscount at Ronaldsway airport and I’d be about six. Now that was around this time that he began work as a freelance designer for my life revolves around antiques, I need to go back and walk the Liberty & Co. Archibald Knox Trail. Knox subsequently taught at Kingston and Wimbledon Knox was born there in 1864 and today is famous for the Schools of Art, but in 1912, following a dispute with the Celtic-inspired designs he made for Liberty’s Art Nouveau South Kensington examiners, Knox and a group of fellow “Cymric” silver and “Tudric” pewter. What’s less well students started the Knox School of Craft Design. known (unless you live on the Isle of Man) is that Knox After an unsuccessful attempt to find work in the USA, was a highly accomplished watercolourist, but he painted he returned to the Isle of Man, where for part of the First for his own pleasure rather than monetary gain. World War he acted as a censor of letters sent by internees Knox never sold his paintings and rarely parted with in the island’s prisoner of war camp. them other than as an occasional gift to a friend. He He returned to teaching art at a number of schools insisted he was capable of better and that it was necessary on the island, but died suddenly from heart failure on to retain “studies” to learn from his faults. February 22 1933. He is buried in Braddan Cemetery. His watercolours were shown on the island at the However, it was Knox’s association with Liberty that annual Knox Guild of Craft and Design Exhibition and in brought him fortune, if not fame. Knox’s distinctive blend 1926, 80 of them were exhibited at the Canadian National of Celtic design coupled with Modernist utility established Gallery in Ottowa at the specific request of the director Liberty as probably the single most important design house there. Other than that, it was only after his death that this in Britain, if not Europe. side of his artistic ability became known. As the arbiter and trend-setter of English Art Nouveau The Manx Museum has an enviable collection of his style, Knox was master. His pewter and silverwork, jewellery, pictures but they are seldom seen elsewhere and rarely carpets, textiles, book illustration, illuminated lettering and come on to the market. One way around this might be to ceramics put him at least the equal of other designers of the buy a set of set of six stamps, each featuring a different Knox era such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh, C.F.A. Voysey, Josef watercolour. Hoffmann and C.R. Ashbee. The set was introduced earlier this month by the Isle of Unique among artists and designers, Knox even designed Man Post Office. A first day cover with all six and postmarked grave and memorial stones decorated with the interlaced in Douglas on the day of issue will set you back £5.16, while a patterns for which he was famous. Nearly all are on the Isle of mint set is just £4.46. (Go to www.gov.im/post). Man, but among the exceptions is one which stands at Lee, in Alternatively, another albeit a somewhat more expensive Buckinghamshire, erected in 1917 when Knox was commissioned option would be to bid on a group of nine of his works, some to design the headstone for Arthur Lasenby Liberty’s grave. of which are illustrated here, coming up for auction next week. The interesting thing is that until relatively recently, Devon auctioneers Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood Knox and his genius was something of a best-kept secret. expect each will sell for £400-600. They will fetch One of the leading designers of the still trendy Liberty & more. Co retailers in London’s Regent Street, Knox was a The nine watercolours were originally donated victim of the company’s tradition of keeping their to the museum by Knox’s family in 1959, 26 years designers anonymous. after Knox’s death, with the intention that they This silver and enamel-inset You’ll find Liberty’s Art Nouveau pieces around should be sold and the proceeds used to form the Cymric vase by Archibald Knox for the world but who designed them is still the subject Archibald Knox Endowment Fund. Liberty was sold by Lawrences of of debate, speculation and continued research.
Bletchingley, Surrey for £9,600. It was assayed in Birmingham in 1901
Even recently, his work was incorrectly attributed and while some surviving designs on paper are directly linked to Knox, many others were lost in a fire. Detective work continues but Knox’s work can be attributed to objects by their simplicity and the intertwining in relief of Celticinspired decoration, often highlighted with areas of blue, turquoise or green enamel. Knox also used semi-precious stones such as turquoise to highlight the designs, while another great designer, Dr Christopher Dresser, was another influence on Knox, most noticeably in the use gothic arches and tripod feet. Most of the notable Tudric designs were produced between 1902 and 1910, after which designs tended to become plain and usually hammered. Marks include “Made in England, English Pewter, Tudric”, often in a sunken rectangle, “Made by Liberty & Co” and “Solkets” with a logo of two crossed flowers, the latter being the trademark of the manufacturer, W Haseler. Occasionally the only trademark is “English Pewter”, while the “Warric” mark is later, dating the piece to the 1920s and 30s, when production ceased. Today, the most sought after Knox pieces are particularly his clocks and pieces inlaid with enamel, semiprecious stones and with original glass inserts or liners.
Four of the nine watercolours by Archibald Knox, to be sold by Devon auctioneers Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood. Each is estimated at £400-600 and they show respectively a wooden bridge over a river running through a gorge; a garbour scene with moored barges and a boatyard beyond; a merchant brig lying at the entrance to a harbour inscribed Ramsey bottom left and Haystacks and farm buildings inscribed BALLIG bottom left