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Glamorgan Antiques Newsletter

Special Edition Newsletter # 5- The Foreign Sources of influence on English Porcelain

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Welcome all to this 5th Special Edition newsletter from Glamorgan antiques.We hope that it will appeal to all, whether newcomers or more experienced Collectors.Anyway, the learning process in Antiques never ends,we all get to be more experienced but we never stop learning.

The Foreign Sources of influence on English Porcelain..

English Porcelain derived it's materials and it's methods from the experience gained in foreign countries.These early inspirations and designs were developed from studying imported products from the Orient and Europe itself.

The earliest English factories were started around 1745-1750, at this time there was only 3 types of porcelain.These were as follows:
A. The oriental Porcelain imported by the India Companies.
B. The Porcelain,(true Porcelain) of Dresden or Meissen.
C.The artificial Porcelain of France.

All these kinds of porcelain were greatly admired by the connoisseurs and collectors at that time..The English people were always more workmen than artists, and the natural tendency was to copy the great pieces that were so highly prized and sought after, copied as best the English workers could at that very early time.

At this period , native English Pottery was in it's first early stages, and in an area that was remote from the Capital, so at Bow,Chelsea and Worcester there were really no trained workmen or decorators who had any hereditary or acquired skills, and to say that English porcelain was in it's infancy would certainly not be an understatement.
Bow for example advertised as follows >"Painters brought up in the snuff-box way,japanning,fan-painting, and so on, well these may have the opportunities of trial, wherein if they succeed, they shall have due encouragement."
NB." At the same house, a person is wanted who can model figurines in clay neatly".. This advertisement appeared in the Birmingham gazette in 1753.
Also at Chelsea, it was stated in an advertisement that >"a nursery of 30 lads taken from the parishes and charity schools and bred to designing and painting - arts, very much wanted here now!" This was in the Public advertiser in 1756.
Therefore, we can see that the proprietors and directors of these earliest of factories were absolute pioneers, and, if their pieces sometimes appear to us to be childlike even silly,then the fault is probably due equally to the want of sound taste of the buying public as much as the inexperience of the potters themselves.

However, in many cases the influence of Foreign products were openly acknowledged by the titles given to their new productions,such as the Bow items being called >"New Canton". and those at Worcester >"Newly established Tonquin factory".Then similarity,at the first sale of Derby porcelain, the pieces were advertised as "After the finest Dresden models". Also we read the following in the catalogue of 1784, at the sale of Duesbury's Derby and Chelsea porcelain >"Items of the most delicate approved patterns and shapes, finished in a style of superior richness and elegance from the choicest specimens of the Sevres,Dresden,Berlin and Monsieur manufactures"..After all of this it is easy to understand the plethora of forged marks, or in the least, marks calculated to deceive the buying public.It would be easier to acknowledge which of the English factories used the marks of the crossed swords of Dresden or the double "L's" of Vincennes or Sevres, and those that didn't!

Out of all the imported Porcelain those of the Orient were the most highly prized.Every collector is familiar with the beautiful white Chinese items where the quality of the glaze and the paste are shown at their very best.This is why among the products of Bow and Chelsea, you will see many items of white ware, in which the early glassy porcelain of these factories was made to reveal it's quality in the same way.Oriental blue and white items were also copied greatly.In some cases every effort was made to obtain the closest approximation to the original both in drawing and in colour.However, the English bodies and glazes were so different from the Chinese that even had the touch of the painters been comparable, the final result would have been strikingly different.The most successful results were obtained at Worcester in the early period of the soapstone body, when the quality of the blue and white produced was remarkably good..It has often been claimed that the painters at these early English factories were so expert in copying Chinese figurines and designs that their work is indistinguishable from the Chinese originals.But this is completely wrong..The way in which the Chinese "blue" is "floated" on,is in complete contrast to the way the English painters added the blue.The Bow dragon ,for example, is well painted, but not nearly so well as the Chinese dragon.The many coloured decorations also furnished our painters with many telling designs. The designs of Kakiyemon, a skilled potter from Imari in the province of Hizen, seem to have held a particular fascination for the painters at Bow, and the famous partridge or quail and wheatsheaf patterns are copied almost exactly from his Japanese pieces.But,they were also copied profusely at Chelsea,Worcester and Bristol.Many of these early pieces are charming, and are a total delight.Later designs that were inspired from Japanese work, were also made at the Crown Derby works, here we must note that in many cases, the work was by now superior to the actual earlier Japanese patterns.The harmony of colours was better than the Japanese originals.

If Oriental copying gave the first impetus to the English Painters and designers,then the influence of the European potteries was soon also felt , and ultimately became paramount.From 1750 onwards, the English potteries studied most carefully the shapes and decorations of both French and German Porcelain.Eventually reproducing them.It must here be noted that many of the Continental factories were subsidised by their own Royal families..British counterparts did not enjoy this unique patronage.They had to depend on their success by meeting the taste of the public, for example in copying Dresden figures, raised flowers and delicate lacework,Sevres roses,intertwining ribbon borders and elaborately painted figure groups.However from 1780 to 1800 the utmost confusion of styles set in and Chinese,Japanese,French and German shapes and designs were thrown together into a most incongruous mixture...To finish this tale of disaster, we must add that Bow,Chelsea and Bristol were abandoned.Also, Dr Wall of Worcester died but the Derby firm became more commercial in spirit, and in place of a number of small factories the trade was absorbed by a few of the larger factories that were managed by men who were for the most part,were"commercial" by instinct and training.This re organization of the early potteries led in time to a more technically perfect production on the whole,but from the artistic point of view the immediate results were disastrous.

For more than 60 years,English porcelain remained under a cloud so far as any real artistic spirit was concerned, and it was left to the great 19th century "modern" factories to show that
it was possible to produce pieces worthy to rank with the best artificial Porcelains of the 18th century.

It must also be noted, that during this same period 1780 -1850,the Continental factories also suffered a very similar eclipse, so that it is not surprising that the earlier English porcelain items have received such enthusiastic commendation from connoisseurs and are now so highly prized by collectors worldwide

Copyright ©Glamorgan antiques. October 2002.

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