American Art Tile 1876-1941

by Norman Karlson (Sep 15, 1998)




John Bennett was born in England in 1840. He trained first at Staffordshire Potteries, and later worked for Henry Doulton. By the time Bennett arrived in the United States and opened a studio at 101 Lexington Avenue in New York, in 1876, he was already a very accomplished pottery decorator.

His high-priced pottery, called “Bennett Ware,” was sold at many fine stores across the country, including Tiffany & Co. Bennett Ware was characterized by simple, unencumbered shapes adorned with underglaze painting. The decorative subjects were usually boldly painted plants and flowers in strong colors, often outlined in black against brightly colored backgrounds.In addition to pottery, Bennett produced six-inch tiles using the same underglaze technique. His work could have been influenced by William DeMorgan and William Morris (and possibly Persian or Turkish painting). In 1878, Bennett taught classes in pottery decoration at the New York Society of Decorative Art (relinquishing the post a year later to Charles Volkmar).

In 1879, Bennett moved his studio to 412 E. 24th Street, where he remained until he retired to his farm in West Orange, New Jersey in 1883. The father of thirteen children, John Bennett died in1907 at the age of sixty-seven.


The John Bennett art tiles above are similar to the tile below in that they have a loose, sketchy quality using values of a single color on a light background. He achieves most of his shading by changing the line thickness. The 4 tiles above are curious in that they have letters randomly placed in the backgrounds. My guess is they may spell the name or character trait of the subject matter.


tile back with conjoined JB, 412 E 24 Street, NY

R & J Kelley Collection



These are different than the painted tiles
which are more like wallpaper.


tile detail with signature and year, 1872

R & J Kelley Collection


John Bennett, art tile
R & J Kelley Collection

This book, along with other fine books by Norman Karlson can be found on the net.  I saw it available NEW and USED at amazon.com. If you’re interested click on the following link.

Another example of John Bennett’s tile work was exhibited in 1979 at The William Benton Museum of Art. An excerpt from the exhibition catalog can be seen below.




I looked on the net and copies of this exhibition catalog are available in multiple places.

I also saw it at Amazon.com here.

I would like to thank Norman Karlson, author of American Art Tile 1876-1941
and encourage you to buy his books.

I would also like to thank the William Benton Museum of Art for exhibiting
the work of John Bennett and the production of the exhibition catalog. Everyone
should visit the William Benton Museum of Art.

245 Glenbrook Rd # 2140
Storrs Mansfield, CT 06269

(860) 486-4520


I would especially like to thank my friend that sent me information and a copy of the 1979 exhibition catalog. Without him would have made this article impossible. As I have used content without permission, my friend will remain anonymous but is greatly appreciated.

I would like to apologize for the sad yellow frames I have on my art tiles. My grandmother put the tiles into those frames and I haven’t been able to bring myself to change them.

I will conclude by saying read, visit museums and share your John Bennett examples with others that love his work.



When I was younger I didn’t know how to look at Bennett pottery. It’s like I didn’t get wine tasting until I had a Port with a piece of chocolate cake. Initially I thought wine tasting was putting food that you like with wine that you like. When I had desert with the Port I finally got it!

Three Bennett vases did that for me. These vases taught me another way to look at John Bennett work. Two  vases (twins), are in the Bruce Barnes collection and another vase is in the collection of Robert Tuggle and Paul Jeromack.

JOHN BENNETT, art pottery vases decorated with yellow flowers and red berries on a green ground. Signed under bases “Bennett 101 Lex Ave N.Y. 1877″. MEASUREMENTS: 9”.  Bruce Barnes collection.

The pair of vases above look like coca-cola glass with flowers that are pressed against the glass surface. In the photos it looks like you can see all the way through the vase. It looks like your seeing the backside of the flowers on the far side of the vase.

John Bennett accomplished this by the way he handles the backgrounds. He has a watercolor style of transparent layers. As a child I thought it was messy! Now I realize it does give it a transparent look, like light is coming through the piece.


American (born England), 1840–1907
painted and glazed earthenware
15 1/4 x 7 1/8 in. (38.7 x 18.1 cm)
Collection of Robert Tuggle and Paul Jeromack.

In the case of the Tuggle/Jeromack vase, the vase looks like a “glass” vessel shaped environment, filled with flowers at night.

Bennett’s other style is a flattened  look, like expensive “wallpaper”. My two vases are one of each look. The yellow one looks flat and the small grey vase looks more atmospheric and 3-dimensional.


John Bennett, Vase, 1891, London Studio


The color plate from Woman’s Handiwork in Modern Homes (1881) also demonstrates both styles. The lamp in the center looks more 3-D and atmospheric and the covered jar has the 2-dimensional, stylized wallpaper look.

A portion of the book, dealing with John Bennett and a link to the complete book (which can be downloaded for free) can be found in the new “Press & Publications” section of this site (menu at top).

JOHN BENNETT charger, 1879
decorated with daisies and poppies

The charger above recently sold in England. It falls into the “glass” category. It looks like stained glass with translucent blue glass embedded with clear heart shapes that look onto a garden of flowers.

When I see John Bennett pieces now, I always think of them in those two categories, “wallpaper” or “glass”.

I’ve even thought that his heavy outlining was reminiscent of the lead in stained glass windows.

I think his Faience style, though started in England may have been influenced by his relationship with Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Tonight I stumbled upon a  Bennett vase on www.flickr.com. The vase was photographed by Landscapearts‘. I have no information regarding the vase. I was struck how much it looked like ours. I left a note and hope to hear back from the artist. I wonder if it’s done in earthenware (like ours). I think most of his works are on a white clay. The yellow Bennett vase at the Metropolitan Museum is also earthenware. I can tell our vase is earthenware from looking at the unglazed portion on the bottom of the vase. Our vase has a couple of missing chips on the foot of the vase. When I was growing up my grandmother always kept this vase on the floor. I can remember reaching for pennies that were in the bottom of the vase. I could get my arm into it past my elbow to touch the bottom. My grandma must have squirmed every time I played with it. That’s probably why she covered the Terrazzo with carpet (plush sculpted shag). She always made me feel the vase was there for me. Pop called me “an accident” waiting to happen”. I broke my share of things. I’m glad I didn’t break this vase. Perhaps grandma supervised me without me knowing. She didn’t let me play with the Bennett peach blossom vase which she kept in the china cabinet. I was in the second grade of elementary school when she told me the peach blossom vase would be mine one day. She even put a “Robert” sticker on the bottom so that it would be clear what her wishes were. After my grandparents passed, they left us both vases, 4 tiles and 5 watercolors.

By Landscapearts’

Our Vases

Two of my Bennetts with a Coke can for size reference

John Bennett, primarily known for his pottery also worked in watercolor. I think he painted many of his pieces as if they were watercolors. He knew once the medium is applied there’s no going back. With oil and acrylics, mistakes can be corrected, revised or changed completely. With watercolors as well as the transparent glazes he decorated his pottery with, you get one shot. Because the medium is transparent, you can’t “cover up” anything. It has to be right the first time. Maybe watercolors are the way he practiced before decorating his pottery.

The following images are from 3 John Bennett watercolors depicting birds. 2 of the birds are not living. I’m not sure if John Bennett painted them from bird specimens at a museum or if he simply picked them up from the ground or snow. The third is a bird study of a Swift. The Swift study is my favorite. When I received this one it had a note on the back, written by John Bennett. It was written on a mat board which was used to back the picture in the frame. The mat board was breaking up due to age. I removed it and put it in a manila envelope for safe keeping with our photos. I haven’t found it yet! We have lots of photos. When I do, I will be able to scan it and put it back together in the computer. The note said he found the bird outside his studio. It was a sick or injured Swift. He placed the bird into a box and set it on the table to do the studies. Lunch time came  and he went to get a sandwich. When he returned, the bird was gone! It had flown out the window that was next to the table. By leaving a note regarding this event,  I’m sure he was happy with the way this turned out. He got his study and the bird got his freedom.

If you would like any of the watercolor images, just click on the image. It will open larger. Then “right click” on the image and choose “Save image as….”. Then save it to your computer.

John Bennett, Red-Wing Blackbird, Watercolor, 1897

John Bennett (1840-1907), watercolor, 1897

Bird study, detail

John Bennett, Bird study of a Swift

Bird study detail

Bird study, detail, including description "all the 4 claws come to front"

Bird study detail, including note or title "The Sick Swift"

John Bennett, Art Tile , Kelley Collection

As museums, galleries and auction houses update their collections and websites, links get broken. For example, The Cleveland Museum of Art has a John Bennett plaque which is currently not on view. The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco has a vase which is not currently on view. The Metropolitan Museum has updated its searchable database. It now shows 5 of the 6 Bennett pieces in their collection. The 6th piece (not showing up in the database) is a beautiful blue vase which is a promised gift in the Robert A Ellison Jr collection.

I apologize for any broken links and will try to keep them updated.

Museum collections can be so vast that it is impossible for them to exhibit everything, all the time.

When possible, I will try to link images to specific pages in owners’ website.

John Bennett, Vase

John Bennett, Vase, view 2

The vase in the Carnegie collection reminds me of the vase in our collection.
The Japanese influence at the time is very apparent in both examples.

John Bennett, Vase, 1891, London Studio

Here is one of the watercolors by John Bennett. I also have an ocean scene and 3 bird studies. I believe the house in this picture is the same is the same as the one in the ”Make Haste” platter. When my father gave me the painting, he put a letter on the back to explain the painting.  Below is the painting and the letter.

John Bennett, Watercolor

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