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Rackham, Bernard

    Full Name: Rackham, Bernard

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1876

    Date Died: 1964

    Place Born: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Place Died: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): ceramic ware (visual works), ceramics (object genre), Medieval (European), and pottery (visual works)


    Pottery and maijolica scholar and medievalist; Keeper of the Department of Ceramics at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1914-1938. Rackham was a son of Alfred Rackham (1829-1912), an Admiralty Court clerk, and his wife, Annie Stevenson (Rackham) (1833-1920). He attended the City of London School before entering Pembroke College, Cambridge, on a scholarship. After receiving a first in Classics in 1898, he joined the South Kensington Museum (renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum the following year), taking advantage of a new hiring level designed to attract honors graduates. He was assigned to cataloging the pottery and porcelain, an area in which he had no formal training, a large collection transferred to the V&A from the Museum of Practical Geology. Faced with identifying over 5,000 pieces of pottery from all countries and time periods, Rackham soon became an authority on the subject. He married Ruth Adams (d. 1963) around this time. Rackham began researching Italian maijolica in 1901 when assigned to write that section for the Museum’s catalog of the Cook collection (published 1903). Rackham’s concept of his subject was aided by the 1909 expansion and reorganization of the Museum, one which confirmed the display of objects by medium rather than by integrating various arts into rooms of a similar historic period. This emphasis by medium encouraged Rackham to view ceramics as an art form and not simply support artifacts to a historic period. Numerous articles on maijolica appeared in the Burlington Magazine. By the time the collection was moved to safety storage during World War I, Rackham had gained sufficient experience to publish his first important work, a Catalogue of the Schreiber Collection,1915, which established a periodization for early English porcelain. This was followed by a second important catalog of the Herbert Allen collection, then on loan to the Museum, appearing in 1918. The same year, Rackham issued his first work on non-western pottery, the Catalogue of the Le Blonde Gift of Corean Pottery. After the war, Rackham devoted himself to the re-installing of the collection. Then came his most widely read and perhaps best monograph on the subject, a collaborative effort with the esthetician Herbert Read, English Pottery: its Development from Early Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century in 1924. The following year his translated and edited edition of the Emil Hannover book, Keramisk haandbog, appeared as Pottery & Porcelain: a Handbook for Collectors. His interest in Asian pottery resulted in his contribution, together with other British art historians of note, in the Burlington House exhibition of Chinese art the same year. After this, Rackham’s interest turned increasingly to medieval stained glass and maijolica, which he termed “the pottery of Humanism.” His wider knowledge of pottery was displayed in his 1934 catalog of the Glaisher gift to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. His final years at the V&A were devoted to a permanent holdings catalog of the Museum’s Italian maijolica of over 1500 pieces. He retired from the Museum in 1938, succeeded by William B. Honey (1889-1956). His catalog, his magnum opus, appeared in 1940. In retirement, he produced English Mediaeval Pottery (1948) and a corpus on the remaining medieval stained glass at Canterbury cathedral, published in 1949. His final efforts were two books, Early Staffordshire Pottery, 1951, and Italian Maijolica, 1952. His eldest brother was the illustrator Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). Rackham built his methodology upon the continental pottery studies of Hannover, melding them with his objects at the V&A. He took a genre of object, largely defined as a collectables hobby by antiquaries such as William Chaffers (1811-1892) or as support artifacts by British Museum Keeper Hercules Read, and redefined it into an academic discipline, rooted in historical method and artistic merit.

    Selected Bibliography

    and Read, Herbert. English Pottery: its Development from Early Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century. New York: Scribner’s, 1924; translated and edited, Hannover, Emil. Pottery & Porcelain: a Handbook for Collectors. 3 vols. London: E. Benn, limited, 1925; and Fry, Roger Eliot, and Binyon, Laurence, and Kendrick, Albert Frank, and Sién, Osvald, et al. Chinese Art: an Introductory Handbook to Painting, Sculpture, Ceramics, Textiles, Bronzes & Minor Arts. London: Burlington Magazine/B. T. Batsford, 1925;


    [obituary:] “Mr. Bernard Rackham.” The Times (London) February 15, 1964, p. 10, addendum, Thorpe, W. A. The Times (London) February 20, 1964, p. 15; “Bernard Rackham, C. B., F. S. A.” Burlington Magazine 106, no. 738 (September 1964): 424-425.


    "Rackham, Bernard." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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