Wemyss Ware is an evocative name to anyone with an interest in pottery. In many ways Wemyss Ware is perfect for the collector, with its myriad rage of patterns and shapes, each hand-painted by a particular artist and often identified by a maker’s mark. It is an instantly recognisable aesthetic: the brightly-coloured decoration on a stark white ground, the subject matter drawing inspiration from the Fife countryside where it was made.
Produced in Kirkcaldy, Scotland from 1882-1930 (and later at Bovey Tracey from 1930-1952) Wemyss Ware has an illustrious history. From the Wemyss family, the patrons of this pottery line; to HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and HRH King Charles III, and global superstar Elton John, Wemyss Ware has caught the eye of many noteworthy individuals. Among these was George Bellamy, a legendary collector of Scottish Wemyss who began seeking our pieces in 1976.
When the late George Bellamy first discovered Wemyss on the cover of Antiques and Art Weekly in November 1976 it sparked a lifelong pursuit of the Fife-made ceramics. The sale of his legendary and expertly curated collection provides a touchstone with the community of Wemyss dealers and experts of the second half of the twentieth century, of which Bellamy was a well-respected and active member.
The plants and animals which adorn Wemyss Ware were a natural choice for the countryside loving Bellamy. Since childhood he was fascinated by flora and fauna, joining his Latin master’s bird club at Prep school. This love endured throughout his life, and he stated his fondness for the ‘wild area of countryside with a large garden’ which was his Welsh home in later years. He had been searching for something to collect and Scottish Wemyss Ware perfectly piqued his interest.
Bellamy writes about Wemyss with infectious enthusiasm and the enjoyment he reaped from it was threefold. Firstly, he relished the opportunity Wemyss Ware presented to develop specialist expertise. Bellamy focused his efforts on the Scottish period of production (1882-1930), accumulating intimate knowledge of the Kirkcaldy items compared to the output from Bovey Tracey in Devon. He trained his eye to discern the work of one painter from another, often purely from their execution of the Wemyss mark, but more often from the quality of the painted decoration.
Furthermore, the community of dealers and experts brought Bellamy much joy and assisted in the expansion of his Wemyss armoury, both intellectually and in the pleasure of handling the objects. He enjoyed visits from erstwhile dealers David Holmes and Barry Smith once or twice a year with a box of choice wares and wrote at animated length about his visit to the home of Wemyss collector extraordinaire Iris Fox. He was swiftly welcomed into the body of dealers and enthusiasts, invited to exhibit and attend the 1987 exhibition of Wemyss Ware, organised by Victoria de Rin and opened by the then Prince of Wales.
The final, and arguably most important element of collecting which appealed to Bellamy was the thrill of the chase. His knowledge enabled him to uncover bargains, once paying only £50 for a misattributed Earlshall mug, now worth over £1,000. This arsenal, combined with his contacts on the Wemyss grapevine, gossiping about upcoming or, most tantalisingly, missed opportunities drove his search. Even in 2019, forty-three years after his first acquisition and despite his patient tenacity, rarer items still evaded him. He never secured a green fig preserve box or hazelnut mug, but this sale gives new and existing collectors the chance to share in the delight Scottish Wemyss Ware brought to him with a plethora of rare and wonderful examples.
Lyon & Turnbull will be offering the George Bellamy Collection at auction on January 24, 2024.