March 13, 2015

Yellow Sevres

A colourful Sévres coffee can & saucer has a fascinating tale to tell, and is an as-yet unpublished clue that helps to identify a under-appreciated Sévres artist.  

The cup & saucer  - a ‘gobelet litron’, third size - is a stunning yellow colour, with a finely painted blue continuous landscape in blue that seems to float on the thick yellow ground. There is a border of dainty colourful scrolling foliage, and in the centre of the saucer, a pinwheel device almost like a 

target. It’s fully marked to both pieces, and being unusual - and knowing the way Sévres was so often copied and outside-decorated - a full examination was required to ensure it was authentic. This brought to light some problems, and shows once again the ever-changing field of ceramics research: never believe absolutely what you read in print!

A quick look in the authoritative book on the subject, 'SÉVRES PORCELAIN' by Eriksen 1987 (p153 #46) apparently attributes the mark ‘ f B ‘ to a certain Francois-Marie Barrat, active 1769-91, a date that conforms nicely with the date 1788. However, the next entry is more accurate for the mark: #47, a ‘f B’ combination. Eriksen attributes this to Francois-Marie Barrat as an alternate mark, but states ‘….the compilers have never seen mark 47 which may be an incorrect rendering of Barrat’s usual mark.’  

I can now demonstrate that this is wrong; there is another artist with a surname starting with B, Bouillat, who came to Sevres in 1758, and remained active there until 1810, a remarkable example of the dedication workmen felt to the factory. His mark was a capital Y, so he is not the artist in question; rather, his marriage in 1768 to a female artist at the factory, Genevieve-Louis Thevenet - (herself the daughter of a Factory artist Louis-Jean Thevenet!) resulted in a son and a daughter, who both became painters at Sévres. The son, or fil in French, began work at the factory in 1786, and left to join the army in 1793. During that time this mark appears on a series of pieces, including this cup & saucer. The lower-case f is obviously a stand-in for fil , and the B for Bouillat. The mark ‘fB’ should now be identified as Francois Bouillat, painter of flowers and landscapes. 

On this basis, his work can be found on a service in the Queens Collection, and also a cup & saucer in the Hermitage, Russia. This example is particularly interesting as it has the same fluted colourful pinwheel device to the centre as our cup & saucer. It also bears small panels of the same vivid yellow, overpainted with brown scrolling foliage & urns, and is dated 1789. 

There is a second painters mark, set in next to the footrim, consisting of ‘…’   . This mark is that of Jean-Baptiste Tandart, a prolific painter from 1754-1803. He is recorded as a ‘painter of flowers’ , which along with the secondary position of the mark indicates he was responsible for the garlands of flowers in the border. 

 The landscape decoration is known as ‘paysage circulaire’ (circular landscape) and in this form is extremely rare on Sévres, with the scene in blue painted directly on a brilliant yellow ground. This was technically a feat in itself, and perhaps was not used much due to the issues we see on this cup & saucer: the blue tends to bead into clumps, and the thick yellow enamels shift in the heat of the enamel firings. While the yellow pigment had been a very early Sévres development, the tone seen here appears in the early 1780’s and is not repeated after the Revolution. There are a handful of specimens scattered around the globe in various collections, making this a most rare & desirable item.

Moorabool is pleased to offer this rarity as a part of our 2015 Exhibition & Catalogue, opening in Geelong & online on March 28th.

February 27, 2015

Exhibition & Catalogue Update

We’ve been burning the midnight oil at Moorabool….. literally. Our 2015 Exhibition is now scheduled for March 28, and the lavish catalogue is well underway - just an endless stream of photographs, research, and information to insert.

With over 500 items, spread out over 64 pages, there is a fantastic variety of quality items - for all budgets. 

We delayed the catalogue to include an extensive collection of porcelain pickle dishes from an Australian collection. Amassed over many years, it is a comprehensive array with almost all known English pickle-dish makers represented.

There’s Limehouse, Isleworth, Vauxhall, Bow, Plymouth, Bristol, Liverpool (various….) Derby, Caughley - and of course, pleanty of Worcester!

 above: a selection of rare Vauxhall pieces, c.1756-60

We’re very pleased to be able to offer this collection, and they will have their own dedicated website in the very near future. If you’re interested in anything, make certain you are signed up to our mail list: we will let you know when the Pickle Collection is online, and of course there are the other 500 pieces of ‘Fresh Stock’ about to be launched….. 

above: pair of Bow pickle dishes, rare ‘precious objects’ decoration, c. 1755

February 15, 2015

A Valentines Curio from the South Seas....

The ‘back-story’ behind some pieces can lead you in all sorts of unexpected directions. This was the case with a lovely little Worcester milk jug, known as a ‘sparrow beak’ due to its triangular spout. Painted in colours with a rather niave pattern, it is known as the 'Valentine’ pattern due to the obvious depiction of kissing doves on cupids bow, and the two hearts on the altar of love. Looking deeper, we find a tale that leads to one of the remarkable stories of exploration in the mid-18th century. 

Its origins are in a Chinese Export pattern, and was produced at Worcester in the 1750’s and early 60’s. It appears on a range of Chinese Export wares just prior to 1750. The Chinese artists got the design from a special commission, which is well documented: it was designed by Lieutenant Piercy Brett for Commodore Anson, during their voyage around the world, which lasted 1740-44. Anton set off with 8 ships to disrupt the Spanish in their South American colonies, but things did not go well. He succeeded only at great cost - of 1,854 men setting out, only 188 were to return. 

Born in Staffordshire in 1697, he is notable as the first British officer to visit mainland China.   Previous visitors had only been allowed at the British trade ‘factory’ in Canton. While at the British factory in Canton that he put in his order for his ‘Valentine’ service - was he thinking of impressing someone back home on his return? It is said the 206 piece service was a reward by the Chinese Merchants Guild at Canton for his quick action in using his crew to extinguish a devastating fire that was spreading through the foreign factories zone. It was this quick action that also allowed him  an audience with the local officials, who in reality were probably very happy to see him sail away: his ship bristled with cannon, and he was letting them off daily as a show of force - the Chinese had nothing to compare with a British man-of-war at that time.

The Chinese probably thought he was a pirate looking for a base, and in a way he was. He came up with a scheme to capture a Spanish treasure ship he had intelligence about, and set a trap for it as it sailed from Mexico to the Phillipines in 1743. This 'Manila Galleon' was the Nuestra Señora de Covadonga, and it held more than one million pieces-of-eight, a vast amount of money at the time. This prize meant the redemption of his otherwise disastrous voyage, the wealth being very welcome back in England. His share of the loot set him & his family up for life.

A fascinating feature of the pattern is the slightly bizarre tree, with an entwined vine. This is in fact an impression of the encounter with the Polynesian 'wonder food', Breadfruit, encountered as Anson and his surviving crew members sheltered on the small Pacific island of Saipan in 1742. A sketch from this encounter was used in the original Chinese commission design; many copies later and it has emerged as something most definitely unique - although nothing like a breadfruit tree!

His success on his voyage soon led to promotion  - in 1745 he was promoted to Rear Admiral. He almost immediately resigned the position when Admiralty refused to confirm Anson’s promotion of his First Lieutenant, Piercy Brett, to rank of Captain while on the voyage. A few months later, and a change of Admiralty board brought about the acknowledgement of Captain Brett. He was, of course, the one commissioned to design the Valentines service for his Captain.  

Promoted yet again, he becomes Vice Admiral and commander of the Chanel Fleet in 1746; he was raised to the Peerage in 1747 as Lord Anson; in 1761 he is promoted to Admiral of the Fleet. 

He married in 1758 to Lady Elizabeth Yorke; was this the lady of whom Anson was thinking when he had the service commissioned? His wife was related to his mother through marriage, so they would certainly have been aware of each other before his great adventure in China and around the world. Perhaps she enjoyed using it in the years before they were married; in any case, it was a short marriage as the Admiral sickened, and died in 1762.

This interesting piece of Dr Wall Worcester will be a part of our 2015 Exhibition - and Sale - to be held later in March.

January 22, 2015

A Remarkable Discovery

There’s ‘rare’ and then there’s ‘supremely rare’. These bottles illustrated here belong to the ‘Supremely Rare’ catagory, particularly the smaller engraved one.  

Brought in to Moorabool by a local, they were family pieces, handed down through several generations with origins in Holland, and the Dutch East Indies Company. 

These wine bottles are of typical mid-17th century form, although in a vivid emerald green colour rather than the more often-seen deep black/green. My assessment was: nice early pieces, a few thousand dollars worth. But something was nagging the back of my mind; looking back through some photos taken at the Victoria & Albert Museum ( late last century!) I realised why the engraving was familiar; I had admired & photographed one there. 

Theirs was signed & dated, and sure enough, this example bears a tiny engraved signature, “WillemVan Heemskerk” and the date - 26th February 1677!

Willem Jacobz. van Heemskerk (Leiden, 1616-93) was actually a cloth merchant, but in his spare time he practiced the art of caligraphy - using diamond-point engraving on glass vessels. His verses are described by the authorities as ‘pithy’ - often biblical, or drinking toasts, often with a touch of humour. "The lamp of life is but a vapor” reads one, while others appeal to the mercantile Dutch sensibilities: "Eat silently", i.e. keep quiet when making gain, and "He who brags about his success, often loses his gains” , both quotes from a Statesman of the time, Jacob Cats (1577-1660).

The bottle we have is a very charismatic piece, and needs to be handled to truly appreciate the beautiful (as yet un-translated) script. However, it has now been locked away in a very safe place, as I will explain:

The real shock came when I looked up auction prices…. they head into the 6-figure range!

Our example is comparable to this one, sold at Christies in 2013:

It seems there are only around 80 of these beautiful pieces known, and they are considered to be the most desirable of their kind. The Rijksmuseum has 25 of his works, while the Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam has 8; the Getty has 1, the V&A has one, and our own National Gallery of Victoria here in Melbourne has a clear glass goblet by him, purchased in 1989.  

Moorabool is very excited to be able to offer this rarity, along with its simpler un-engraved relative, in our 2015 ‘Recent Acquisitions’ Exhibition.   

The best way to enjoy it is to have a look at the video I have posted on YouTube.


January 18, 2015

A Tournai Bacchus group, c.1765

A Large Tournai figure of Bacchus & his merry band, Circa 1765.

Measuring almost 40cm high, this is a very large piece of 18th century porcelain. Modelled in the round, it was intended as a table-piece, to be placed in the center of the table. Bacchus sits astride a barrel raising his cup, accompanied by several cherubs….. rather young to be drinking! One is raising a small glass, while the other is filling a bottle from the bung of the barrel. Moving around the figure, there is a semi-clad woman with a basket of pears….. what her significance is I am not sure, but she doesn’t appear to have a drink: another cherub is approaching her around the rock pile, holding up a bottle while riding a goat backwards; clearly under the influence!

The central Bacchus with the barrel & the child filling the bottle is a good recreation of a Meissen model, by Johann Joachim Kaendler, circa 1745. (Moorabool had one such group in the late 1990’s). The rest is the creation of the Tournai artists, who were particulary skilled at creating an ‘island’ of rocks on which the figures are placed, along with foliage to soften the composition; in this case, there are grapevines growing rampant. 

Unmarked, it links clearly to other pieces attributed to the porcelain works at Tournai, such as these examples in the Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington;

This amazing piece is a part of Moorabool Antique Galleries ‘Recent Acquisitions’ Exhibition, to be held in our Geelong premises in March 2015.

November 09, 2014

2015 Catalogue.....

We're excited to announce our next catalogue, to be launched early 2015. Over the past year, we have accumulated a host of interesting items, mostly ceramics. They will be well documented with painstaking research, and beautifully illustrated in the colourful format of catalogue we have pursued over the past few years. The items in the catalogue will then be the core of our 2015 'RECENT ACQUISITIONS' exhibition, to be held in our Geelong shop. This will be February some time.... date still to be announced. Join our email list on   to be alerted when items are viewable.

Meanwhile, here are a few of the pieces currently being processed: we'll post more as the year draws to an end.

above:  a gaggle of English coffeepots, all 18th century.  left to right: Wheildon type (ex Zorensky Collection); Jackfield type with beautiful cold-painted decoration, a rare survivor; Pearlware Chinoiserie; Redware (ex Rosenberg Collection).  

Lots more to come.... photography begins this week.

November 07, 2013

Clem Ainslie of the Harvey School: An important discovery for Australian Pottery fans.

A Slight Deviation.

While we've always been focussed on the earliest ceramics, there's a whole world out there called the 20th century.....
It recently caught up with us, and it was a remarkable experience. I have always admired the Martin Brothers pottery, and the associated Arts & Crafts movement potters, who went back to basics and created hand-sculpted pieces in the earlier manner, turning their backs on the mass-produced 'ceramics for the masses' of the later 19th century.
      In Australia, this idea takes root in Brisbane, in the classes of Mr L.J.Harvey who taught at the Brisbane Technical College during the 1920's and 30's. One of his main ideas was that each pot should be unique, and so he did not teach or allow the wheel to be used: the results of wheel-made pots were all too alike. It was from this hotbed of creativity that a young lady discovered her passion for sculpting pots, and it was our good fortune to discover her daughter living in Geelong with an amazing collection of 40 of her mothers creations.
But there is a mystery: she is not in any of the books on this interesting period of pottery in Australia.
She is an unknown potter, and we are delighted to have re-discovered her.

The Kookaburra Vase, by Clem Ainslie of the Harvey School, 1927

Introducing Clem Ainslie

Isabella Clementina Ainslie was born in Brisbane in 1888. She had an artistic temperament, and it was only natural that in 1923, she found the classes of Mr Harvey most agreeable, so much so that she continued to go along for the next 14 years. In this time, her daughter estimates she produced a few hundred pots, many as gifts, and as special orders from people who had seen others with her work in their drawing rooms and wanted their own.
The Crane Vase - by Clem Ainslie 1924

Her style was varied, and follows the Harvey School tradition with 'exercise' pieces showing her honing her skills at sculpting clay. She does a series of excellent pots in the Australiana taste, such as the Kookaburra Vase above. However, her most intriguing show her exploring her own creativity; the Crane Vase of 1924 and the Egyptian pieces illustrate her talents. The latter, from a time just after the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb, are apparently unique in the field of Australian art pottery from the period.

The Egyptian Vase by Clem Ainslie, 1927

Each piece is marked quite clearly, and yet she doesn't appear in the publications on the subject of Australian Pottery. 
Moorabool has taken it on themselves to rectify this situation, and has published a beautifully illustrated book, titled 'Isabella Clementina Ainslie of the Harvey School'. For more info, many illustrations, and the ability to purchase your own copy, visit the website set up to promote this once forgotten lady potter:

Clem Ainslie's Website

March 12, 2013

Avarian Antics

Moorabool has recently become home to quite a number of exotic birds.
Berlin Birds.....
This remarkable pair of White Partridges are incredibly rare, being the product of a short lived factory in Berlin Known as the Wegely factory after its founder, it only lasted for 5 short years, 1752-57.
Any pieces from this period are rare, but a pair of charismatic birds are the ultimate.

Rare pair of White Partridges, by Wegely of Berlin 1752-7

From Meissen comes this delightful group, known as the 'Billing Doves' - modelled by Kaendler in the early 1740's, this group circa 1745.
Meissen 'Billing Doves' by Kaendler, circa 1745
Derby Bird Service plate by Dodson, circa 1820

Our cover art for our 2013 catalogue was this rather bright Derby dish circa 1820. From a bird service painted by the well respected Derby artist Dodson, it depicts a turkey, a parrot, and an odd flying bird about to crash into them. The turkey has had a colour make-over, and is either rather small in size - or the parrot next to it is HUGE!

Chelsea Gold Anchor rococo vases, c. 1765
This pair of Gold Anchor Chelsea vases circa 1765 is pure rococo in form, and bears its birds as gold silhouettes - the details being inscribed to a very fine standard.

 This detail and the one below comes from a Meissen knife handle of the 1760's, and has charming farmyard birds painted to the grip on either side. The image you are seeing is enlarged, the originals are miniature works of art.....

This knife handle is Chelsea circa 1760, and shows an unusual composition of two birds within rococo frames.

Bow candlestick bird groups, circa 1765

 This pair of candlesticks are remarkable, being made at the Bow factory in London in around 1765. They have two yellow birds each, who are guarding a nest of hatchlings hidden in the flowery branches - while at the foot of the tree a dog and a lamb sit patiently. The sconces are original, and are formed as tulips - exotic and expensive items at this period of history - and are supported on original tole (tin) leaf supports, rare survivors. An interesting discovery relating to these will be discussed in a future blog post - one bird is actually a 19th century English Bone China restoration!

Vienna sucrier, circa 1765
 This sucrier (sugar box) is Vienna porcelain, and dates to the 1760's. It has a rather pleased bird eyeing off a bounty of fruit spilling from a basket.

Meissen cup & saucer with bird studies, c. 1745
A Meissen cup & saucer with superb ornithological studies dates to the 1740's.

These two would have been copied from an ornithological work of the period, and appear to represent a European Kingfisher and possibly a American Woodpecker?  

Just for fun, these tiny miniature chickens and quail are Meissen porcelain - watched with interest by a Meissen cat! While these versions are 19th century, the originals were conceived in the 18th century.

These remarkable 'pith paintings' are Chinese, and date to the mid 19th century. 

What makes this example remarkable is that it is still bound within its original black lacquer covers - all 32 illustrations fold out as a continuous frieze. One side has colourful pairs of birds, the other has the story of tea - from planting the bush to packing it in the chests bound for Europe. 
Chinese pith paintings - the story of tea, mid 19th century.

Last but not least, this is an American decoy duck of great character. Hard to date, but has clearly been used, probably early 20th century.  

These items are all to be found within the covers of our 2013 catalogue -
also listed on our website, unless already sold.
Feel free to email us any questions.