December 20, 2011

Meissen, the earliest porcelain from Europe.

For our 2012 Exhibition, we have some exciting rarities, but none come close to this piece- one of the earliest pieces of porcelain from Europe it is possible to own.

It is Meissen, of a unique early body type developed by Böttger in the early 1710's. While not the absolute earliest body type, we can confidently date it to circa 1720.

The decoration, however, is not of Meissen type. This tooled gold (ie details are burnished in) Chinoiserie figural scene includes fountains, a drummer, a man with a teapot, and another holding out his teacup for him to fill. Beneath the scenes is a large scroll device, known as a Laub un Bandenwerk console. The border has thick gilt lines with scalloped edge supporting a series of dotted arcs and double chevron & dot motif. This border is a great clue to the origins of the decoration: the workshop of Bartholomäus Seuter, a Hausmalerei workshop in Augsburg. The bowl was sold in the white, and decorated just a few years later- let's say circa 1725.

Inside, there is a bird on a branch, another common motif of the Seuter workshop.

Underneath, there is no crossed swords mark, the piece is simply too early. The earliest marked Meissen dates to around 1730.
I was excited to see that there was a faint mark, very hard to make out, but definitely a capital letter in lustre, now faded away. Such letters are often seen on these early Meissen pieces.

There is a saucer also. Unfortunately, it has suffered some wear. It has a wonderful fluted band moulded in relief, which is also richly gilt. The decoration is very close to the teabowl, and definitely from the Seuter workshop, but slight variations suggest that the two have not always been together. What a rare chance, to put these two rare survivors together!
These came from the fabulous Byrnes Family Trust collection, sold in London a few years ago for well over a million pounds.
They will be released for sale as part of our 2012 Exhibition, to be held in our Geelong premises late February 2012.

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December 11, 2011

Eureka moments

Sometimes, research can be a frustrating exercise. You spend hours- or days- trying to track down a piece, following no end of hunches, each leading to a dead end. This was the case with the following piece, an octagonal blue & white plate in the Chinese manner.

It should be Chinese- the dealer I bought it from called it that- but it made me uneasy. While it is a hard-paste type body, the way it has been made- the profile of the side and the base- is unusual compared to the usual Chinese porcelain of the mid 18th century. There is a brown line rim and foot, which does appear on Chinese.

The decoration is very Chinese in style, although perhaps a little too stiff & formal compared to the fluid Chinese originals. It reminded me of the copies you see made in English & Dutch Delft bodies, circa 1750's.
So where does it fit in?
Hard paste porcelain, blue & white decoration... early unmarked Meissen? ( might as well aim high!) No, the hard paste is not crisp enough. It has a faint creamyness to it. After a whole string of Continental & English 'red herrings' , I laid it to one side. All I could say was definitely NOT Chinese.

Then one day as I sat having a coffee with a customer, I was flipping through 'Godden's New Guide to English Porcelain' - and there it was. "EUREKA" I shouted as I ran off to find the plate, and returned with it to explain to the startled customer. Fortunately, they are fascinated by the same detective work regarding early ceramics as me!

So what was the solution to the mysterious plate?

A rare, short- lived factory in Liverpool, the Islington China Manufactory.
This was a pottery factory run by Thomas Wolfe from around 1790, but in 1796, Wolfe took on two partners- John Lucock and Miles Mason.
Mason was of course a 'Chinaman' - an importer of Chinese porcelain based in London. The date of his partnership coincides with the decline of Chinese porcelain imports. Miles could still sense a demand for the type of porcelain, and so seems to have looked around for an alternate source. The Islington Works fitted the bill. The porcelain they produced was of a hybrid hard-paste, of a type also made by Wolfe & Mason at the old Pennington works in Liverpool prior to the opening of Islington.
However, the factory did not last, and in 1800 the partnership was dissolved. They are rarities, and Godden remarks "....much further research needs to be carried out on this interesting class."

This exciting discovery will be offered in our upcoming exhibition & catalogue, in early 2012. Join our newsletter email list to stay informed.