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John Christian Watson Reform Flask #2013-0023

Small glazed flask in the likeness of John Christian Watson by John Frith for Bendigo Pottery.


This reform flask features Prime Minister John C ‘Chris’ Watson (1867-1941), the world’s first Labor Prime Minister (27/04/1904 – 17/08/1904). Watson is remembered for advancing the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill which eventually passed under the Reid Government in 1904. The original ‘Reform Flasks’ were English salt glazed stoneware flasks produced in the early 19th century in the form of figures connected with the Reform Bill of 1832. Much was made of puns like ‘the spirit of reform’ at the time. Here, cartoonist John Frith has taken the ‘reform flask’ form as inspiration for a series of political ceramics. Of Australian prime ministers Barton, Deakin and Watson. The form is anachronistic but not unsympathetic because of Watson’s substantial reputation as a reformer.

There is no implication that Frith would have met Watson however it is not impossible and Frith is on the record as saying that that ‘there was hardly an individual of any importance in the country or who came to the country that I didn’t meet for the purpose of drawing’ (Jones, Phillip, (2000), ‘Everyman wit in pen and ink’, Australian, 22/11/2000, p14 (obituary) quoted in John Eric Frith: biography at Design and Art Australia Online).

John Frith (1906-2000) was a popular and skilled caricaturist of Australian politics and life. He worked at the Bulletin (1929-1944), the Sydney Morning Herald (1944-1950) and the Herald (1950-1969), retiring in 1969. He had always sculpted and in 1972 Frith began modelling Toby Jugs for Bendigo Pottery.

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This ceramic reform flask has historical significance as a depiction of Prime Minister Chris Watson in an unusual medium and forms part of a larger collection of John Frith’s work, including ceramics and cartoons. Frith was a major cartoonist and sculptor from the period of the 1920s onwards, working for a variety of Australian newspapers and making commentary, in his work, on major local, national and international events and issues.

  • John Christian Watson Reform Flask by John Frith (Photograph: Rob Little)John Christian Watson Reform Flask by John Frith (Photograph: Rob Little) —
  • John Christian Watson Reform Flask by John Frith - Reverse (Photograph: Rob Little)John Christian Watson Reform Flask by John Frith - Reverse (Photograph: Rob Little) —


Width 75mm
Height 190mm
Depth 65mm
Medium Salt glazed earthenware; cork
Creator’s name John Frith
Date created c. 1975