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.