Thomas Hollings’ collection of ancient ceramics


I’ve previously written about Thomas Hollings’ two Cypriot jugs which are attributed to Alexander Palma di Cesnola. Since then I’ve been doing some more digging in the records, and detective work on the Leeds Museum collection, and it’s become clear that Hollings owned more ancient ceramics than had previously been thought.

A total of 20 pieces of ancient pottery can now be attributed to Hollings. The location of two is unknown, but all the rest have been identified in the Leeds City Museum collection. They include simple Greek cups and bowls in glossy black slip, and Egyptian St Menas flasks, which can be seen on display in the Ancient Worlds gallery. From my perspective, the most interesting objects are those from ancient Cyprus. These include a globular jar with a small, sharply angled handle and a pierced lug on the opposite side, possibly for string. It’s made of coarse clay, with traces of incised decoration.

Globular jar

Globular jar
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

There’s also a Black-on-Red two-handled flask with flaring rim and characteristic ridged neck, perhaps representing a seam on metal prototypes. It has a small, shallow foot and is decorated with concentric circles. This vessel is in a Phoenician style, but probably manufactured on Cyprus. It dates from the Cypro-Geometric period (c.1050-750BC).

Black-on-Red flask © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Black-on-Red flask
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

My favourite piece is this Bichrome amphora from Amathus, of the Cypro-Archaic period (750-480 BC). It’s decorated in rings of black and reddish-brown paint, with a stylised lotus flower decoration on the neck. Prior to its arrival at the Museum, it had been subject to some rather unconventional restoration – a metal candlestick holder had been used to support the internal structure when the base was repaired. This has now been removed!

Bichrome amphora © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Bichrome amphora
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

There’s also a White Painted jug, probably dating from the later end of the Middle Cypriot period (c. 1800-1650 BC). It has a high neck and cutaway spout, and a rounded base. It’s decorated with straight and wavy lines and cross-hatched panels, extending round the base of the jug, on a background of buff slip.

White Painted jug © Leeds Museums and Galleries

White Painted jug
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Born in 1860, Thomas Edward Hollings is best known for his extensive and important collection of English pottery, which came to the Leeds City Art Gallery by gift and bequest in 1946 and 1947. His business was woollen manufacturing, managing the firm established by his father, Isaac Hollings.

Isaac Hollings and Son

Isaac Hollings and Son

This occupation evidently allowed him sufficient leisure and resources to devote to his collection, some of which can still be seen at Temple Newsam. His primary interest was Leeds pottery, supplemented by Staffordshire ware. He bought extensively at sales in Yorkshire, Staffordshire and London, and may well have acquired his ancient pieces at auction. Alternatively, it could have been a collection previously assembled by someone else; a letter of 1946 offers to the Art Gallery ‘many specimens of old Roman Glass which formerly belonged to Samuel Margerison’, which presumably Hollings had bought as a set. As I’ve previously mentioned, Hollings kept detailed records of purchase dates and prices for his huge collection of English ceramics. It would be highly out of character for him not to have kept any notes on these ancient ceramics, and such notes are high on my ‘wish list’ of documents to come across; though no luck as yet!

One interesting side-issue is that in the accession register, all Hollings’ ancient ceramics are marked ‘from the Sandwith collection’. T.B. Sandwith is not known to have assembled such a far-reaching collection, and it seems highly unlikely that this disparate group of ceramics originated with him. That said, it is certainly the case that objects from his Cypriot collection which were displayed and sold at the Yorkshire Exhibition of 1875 went into circulation around Yorkshire, and some of these could well have been bought at second- or third-hand by Mr Hollings.

The Cypriot ceramics make a valuable contribution to the Leeds Museum collection, and it’s particularly interesting to have objects linked to the notorious Cesnola brothers. We are lucky that Mr Hollings chose to collect them, and to pass them on. A newspaper cutting kept among his papers, annotated ‘1928’, states that

‘Dr. J.W.L. Glaisher… [left] his collection of china and pottery to the Fitzwilliam Museum together with £10,000 to be applied for any building which may be necessary for the housing and exhibition of the collection.’

Could it have been Dr Glaisher’s generosity that inspired Mr Hollings to gift his own collection to the Leeds Art Gallery?