Monday, 25 April 2005

Finest China - made in England

Wonderful Worcester
Español | Deutsche | Français | Italiano | Português

by Christopher Proudlove©
It was during the 17th century that Europeans first became aware of Chinese porcelain decorated in tones of blue, thanks largely to the trading and importing activities of the Dutch East India Company.

Porcelain was regarded as the trappings of the exotic and the rich, and it was celebrated whenever possible.

Dutch Old Master artists painted still lifes to include the porcelain treasured by their patrons rich enough to afford to commission them and houses were bedecked with the stuff as a show of wealth that came to symbolise the three ideals: Peace, Prosperity and Plenty - all good aspects of a successful nation.

The huge amounts of the less valuable blue and white decorated Chinese porcelain imported into England in the 1740s, clearly indicated this was the usable everyday items for the wealthy and mercantile classes of the day, particularly in the growing habit of the drinking of tea.

Polychrome - or multi-coloured - ware was traditionally the most highly regarded type of decoration on the porcelain, but nevertheless it was the blue and white wares that were to predominate in the fashion of the imitation of Chinese designs in England at the time.

It was not long, therefore, before the entrepreneurial English porcelain manufacturers of the day began to take the somewhat risky opportunity to try to create a Western alternative to the Chinese wares and redirect some of the fortunes that were being spent into their own bank balances.

In doing so, they were following the examples of the already established continental manufactories, notably Meissen, who were quick to develop their own naturalistic style that was to follow in England within a decade.

The first to try their hand were the London manufactories of Bow, Chelsea, Limehouse and Vauxhall.

Each developed its own quirky shapes and decoration, often mirroring the localised potting traditions of their neighbours who were engaged in producing domestic earthenware and London delft pieces (themselves copies of wares imported from the Low Countries.

Lengthy experimentations with clays, firing temperatures and types of glaze resulted in a myriad of differences to the colour of the porcelain.

For their part, designers adopted the extravagance of the fashionable rococo silver of the period to produce a purely English style and feel to these early "Chinese" pieces.

A forerunner in the process was the Worcester factory, where on the June 4, 1751, after many trials and experiments in an apothecary's shop, Dr. John Wall and William Davis succeeded in signing up 12 other businessmen of standing to finance the Worcester Tonquin Manufactory.

However, the start was beset by early difficulties and it was only after the premises, stock, tools and effects of the failed Benjamin Lund's Bristol porcelain works were acquired in 1752 that Worcester production began to gather momentum.

The acquisition produced an extra bonus. Worcester also inherited Lund's decorators, many of whom had originally trained in the delft, Limehouse and possibly even Bow factories and they had an understanding of the artistic tradition of painting which Worcester made full use of.

Interestingly, the factory was constantly advertising for more painters who developed their mastery of using the underglaze cobalt blue to a point where it was in no way inferior to the Chinese wares they were copying.

The fashion of the day demanded pottery decorated with Chinese designs - chinoiserie, as it is called - and Worcester's senior decorators were given their heads, resulting in the factory maintaining a successful grasp on the market of the day.

Examples of these early purely chinoiserie designs are found on very few recorded shapes most of which are teawares, while ornamental wares are exceptionally rare.

Among the rarest is a creamboat of which only two examples are known to exist. One of them can be seen in the Museum of Worcester Porcelain, marked in low relief with the Latin "Wigornia" for Worcester. Its value is beyond measure.
Important trading gap

Porcelain shaped like scallop shells were scarce to find in Chinese porcelain at the time and the Worcester factory was able to fill this important trading gap, one of the prettiest being decorated with the highly unusual design of a bird sitting on a floral branch.

However, Worcester were by no means alone in the market.

In 1744, Huguenot silversmith Nicholas Sprimont, who had fled Liege and settled in London, entered into a partnership with fellow Huguenot Charles Gouyn to produce fashionable porcelain for Royal and aristocratic London society.

Their factory was built in what was then the village of Chelsea, and their early wares were gaily coloured domestic porcelain to appeal to such an elite market. Consequently, blue and white Chelsea porcelain is rare.

Sadly, the partnership was beset by differences and in 1749 Sprimont and Gouyn quarrelled and split, Gouyn moving back to St. James's where he had been a jeweller.

He continued to manufacture a series of porcelain figures and animals and
scent bottles and seals which he then mounted beautifully in precious metals.

Sprimont, who suffered bouts of ill health, sold the factory to James Cox in 1769 who in turn sold out less than a year later to William Duesbury, the founder of the Derby factory.

The Chelsea factory was sold in 1784 and what small production that remained there was moved to Derby - masters of copying oriental wares, notably the ubiquitous Imari.

Chelsea - a victim of its own success


In 1749, massive growth caused the factory to move to new premises in Lawrence Street, and a revitalised business was advertised in The Daily Advertiser on January 9, 1750.

The advertisement read: "The Manufacturer of China Ware at Chelsea takes the liberty to aquaint the Publick, that he has been employed since his last Sale in making a considerable parcel, of which the Assortments are so far advanced, that he hopes to be in a Condition to offer it to Sale in the Month of March next; it will consist of a variety of Services for Tea, Coffee, Chocolate, Porringers, Sauce Boats, Basons, and Ewers, Ice-Pails, Tureens, Dishes and Plates of different Forms and Patterns, and of a great Variety of pieces for ornament in a Taste entirely new".
Where is it all now, I wonder.

The marketing push coincided with a new porcelain recipe giving the body a "voluptuousness … highly pleasing to the senses of touch and sight" as one commentator described it.
Less than 20 years later, the business was sold.

Pictures show: Top
Wonderful Worcester:
Left to right, a small Worcester mug or coffee can decorated with children playing in a mountainous landscape, worth £300-400, a small bowl decorated with Chinese buildings and bamboo, worth £1,200-1,500 and a pretty little butterboat decorate with oriental flowers and insects, worth £800-1,200

Below, left to right:
A fine and early Worcester tankard decorated with the so-called Walk in the Garden pattern and worth £5,000-6,000. It dates from 1758-60

A rare early Worcester pickle leaf dish, circa 1756, decorated with peonies and a bird perched on a rock. It's worth £3,000-4,000

A rare early Worcester teapot and cover worth £8,000-10,000. It dates from circa 1754 and is decorated with a Chinese garden known by collectors as the Zig Zag Fence pattern

Walk in the Garden WorcesterPickled WorcesterTeatime Worcester

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home