With Spain and its financial meltdown so much in the news, the topic this week has a Spanish flavor. I was so happy to find this image in my archive recently, saved from Andrew Dando's 2007 Exhibition.
The figure, titled A Galego, is attributable to Ralph Wood. We know this because of its appearance (titling, painting, the way the base is formed from beneath) and because the figure also occurs decorated in colored glazes with the Ralph Wood mark. It can also occur impressed with the Ralph Wood number "67", again in colored glazes only. I have yet to see that number impressed on an enamel-painted version of this figure. In fact, this is the only example of this figure that I have ever found in enamels. If you own one like it, please let me hear from you.
I had always thought of this figure as 'the water carrier' but what do I know? The title tells me she is A Galego. This, I think, is a Galician, a person from the north-west corner of Spain. Ralph Wood made several figures on the Spanish theme. I wish I knew the design sources. The Spanish Dancer pair below is one of my favorites. This pair is impressed "71" and "73"on the back.
The Spanish Shepherd below is yet another. This example is impressed "69" on the back. The pairing of the Spanish Shepherd and the Galego/water carrier would seem, to me at least, to be appropriate. I do think that lots of our figures were sold singly but the potters frequently made companion subjects, so the buyer could have a pair if he/she wished.
Andrew Dando's archive revealed a fascinating old photograph (and yes, old photographs will be included in my book because a poor image beats no image!) Seen below, it shows our Galego/water carrier titled Mate. She is in the company of a Gasconian--not the Spanish Shepherd that I thought might be her companion. This time, the figures are definitely attributable to Dudson, and both seem to come from Ralph Wood molds.
FYI, Gascony sits just above Galicia but below France, so the Gasconian is the Gallego's next door neighbor, so to speak. Dudson rightly decided this was all a bit too much, so Dudson figures are simply titled Gasconian and Mate.
Below is the Ralph Wood Gasconian, impressed "66" or "99", depending how you look at things. (The owners of this lovely figure are in the southern hemisphere....but that doesn't invert the number!)
Why the similarity between the Dudson figures and the Ralph Wood figures? Ralph Wood's pot bank continued operating until 1801, and Dudson started operating at about the same time. It is quite possible that some of the Ralph Wood molds passed into Dudson hands. Certainly, the Dudson Gasconian and Mate are from Ralph Wood molds, with the addition of those glorious big cloaks that leave me lost for words. Envy...I turn green as I type. Oh, for a pair of these figures.
We have three amazing objects to look at this week. The first is one of those treasures that enables me to understand why wealthy collectors commission thefts from museums. If I had the means and lacked the morals, I might be tempted. To have this treasure and enjoy it--who cares if you can't show it to anyone else? That is what true collecting is all about. So what is the gem that might drag me off my moral cliff? Well it is a teeny tortoise in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
(c) Victoria & Albert Museum, London
The tortoise that is the winner of this week's Wondrous Award serves as a flask. The head removes because it is the stopper. The tortoise is just shy of 6" long and the enamel colors are simply delicious. I know of no other tortoise. John Wood's order book for 9 July 1785 records the sale of "16 Tortoises & pairs." These may have been color-glazed rather than enameled, but the point is that the molds existed. I wonder what the "& pairs" looked like.
The tortoise was given to the V& A in the 1800s by Lady Schreiber. So sad to think that it has not been loved by a collector since. But I applaud the V&A for sharing its treasures on the Internet. Yay! If I ruled the world, I would require all museums to either share their collections on the Internet or release them onto the market. That being said, I know building digital records takes money, and I remain ever grateful to museums that simply allow me to visit and photograph their treasures to share with you. As for those that want a fee for access...well, don't get me started on that!
While the tortoise is the winner of the Wondrous Award this week, the Weird Award goes to this watch stand.
(C) Bearnes Hampton and Littlewood.
This watchstand is coming up at Bearne's shortly. It is 12" tall and a figure group of Romulus and Remus sits atop. The top section looks like a lid but it does not remove. Instead, the whole object is open from beneath. Interestingly, the opposite side is made with a watch in the opening. Someone went to a lot of trouble to make the back every bit as decorative as the front. The only problem is that if you turn the watch stand around, you have the reverse view of Romulus and Remus. This could have been rectified if only the top did indeed detach, but alas no. Anyway, I do think this is a weirdly impressive object. Unlike the tortoise, it is not unique but it is rare as I have seen only two others, both in private collections.
I am not quite sure what to call the award for the third object, but it too is remarkable in its own way. This has to be the very, very worst idea for a reproduction ever. Two pigs. Doing what? I prefer not to think. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you! I am not sure 'reproduction' is the correct word, because our potters did not make anything resembling this cozy couple. One of these objects is currently on eBay
described as an "Early Staffordshire Figure of Two Pigs" and "This is a very charming Staffordshire group of two pigs in very good condition. There is no damage of any kind and the colours are most beautiful as are the pigs. Any one that wins them will fall in love with them."
My friend Stephen Smith and I agree that this has to be amongst the worst reproductions of all time. Definitely worthy of an award, but as to its title....words simply fail me.
On another note:
You can't have enough reference books. I often buy fairly obscure books or too-costly books, but each has proved invaluable. In short, I have never regretted a purchase. The very best source for reference books is Reference Works in the UK. Wherever in the world you live, Barry Lamb will get your book to you. Barry could not be more well informed or helpful. And the on-line store
is fun to browse.
Confession: I find FaceBook curiously complicated. Nonetheless, I somehow managed to create a group page for mystaffordshirefigures.com. The group is open so I think anyone can join it. I use it to post things as I see them. And yes, this website definitely needs a major revamp. That's on my 2013 To Do list--for when the book is done.
This week, I posted a figure of Simon onto Facebook. The figure is in the stock of Aurea Carter and it is most unusual. I had never seen Simon with a bocage before.
The figure of Simon that is perhaps most well know is the Ralph Wood model, below. It is only known made without a bocage. Examples occur impressed "96" or "135". You will recall Ralph Wood's habit of putting impressed numbers on some of his figures.
The example of Simon below was almost certainly not made by Ralph Wood, although the figure is probably from the same molds. It is in the style of Enoch Wood, but possibly Ralph Wedgwood or somebody entirely different made it.
The two figures of Simon on square bases were made without bocages--and, until I saw Aurea's figure, I thought Simon only occurred without a bocage. I was excited to see Aurea's Simon-with-bocage in her Bargain Basement so I posted it to Facebook. Several people commented "Who is Simon"....so here is the answer
Simon (spelled Cymon) is the hero in The Decameron, a novella set in Cyprus and written around 1350 by Giovanni Boccaccio. The narrative tells of Cymon who, deemed a dolt by his aristocratic father, is sent to live and work with his father’s slaves in the countryside. In this environment, Cymon became increasingly coarse. One day, Cymon came upon highborn Iphigenia, slumbering in a field. He was so smitten by her beauty that his noble bearing surfaced and his father reinstated him. Iphigenia was promised to another, but this tale of wars and abduction in the name of love ended happily with Cymon and Iphigenia united for life. In 1700, John Dryden published his Fables, Ancient and Modern, containing the story as a poem.
The figure of Simon is modeled from the figure Paul Louis Cyfflé made for Lunéville. But what of Iphigenia? Yes, she too exists in earthenware, and she, like Simon, is not that common, especially if you are wanting an enamel-painted version. Andrew Dando had one some years ago, and this example is in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Every figure has a tale to tell, and Simon and Iphigenia are no exception.
Those of you in the UK, don't forget the NEC show is on this week. Envy, envy. I wish I could go, but I wish you happy shopping.
I routinely tell potential collectors that you don't need big bucks to collect early Staffordshire figures. You can buy a lovely little figure for the price of a night in a mediocre Manhattan hotel room--and the Staffordshire figure will NOT have bed bugs. Case in point is this figure that a collector bought recently.
Is the little sheep not charming? It is in original unrestored condition, and the chip on the inside at the back of the base is irrelevant.
Equally charming but much higher up the price spectrum--perhaps several weeks in that mediocre Manhattan hotel room--is this Red Barn.
Most Red Barn groups are "Sherratt" style and stand on footed bases. I have never found them particularly appealing, although they command high prices because they are rare and desirable. I find them a bit clunky, but each to his own, of course--collecting is a very personal thing. The Red Barn in the Willett Collection is very like the example I show here. When I saw it years ago, I swooned. It oozed charm. But alas, it seemed to be a one-and-only. I was thrilled to see this example recently. It is very like the Willett example, from the same pot bank. Interestingly, the Willett Red Barn (which you can see in my book) has "Polstead" spelled differently, and it has a different figure of Maria. This Maria is definitely original. Probably the Willett's figure is also correct. Stranger things have been known to have happened in the Potteries.
I love the compact nature of this Red Barn, Yes, the door is open--of course because William Corder is luring unsuspecting Maria to her death. The Red Barn murder is a great yarn. You can read all about it in my book. Meanwhile, be charmed by this group, which is in lovely condition. One bird on the front is restored. Otherwise it is all there.
I was intrigued to see that the Red Barn itself is open from beneath. There is no reason why it should have been made any other way....but we are so used to seeing closed table bases beneath Red Barns. Collecting and researching is a never ending surprise. The joy of finding a charming figure--big or small, inexpensive or costly, available for sale or sitting in someone else's collection--makes the hunt worthwhile.