This comical human-faced crab is one of the most audacious examples of Martinware, the pottery products made by the four Martin brothers of Southall between 1873 and 1914.

The crab was made by the studio’s lead modeller, Robert Wallace Martin, a trained sculptor who was the driving force behind the company’s delightfully grotesque designs.

Measuring almost half a metre in length, the playful crab features striking human eyes, a curling moustache, cropped beard and a grinning mouth. It is a one-off piece made using a complex firing method known as salt glazing, a medieval process revived by the Martin brothers.

The brothers’ studio became known for its decorative jugs, jars and vases that featured contorted faces, exotic birds and curious flora and fauna, all of which appealed to the Victorian interest in evolution and the natural world. The extremelycollectable work is now widely considered to be the first art pottery in Britain, a forerunner of studio pottery.

After an export bar saved this piece from sale abroad, Robert Wallace Martin’s crab now joins the large collection of 106 other Martinware pieces at The Box, Plymouth’s brand-new museum
and cultural centre.


Private Collection. Robert Dennis Gallery, London (1985); purchased from that sale by John S. M. Scott; his sale the Fine Art Society, London (2014); purchased by Sinai and Sons (2015). Sold Philips Auctioneers, New York (2018); Private Collection.

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