March 21, 2010

An exciting Meissen discovery

A recent purchase was an early Meissen jug and cover, startling in a yellow ground with Japanese kakiemon style flower sprays painted around it.
The piece is early; this shape, with the elegant scroll handle and the large, pointed beak spout was being made by 1720, and this example bears no mark; by about 1723-1725ish, the famous mark of the crossed swords was being used, so can therefore say it is pre-1723. Another point in dating is the paste itself; the first production of true porcelain in Europe, by Böttger in 1709, involved the use of alabaster in the mix; this resulted in a slight creamy-brown colour, very distinctive and known as Bottger porcelain. This jug exhibits a much whiter translucency, indicating a slightly later date with the use of felspar instead of the alabaster; this was just being introduced in the early 1720's.
The pot was therefore made in the 1720-23 period. But what about the decoration?
This drove me to the point of distraction; I had every single book on Meissen out, and even the most obscure possibilities, trying to find a parallel to the stunning design. Not being able to find it was a major problem in being positive in attributing the decoration to the 18th century, and not an unfortunate re-decorated piece of the 19th. I found no example illustrated, not even close - so I examined the yellow ground closely.
The yellow was, of course, the Imperial Chinese colour, reserved for the Emperor himself in Chinese ceramics; naturally, Augustus wanted it from his fledgling Meissen factory. It was amongst the first colour other than blue to be used at the factory, and was announced to be ready in 1726. This then is the earliest date for decoration. However, the yellow ground of the early period was a rich, egg-yolk yellow; this yellow is a pale lemon. Clearly, I had to look farther. 
In the Wark collection I found a group of teabowls, C. 1735, with the same pale yellow, so it seems that it was possible to use a pale tone by the early 1730's, pushing the decoration of the jug later still. The other colours compared very well with examples in our collection with early markings from the 1730's, with a turquoise that clumps, and a blue that remains raised and mis-fires easily. I was therefore happy with a date of the mid-1730's for the decoration.   
Then there is the question of where; the Hausmalerie (ie 'Home Decorators') were studios scattered throughout Germany which bought blank porcelain from where ever they could, and decorated according to current taste - usually with a distinct style that allows us to identify them. This jug did not fit any of the Hausmalerie studios I could find. In fact, the more I looked, the more convinced I was that this was factory decorated; the technique used, that of leaving a very fine reserve for the flowers to be painted into, was used on many other factory pieces, but purely as secondary sprigs, located on the sides or around the handles of pieces; the main decorative panels were reserved in white, with the subjects - flowers or Chinoiseries - painted within. What we would appear to have in this jug is a very unusual pattern.   
I had another piece to compare with, purchased at the same time, a teabowl with exactly the same unusual pattern. This is a mid-1730's piece, with a nice crossed swords mark. It seemed that they were related, probably from a unique service.    
As a last resort, I pulled up all the collections of early ceramics that have online catalogues.... and hit the jackpot! In the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, I found the rest of the service! Looking carefully at the base of our jug, I could just make out a black number - a collection number - reading G83.1..... - the same beginning sequence as the part service in the Gardiner. This jug & cover has been de-accessed by the museum, but would have been part of the same service. It is slightly smaller than the coffee pot, and larger than the teapot, and would have filled the function of a milk jug. Interestingly, they date the service to 1727-30, allowing for the various marks that the pieces show; crossed swords in underglaze blue, and again in onglaze puce (quite unusual!), and the rarely seen caduceus mark from the mid-1720's.  There are clearly a range of dates to the pieces that make up the porcelain of the service; the only thing that unites them is their unique decoration.
The origins of this service I can suggest as follows; an order for kakiemon sprays (possibly with an exact Japanese prototype) has been submitted to the Meissen factory in the mid 1730's; they have been able to fulfill this order with some recent production, but have also delved into the storehouse for some pieces, such as this jug. This was not an uncommon practice, to store old stock and use it many years later.    
It's always a thrill to track a piece down and discover a lost history - but not many have such a satisfying conclusion as this piece.

The jug will be exhibited & for sale as part of our Moorabool Antique Galleries Recent Acquisitions exhibition, to be held in our Geelong premises, opening May 1st, 2010.

March 03, 2010

A Newly Discovered Derby figure - "Complimenting"

Every now & then, we find a puzzle. I purchased this figure some years ago, thinking it unusual in a naive way. Initial research showed nothing, and I began to suspect its authenticity. I believed it could have been a masterful fraud, such as the products of the Torquay workshop in the mid-20th century. It is easy to fall into the 'it isn't in the book, so it cannot exist' trap, but this is a big mistake with the field of 18th century ceramics.

Re-examining it recently, I began to doubt my suspicions: it has all the characteristics of a period Derby piece, so why should it not be? The paste is perfect, the creamy white of Derby. The base has the characteristic 'patch marks' - the matt areas which were left by the pads of clay the piece was fired on, so it would not stick to the base of the kiln. The colours are also correct, and the pattern on her dress and his waistcoat are acceptable for Derby of the 1770's. Even the flowers are of the correct sort; my re- assessment is that this is indeed a genuine Derby figure, one which does not appear in the definitive book on Derby figures by Bradshaw.

The characteristic 'patch' marks to the base

Looking through this book, I noticed something exciting; a small group of figures, obviously by the same sculptor, with similar proportions to this mystery group. In particular, it is the small heads and ambitious poses of the lady & gent, and also the very simple slab base they stand on which echoes this sculptor's work. Could this be a previously unrecorded group?
Derby 'Fury' group, No. 83 
the mystery group.

Another interesting point from a visual examination is the chair: it is a spindly mid-18th century affair, and in fact appears in the likes of Meissen porcelain groups and related German factories in the 1750's and 60's. It seems out of place in the range of English porcelain figures of this period, and suggests a Continental origin for the theme of this group. Closer examination of the chair used in #84 from the list below shows them to be very similar, a very strong link.

There exists a factory list, produced around 1772-96 for the use of the retailers when making orders from the factory. This list can be found reproduced in books on Derby, and is the basis for Bradshaw's book.
The figures with apparent Continental influence (Bradshaw lists figures 77 78 81 84 as having a Sevres origin, after Falconet models) begin at figure No. 73 - a Pastoral group - and continue to No. 88 - 'Pair of Salutation Figures' - of which only one has been identified.
Here's an excerpt from the area of interest:

77 - Stocking-mender group
78 - Shoe-mender group
79 - Not identified - 'Complimenting Group of two {6,3/4 ins.}, enameled '
80 - Not identified - 'Spinning group of two'
81 - Shoe-black group
82 - Not identified - 'Fury group, broken fiddle'
83 - Fury group with Broken Chair
84 - Hairdresser group
85 - Not identified - Macaroni
86 - ditto
87 - 'Pair of Salutation figures' - only one side recorded

It was the 'unknown' listing for # 79  that caught my eye - the figure I was wondering about fits this position beautifully!

Here is my reasoning:

  1. The size is perfect, as is the number of figures: the group of two means 2 figures on a single base
  2. The character of the figure matches the run of figures, 77-84, as far as proportions, stances, and facial features go. Note in particular the hair of the man, in an 18th century bow, and the bonnet of the woman, tied at the top of the head with a bow; these are identical to the two figures in figure No. 83,  'The Fury Group with Broken Chair'. Other identical features include his coat with its buttons and wide cuffs, and his breeches with their three buttons to the side. 
  3. The subject could fit the title 'Complimenting',  there is a certain interaction between the man and the lady, with the man gesturing in a submissive way to the lady. Her hand holds a white ribbon; perhaps the theme is a compliment in regards to her handiwork at needlework? The ribbon shows signs of restoration, and the overpainting may have destroyed any clue of design.
I looked into the origins of these figures, searching for the source. Other figures can be identified as exact copies, for example figures  77 78 81 84 are all re-creations of Sevres groups by Falconet. The group most similar to this  group, No. 83 'The Fury Group with Broken Chair" is in fact a re-creation of a German group, sculpted by K.G.Lück at Frankenthal in around 1765. This distinct similarity with related figures drove me to look at every Frankenthal group I could find, alas without any 'Lück'. I believe that somewhere out there, there is a prototype from Frankenthal by K. G. Lück for this newly discovered Derby group #79.

The Frankenthal original 

The Derby copy  

Looking back, I can speculate that this is the long lost Derby figure No. 79. The two young people have come across each other in the garden, where she sits at her needlework; he offers her a complement.   
Fast-forward a few years, evident by the gent's gaunt features, and in figure 83, the Broken Chair makes sense. Here, he has run afoul of her temper, and she is really getting stuck into him; he raises his arm in self-defense! And in the process, the chair, the very one she was sitting in when they first met, has been shattered.... the image of a broken marriage, and typical of 18th century satirical humor.

left: the newly discovered figure at Moorabool Antique Galleries, No. 79 
right: Derby figure No. 83, the 'Fury' group.

It's an exciting thing to 'discover' a long lost piece and publish it for others. The fact that it has not been described before makes it a rarity indeed!

This group will be released for sale as part of 'Exhibition 2010', at Moorabool Antique Galleries, Geelong, Australia, due to open in May 1st, 2010.

March 01, 2010

Here's a current view of the Reference Library at Moorabool, home to over 1,500 reference pieces of pottery & porcelain, plus over 1,000 books on ceramics.

The white bust is of Marie Antoinette, currently being researched, and will be released for sale at our May exhibition, opening on the 1st of May, 2010. She is bisque porcelain, and late 19th century, most probably made in Paris.

The Johnson Collection visits Moorabool

We were pleased to entertain a distinguished group of visitors on Saturday the 27th February, the Friends of the Johnson Collection of Melbourne. They were treated to an introduction to our research facility, and a good chance to browse the various nooks & crannies of Moorabool Antique Galleries.

Here, John Rosenberg, founder of Moorabool Antique Galleries waxes lyrical to like-minded Antique enthusiasts, sharing his admiration for Queen Caroline. This is the Lorraine Rosenberg Reference Library of Ceramics in our upstairs gallery.

The  Johnson Collection is a Melbourne treasure, a living private museum, set up by the late William Johnson and kept as a house museum. Johnson was a dealer / collector / decorator with genuine flair. You can visit for one of their tours almost every day, and they host exceptionally good exhibitions.
What I like about the collection and house is the way it constantly re-invents itself - it is about to be refreshed yet again, so a new look with fresh items from the store giving a prime reason to re-visit. Details can be found on their website.